Montana Catholic Schools Weekly

October 5, 2014

Walking Through & Driving By

Now is the time to get serious about Walk Throughs. We all do what's needed and observe teachers when we have to (usually the spring). But we can all fall victim of the Drive By Principal who knows his building because he/she walks the halls. But knowing your building and being an instructional leader are two different things.

Now is the time to get into the classrooms and help shape instruction. Teachers and students have settled into routines but it's still early enough to help teachers avoid setting the ruts and instead establish a groove.

It's also the time to establish in your mind where the strengths are in your building. We all know the difference between a house with great curb appeal but on closer inspection doesn't quite match up. Or the seemingly fixer upper on the outside which is a real gem on the inside. Our classrooms can be the same way. You never know what's going on until you're in the room taking the temperature. And not just once--you need to pop in repeatedly. And perhaps taking the temperature isn't a good metaphor because you're not there to judge the quality of a teacher but to assist in improving instruction. And can't we all get better in some way?

In fact, I usually find it's the high performing teacher who welcomes the visit, who's hard on herself and needs the affirmation of an observer.

What works for you? Do you have a good system of walk throughs? Do you establish a routine so that you see all teachers? Obviously, the best resource is your fellow principals. Call someone up and ask. Or look for an app if you have a favorite tablet.

My recommendation is twofold: keep it simple and let everyone know what you're doing.

Keep it simple by narrowing your focus. I used to have two categories: "What I liked," and "What I don't understand." The first category was a way to lead off with the positives. Teachers sometimes overlook the obvious and take for granted the climate they've established. When you say, "I love the way every student was engaged in the problem," it's a great way of affirming a teacher's great lesson planning.

When you write down things you don't understand, you're not judging the teacher. You're simply looking for clarification. And that usually opens a channel for dialogue about instruction and can sometimes unearth a teacher's struggle. Now, you can help.

Tell people what you're doing. Parents find it reassuring that you're visiting classes. In fact, it will give you credibility when they call to inquire about a teacher. Prospective parents love to hear that you're out and about, leading instruction. And good teachers love to hear that you're spending time in classes and making instruction one of your top priorities.

I had the privilege last week to help Br. Dale with his new teachers at De La Salle Blackfeet School. They are doing such incredible work in Browning. But they have a challenge of taking new volunteers who have never had formal teacher training. I was able to spend time with the new teachers helping with mechanics, pedagogy, and motivation. If you'd like me to come out and help you with this important piece of your job, let me know.

Dr. Tim Uhl

The Week Ahead

Monday: office day (Helena)

Tuesday: Pryor (St. Charles) & Billings Catholic Schools. Overnight in Billings.

Wednesday: St. Labre Indian Catholic School WCEA final day. Overnight in Billings.

Thursday: meeting with Bishop Thomas (Helena)

Friday: office day (Helena). Surveys are due. Jean and I will be collecting & analyzing!

This week: 850 miles

Last week: 775 miles

Total this year: 6055 miles

Upcoming Events

St. Labre Elementary WCEA Accreditation visit Oct 5-8

Marian classes: Wed, Oct 15 in Billings 12-3; Oct 16 10-1 in Great Falls; Oct 17 9-noon in Missoula. Principals need to send in their registration forms to Jean Saye.

St. Andrew WCEA Accreditation visit Oct 19-22.

Regional principal meetings in November: Nov 18th (Missoula), Nov 19 (Great Falls), Nov 20 (Billings). More details to come.

Synod on the Family

Great Falls Schools Update

As many of you are aware, there have been presentations and discussions about consolidating the three Great Falls schools (Our Lady of Lourdes, Holy Spirit, and Central Catholic). The reason is that Great Falls has closed schools in the past and the demographic trends of Great Falls is predicting little growth for school enrollment as well as continued financial challenges.

These have only been discussions. There are no immediate plans. In fact, later this month, Bishop Warfel has asked the pastors and me to meet with him to talk about the possibility. There are no plans in place and I can't imagine anything tangible changing in the immediate future.

NCEA distinguished pastors

Are you interested in nominating your pastor for the distinguished pastor award? Deadline is December 1st and here is more information:

Data Collection

This year, we're collecting data on our schools to present to the NCEA and to our Bishops and other stakeholders. Please fill this out ASAP: