Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Visited By The Suits

Our superintendent's latest fad to push onto our administrators is the "smart walk", wherein administrators drop in on classrooms unannounced and observe what's going on. I have no objection to this; back in the early 90s, when I was a manufacturing manager, I did that very same thing. Back then we called it "management by walking around". I heard it was very big at Hewlett-Packard.

I prefer unannounced visits because then there's no expectation that I'll put on a dog-and-pony show. Last week my principal dropped in on one of my classes, observed and took some notes, and later sent me a short laudatory email. I got feedback!

Today my principal came in with his boss and an administrator from another high school. My students were working independently at the time, and I was wandering about answering their questions and making sure they were doing the assignment. The visitors didn't do the usual visitor routine of staying in the back and taking notes, though--no, they actually circulated among the students and interacted with them! It didn't occur to me to ask the students if the visitors were offering help or just asking questions--perhaps I should have, because when the suits left they huddled outside, not too far from my room, and seemed to be comparing notes for awhile.

I wonder what kind of feedback I'll get this time.


mrelliott said...

Our administrators also do unannounced visits. The only interaction they do is with the students, and their question(s) to them is, "What are you suppose to be learning?", "What is the objective of what you are doing?", "What is the objective of the lesson?".

See a pattern?

The theory being if students know what the objective of the lesson is, more effective learning takes place. And......I heartily agree with this.

Anonymous said...

If the students were actually doing the math without too much help, the suits were probably stunned! How could this happen?

Ellen K said...

The one reality show I kind of enjoy is Undercover Boss. I would LOVE for our rarified and isolated administrators who make decrees without considering the implications down the line to work just a couple of weeks in a school. Some of their decisions smack of micromanagement. Others just seem like busy work.

Mike Thiac said...

One Sergeant I knew was really good about doing unannounced visits. Former Jarhead, he knew about supervision. He would drive up to your call and just “check by”. One time he got on the radio and asked a unit “Where are you?” and the officer responded “I’m with the complainant.” The Sergeant just answered “That’s funny I’m with the complainant and you’re not here..”

People knew he would actually supervise.

allen (in Michigan) said...

It's "cargo cult" management: aping the form of the real thing without understanding or imitating the underlying reality of the "real thing".

If they manage by walking around at Hewlett-Packard, and Hewlett-Packard's a big, successful company that a lot of people admire then if we walk around in a similar fashion we'll be successful and important and everyone will admire us.

Darren said...

I'm not ready to consign them to cargo cult status just yet--at the very least they learn *something* about what goes on in classes by being in classes, as opposed to staying in their offices and knowing nothing.

allen (in Michigan) said...

Hewlett-Packard operates under the imperative of the capitalist system that a failure to produce profits results in extinction. The public education system has no analogous imperative which relegates "managing by walking around" to the preferences of the individual professionals.

If you have a personal mission to ensure that the little corner of the edu-sphere under your control educates kids then you manage by walking around and it isn't a cargo-cult exercise. If you're motivation is to appear professional and involved without being either then managing by walking around is a good way to showcase the concern you wish to project but don't feel. That makes it a cargo cult exercise.

Hewlett-Packard, as an organization, has a strong motivation to differentiate between the poseurs and the real managers. The public education system doesn't.