Why I’ve taught a lesson every day this month

When I first started as an assistant principal, leading a community of about 500 elementary school students, I was brand new to this school system. Nobody knew me. I wanted to introduce myself to teachers as someone committed to instruction, someone who could partner with them in student learning. But first, I needed to earn their trust.

I started by joining planning meetings – when our teachers got heavy into fractions, I dove deep into fractions, too. When teachers bounced around ideas for kicking off the fraction unit, I offered ideas based on my experience as a teacher and math coach. One teacher was brave enough to say she wasn’t quite sure how to introduce fractions and asked me to come into her classroom and launch the unit. I ended up doing the same for three classes, and word spread that I was willing to step in and help without judgment. It created a ripple effect, with teachers inviting me in and asking for help.

Over time, that trust built, and now teachers know I’m willing to jump right into instruction with them. In the past month, I’ve taught a lesson every day. I believe it’s the best way to send a message to teachers that we’re in this together and that I’m their partner in student learning.

5 reasons I prioritize teaching alongside my staff:

1. Because it’s what I wanted when I was a teacher.

When I first started teaching, I asked for math coaches in my classroom every year. I craved that second set of eyes. I wanted a math coach to talk to my students and help uncover gaps and interferences I’d missed. My practice grew from having someone else in the room who could partner with me to meet student needs. Now, I tell my teachers about where I started and how much I grew, thanks to the power of inviting a second educator in the room.

2. Because when I’m vulnerable with teachers, teachers feel safer being vulnerable with me.

When I say I teach in my teachers’ classrooms, I mean all teachers’ classrooms – not just those teaching grade levels with which I’m most comfortable. I don’t have experience teaching kindergarten, but I taught a kindergarten lesson last week. Did it go perfectly? No, it didn’t. But when I debrief about my lessons with the teachers, and we talk about what I could have done better, I can then model the type of thinking I’ll invite teachers to engage in after I observe their lessons. Later, when we have a similar conversation about their teaching, it won’t feel threatening, because they’ve seen me open up to their feedback in the same way.

3. Because teaching together helps us establish a common understanding of what excellence and high expectations look like.

I’m a huge believer in the idea that I won’t ask anyone on my staff to do something I’m not willing to do myself. If I expect teachers to teach toward high expectations for excellence, I have to demonstrate high instructional expectations for myself. If I’m not modeling the type of high-engagement teaching I’m looking for, how can I expect to see it? How can my teachers and I know we’re talking about the same things when discussing excellent instruction? I strive to model this type of teaching in faculty meetings. Still, there’s nothing like stepping into the real, messy, wonderful and challenging work of modeling excellence and high expectations with students.

4. Because I want a deep grasp of curriculum and learning progression.

I strengthen my own curriculum knowledge and pedagogical leadership when I plan instruction with teachers. Together, teachers and I will look closely at learning standards. We’ll walk through the resources kids need in their hands to build conceptual knowledge. These discussions draw me deep into the curriculum and grow my understanding of the learning happening in my school community.

5. Because I’m the “lead learner.” 

Being a lead learner isn’t about being the best teacher in the building – it’s about constantly adding to my toolkit, putting myself out there to teach kids and learning from the incredible educators on my team. And, my goodness, do we have incredible teachers in our building! I learn so much from them.

Lately, I’ve been teaching every day – but it can’t always happen every day. As principals, we know things come up, and we have to be realistic about our capacity. Stretches can pass in which I don’t teach a single lesson in a week or even a month, depending on what’s happening in my school community. But I also know that even during busy periods, I need to keep learning at the center of my practice. I need to keep getting into classrooms. My number one job is to support teachers because when teachers are supported, kids are supported. I always want my teachers to be able to say, “Hey, she’s on our side. She’s working with us.”