Timing is everything, right? Sometimes, we have good timing. Sometimes, not so much. While doing observations with administrators in San Antonio a few months ago, we visited a 2nd grade classroom. The students were all working on writing. They were crafting paragraphs and getting feedback from each other and from their teacher. Since there were multiple observers watching this lesson transpire, I’m sure the teacher felt a little bit of pressure, but she sure didn’t show it. All of a sudden, this cute-as-a-button little girl pipes up and asks her teacher, “Can I sit out of recess to re-do this part of my paper? It is messed up and I want to fix it.” The teacher must have been on Cloud 9. What perfect timing! This dedicated student was showing a personal passion for her work that we all strive to instill in every student in every class we teach (even those of us who teach adult learners, as well!).
Timing is especially important when it comes to having conversations. Here are my top three worst places in which people have tried to strike up a conversation with me.
1. On the airplane when I have just taught all day and I am completely exhausted! Please, oh please, take the hint that when I put on my headphones, that is the signal that I would like to go into my own cocoon and just “be”. Nope, it doesn’t always happen that way. As much as I want to isolate, I am sometimes convinced that people board a cross-country jet in anticipation of making a new friend.
2. When we pause in teaching and need a quick restroom break. Not once but two times in the past couple of years, I have had someone initiate conversation as I am headed to the restroom. During one such incident, I laughed and answered the question, “I know you are busy, but can I ask you a couple of questions?” by saying, “Sure thing, but I do need to run to the ladies’ room really quickly.” She said, “No problem. I’ll just come with you.” I clearly was not clear, was I? She continued to ask her question not only when we got into the ladies’ room, but even after I had made my way into the stall. I finally just said, “How about we pick this up when I come back out?” Boundaries!
3. When I am having a mammogram completed. I know this one is not just me, as I have had friends who tell me their similar tales of woe. I suppose some technicians simply want to make us feel at ease during the squishing procedure, but honestly, I don’t want to talk about the latest celebrity gossip right now. Can we just finish this up and we can peruse People magazine together once I am dressed again?
Likewise, having conversations with teachers about teaching is critical enough to warrant a set-aside time. Time is necessary for processing, pondering open-ended questions, and analyzing growth areas. In Building Trust in Teacher Evaluations, I talk about the importance of honoring the time needed to meet about observations and evaluations. If we try to hurry up conversations or catch teachers “on the fly”, nobody will benefit. Instead, we need to show how critical this work is by putting our time where our mouth is. As a principal, I would enlist the help of my administrative assistant (“The Keeper of the Kingdom”, she was) and block out an entire day or two to have conversations with teachers. Yes, it took delegating (if a frustrated parent calls, Maria will handle it; if a bus issue occurs, Lance will take it, etc.) but the conversations with growth-oriented teachers were so much richer when we had set aside the time---so much better, wouldn’t you agree, than while I am in need of a restroom break? Somehow, talking about student engagement while the teacher and I are in neighboring stalls might lose a little in translation.
Perhaps we need to examine how we can set aside the time for what I believe is the most important work we do as administrators, and that is communicating with teachers.