Leadership: 7 ways to increase your visibility

If school leaders are spending all of their time in the office, how will they know what staff, students and families need?
By: | December 24, 2019
(Photo by stem.T4L on Unsplash)(Photo by stem.T4L on Unsplash)
Matthew X. Joseph is director of curriculum, instruction and assessment at Leicester Public Schools in Massachusetts, and he is a featured speaker at FETC.

Matthew X. Joseph is director of curriculum, instruction and assessment at Leicester Public Schools in Massachusetts, and he was a featured speaker at FETC.

Today’s school administrators have an overwhelming number of duties and responsibilities to balance alongside of state and federal mandates that seem never-ending. As a result, one of the duties that gets less attention than it should is the role of instructional leader. Being an instructional leader is, perhaps, the most important role, since it allows an administrator to make the greatest impact.

As instructional leaders, administrators must guide teachers to align learning experiences with content and skill objectives. They must coach teachers to create learning activities that will help optimize student achievement. 

This January at FETC, I will be sharing strategies for school and district administrators that will help to prioritize instructional leadership in a world full of roles and responsibilities. I will provide education leaders with strategies to be more visible in their schools and use tools to increase transparency with staff and the greater school community. I have found that when leaders prioritize instruction and develop a clear and well-defined curriculum, the quality of a school’s teaching and learning increases. Increasing leader visibility in schools supports the implementation of curriculum, provides teachers with additional resources when needed, and allows for assessment data to be examined.

Getting out of the office allows leaders to have a pulse on the school—what’s happening inside and outside the classroom.

So the obvious question becomes: How do education leaders do all of this? My simple answer is: by having a pulse on the building. 

Being visible and seeing the day-to-day flow and activities of the school is critical to being an effective instructional leader. Getting out of the office allows leaders to have a pulse on the school—what’s happening inside and outside the classroom. Following are seven strategies I will discuss at FETC to becoming a more visible leader.

1. Wander purposefully

Wandering around was a management strategy used at Hewlett-Packard in the company’s early days. Hewlett-Packard leaders believed that to be successful, managers needed to be out in the field or on the workroom floor—not at their desks. Although school administrators are far more than managers, this strategy also serves our purposes. Wandering with a purpose allows an education leader to understand their school’s instructional needs and to make informed decisions that impact student learning. But visibility will do little to improve a school’s productivity if there isn’t a focus. Capture evidence of what you see, and consider keeping a journal of your walks. Also, vary the times when, and the locations where, you are visible to include pickup and drop-off times, lunch, team meetings, and other noninstructional settings.

2. Visit classrooms

Collaboration increases when staff feel the leader is visible. To understand instructional practice well enough to deliver constructive feedback, education leaders need to visit classrooms early and often, and to observe these rooms through multiple lenses: teachers interacting with students, students interacting with classmates, and teachers interacting with one another. Doing this will foster trust with your staff and improve teaching and learning. 

3. Teach classes

Getting back into the classroom is a highly effective way to bridge the gap between administration and staff. Encourage teachers to invite you in to teach a lesson. Have them observe as you teach their classes. Use that time to model instructional practices that you feel strongly about and want others to use. You can also use the experience as a reason to meet with the teacher and engage in a conversation about teaching and learning.

4. Have lunch with students

When staffers see administrators connecting with others outside the office setting, they will be more open to collaboration. Why? Because they see leaders reinforcing that being available to, and engaging with, students and teachers is the priority. Consider taking this a step further by inviting key community members to join you and your students for lunch.

5. Serve lunch in the cafeteria

Eating is one way to be visible, and so is supporting your kitchen staff. Serve food or pass out milk during lunch. This strategy will allow you to observe students’ behavior in a less structured environment, and will reinforce your expectations of manners and cooperation. Furthermore, it shows that all staff members and all jobs in your school are important. 


Read: How to support students’ productive struggle


6. Play on the playground

This strategy speaks for itself. It is a great way to have fun, be a part of your school and have staff see you outside the classroom. Also: Your students will love it.

7. Get involved in the community

Being involved outside your school allows community members to get to know, and hear from, their school leaders. It’s also a great time to promote and market your school. Here are some ideas:

  • Speak at various programs. Speaking briefly at off-site events for youth, community or religious organizations will provide opportunities to share information; advocate for the school; and publicly praise students, staff and parents.
  • Use social media. Set up a school Twitter account and start sharing all the wonderful things that happen daily in your school. If you don’t like Twitter, try Instagram, Facebook, Remind or your school website. These updates take seconds and can provide parents and community members with a strong connection to you and the school.
  • Send handwritten notes. One of the best ways to connect is to write a friendly note and drop it in the mail; do the same for your staff by leaving notes in staff mailboxes. If time permits, consider delivering them in person.

School leaders need to be available, approachable and visible. If leaders spend all of their time in their offices, how will they know what staff, students and families need? How will they see what to celebrate?

Visibility is not about the need to “snoopervise,” but rather a genuine desire to interact with the staff and students, and to provide a positive, vibrant and visible presence in the school.


Matthew X. Joseph is the director of curriculum, instruction and assessment at Leicester Public Schools in Massachusetts. He was a featured speaker at DA’s FETC.


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