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Thompson: Principals in the Classroom [10 Percent Of The Time]

PrncipalsTwo studies on principal time use, Principal Time Use and School Effectiveness (2009) by Eileen Lai Horng, Daniel Klasik, and Susanna Loeb and Effective Instruction Time Use for School Leaders by Jason Grissom, Ben Master, and Susanna Loeb, are both excellent. They show that Miami Dade principals spend just over 10% of their time on instruction-related activities.  

Such a number first seemed high to me.

I worked with more than forty high school principals and assistant principals. They all worked more than 80 hours a week and went weeks at a time without having a chance to even think about classroom instruction. Only one had teaching experience relevant to academic subjects in the inner city, but many could have become excellent instructional leaders if they weren't so overburdened with other responsibilities.

But, Loeb et. al also find that high school principals spend less time with instruction, and that may be due their lack expertise with many diverse secondary subjects. 

The headline is that Loeb et. al explain why informal classroom walkthroughs can backfire by prompting suspicion by teachers. Even brief classroom visits can be beneficial, however, if they are clearly a part of a coaching process, and not a "gotcha!"  

They are also careful to not make a claim about causation, or the theory that an unflinching focus on instruction led by school adinistrators is the path to school improvement. Loeb et. al note that, "Better schools may allow principals the time to work with teachers, while in less effective schools they are more constrained to spend more time observing classrooms."

I only have a couple of minor complaints with the studies. I wish Loeb et. al would have reported the average number of hours that the principals worked.  I bet most readers would be astounded by their workloads. I also would like to know whether they discovered differences in attitudes towards instructional leadership between 2008 and 2012.  Has there been a decline in trust during the last few years?

I also wish they could had revealed their personal responses to statements by principals. They quote a principal who drops by classes so "if I see a teacher that’s on the wrong page per se. I know that I can always redirect that individual." They cite another who claimed, "I am able to go into any classroom in this building and teach that lesson, diagnose what’s wrong with that lesson, and then be able to tell the teacher, you really need to do this."

Give us a hint about what you thought about those two.  Were they a piece of work or what?

Seriously, these studies are welcome changes from the strange assumption that instructional improvement must drive school improvement.  Few people who have actually worked in schools would accept the theory that time spent observing classrooms should take priority over, for instance, organizational conversations with staff or listening to parents. Few inner city high school teachers, students or parents would say that they want principals to pay more attention to curriculum and instruction than discipline. Few persons with any urban experience would say that it is possible to keep adding new responsibilities to principals without finding a way to take old tasks off their plates-JT(@drjohnthompson)Image via.


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Public school principals self-report how many hours they work on school-related activities on the Schools and Staffing Survey. For 2011/12 that was 58.1 hours per week, of which 22.5 were spent interacting with students. See the National Center for Education Statistics - NCES 2013-313

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