Be there.


Three years ago when I first started as principal in my building, I told my teachers they should expect to see me on a daily basis, even if it was just to pop my head in the classroom and say a quick hello. As every administrator knows, this is easier said than done, especially on days when central office demands have you running across town to three meetings at two different buildings. I think my first year I did a fairly good job of “showing my face” around the building. Teachers no longer stopped instruction when I walked in the room to find out if I needed something. Students stopped being curious as to why I was there. They knew it was because I wanted to see my little learners in action and get to know everyone in my new school.

Last year we embraced the ideals of the Fish! philosophy in our school, one of which is Be There. The premise behind “be there” is fairly broad in that not only do you need to be physically available for your staff and your colleagues, but you have to be emotionally available for them as well. Being present means you make yourself available to your constituents, listen actively, and continuously work to strengthen relationships.

The teacher supervision model with which we engage consists of electronic walk-through formats as well as a formal observation protocol. I was finding that I was falling short of completing my desired number of documented walk-throughs each week, falling victim to the perils of management and not allowing the joys of leadership to drive my actions each day.

A few weeks ago I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be amazing to experience an entire school day in the life of a first grader?” I glanced at my calendar, noticed, despite being few and far between, there were some days without any scheduled meetings or commitments. Right then and there, I blocked off days for every grade level and specialist class in my building.

I drafted a document called It’s a Date! and emailed my staff:

What’s the best part about being a principal?

Watching all of our children learn!

I have set aside days in my calendar to spend immersed in a grade level/class for the day. I am really excited about this! I will be in the classrooms from students’ arrival through the end of the day, planning to spend time in the rooms during academic times and will visit specials with your classes. I am happy to sit and observe, but reeeeally what I would love to do is join in the fun. Please put me to work! During your PLC meeting closer to your visit date, discuss how you will include me in your class activities. Need someone to facilitate a small group? Want to team up to teach a topic? Would you like to have someone work 1:1 with a student? Should I bring in some tech? These are all ways I’d be happy to help. Decide whose classrooms I will visit at what times of the day. If there is work/planning I need to complete before that day, kindly let me know a day or two in advance. 🙂

I began with first grade. What a wonderful day! In the morning I spent time working with small groups of students with reading concepts and making words activities using the Smartboard, and in the afternoon, three of the teachers enlisted my help teaching a lesson about extinction, where we read Dinosaurs! and the students interacted with classification and vocabulary on a Smartboard activity. I went to art class and music class and, although I often dine with students, joined them in the cafeteria. It was an exhilarating and exhausting day!


This past Friday was Third Grade Day. I didn’t have as many teaching responsibilities this time, so I was really able to sit back and observe the children and all of the wonderful things they were learning. (And take a lot of photos and shoot some video!) Highlights: collaborating on critiquing persuasive writing blog posts with a class in another district using Flockdraw… experimenting with solids, liquids, and gases (using root beer floats! and hot chocolate with whipped cream and peppermint sticks and marshmallows!)… reading poetry with small groups of students….getting a class set up on Kidblog for the first time and helping them compose their first entries…glazing the clay bowls I threw on the potting wheel last spring while the third graders glazed their autumn leaf pottery….eating scrumptious 🙂 macaroni and cheese with the children and cracking up at their absurd jokes…observing “challenge day” in math class, where students are free to choose which activities and challenge problems they’d like to complete, either individually or in teams… working 1:1 with a young man who reeeally wanted to learn algebra, so, we worked together on some simple equations, and then I watched him teach another student 🙂 …. observing students use the Activotes to interact with graphing problems on the Promethean board… loving the feeling of walking past my office door, closed, while the sign outside that indicates where I am the building reads, “Visiting Classrooms.”

3rd Grade Day on PhotoPeach

My colleague David Truss has coined these days in the life of an administrator “No Office Days.” As I recently drafted this post and planned to share about my grade level days, I was so excited to see David’s inspiring post and read about his day of learning with students. Be sure to read about his experiences in his latest post!

We have to be there for our students and staff. We can’t do that from behind a closed office door, or even an open office door. I will freely admit what doesn’t get scheduled, doesn’t get done. Be sure to block out times on your calendar for walk-throughs or more time-intensive observation experiences. The perspective you will gain as a learner and administrator is invaluable. Watching your students’ faces light up as they experience an “aha” moment, seeing your teachers work so hard to make classroom experiences meaningful for students, and knowing your presence is positively impacting the lives of your students and teachers awakens the realization that being a school principal is the greatest!

Cross posted on Connected Principals

16 Replies to “Be there.”

  1. Just what I needed to read! Find myself being so busy with all of these managerial duties as a principal, that I lose sight of what is most important–being and leading in classrooms. I’m going to schedule myself out there right now! CR

    1. I appreciate your honesty, we’ve all been there! It’s so easy to get sidetracked with managerial duties when the demands placed on our role are so great. Enjoy your classroom time! It will be worth the added paperwork to take home or the extra minutes in the office after the students have gone home 🙂

  2. Well done, Lyn! One of the things that is so difficult for me is getting into classes on a regular basis for a meaningful purpose. We have a larger school with 85 teachers and two campuses, and I try to get into each of my classes as often as possible, but I know it is not enough.

    Recently, I had a conversation with a colleague and he hit me in the face with a cold bucket of water when he said, “the reason you are not getting into classes is YOU.” I really took this to heart, and immediately began setting aside 45 minutes per day to get into classes. As lame as 45 minutes sounds, it is a commitment that I can keep.

    Thanks for relating your experiences! They serve as a good reminder to all of us to do what we know is the right (and most valuable) thing we can do.

    1. Cale, thanks for your comments! I think all of us concur that getting into classrooms is the most important thing we can do each day, but we all struggle making the time to do it. That’s because the role of principal has evolved into so much more than instructional leader. It’s really overwhelming at times! Your colleague was exactly right, however. We’re ultimately the people who decide how to spend our minutes each day when we’re in our buildings. Nothing beats the way you feel after you leave a classroom, though!! You know you’ve just spent quality time with your learners and that perspective can make all of the difference.

  3. Thanks for an inspiring post. Being there…..with the children is the key to us understanding what our students are learning and what their experience as learners is like and we become part of the learning community as well. This will be my priority returning to school after the holidays.

  4. Mary, thank you for your comments. I appreciate your point that spending time in our classrooms will allow us to become a true member of the learning community. Enjoy your holiday break!

  5. The title, “Be There”, reminds me of Michael Jackson’s lyrics “Just look over your shoulder… and I’ll be there.”
    That’s what I want this year: to be there, and there, and there. Thank you for the reminder that it is up to me to set aside the time and commit to being present in the lives of the students and teachers as often as possible. I’m about to make my sign, “I’m visiting classes.” I’ll be there!

  6. Thank you for sharing.It means a lot to me that most of us (principals) are on the same page. it’s my 5th year as elementary principal.i think and feel and i know that i will be fine as long as i keep in touch with other principals by at least connecting via twitter or by reading their posts. keep on posting. No Office Day is on my agenda.

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