Leaders: how often should you walk the school corridors?

As leader, you don’t want to micromanage staff by constantly patrolling the corridors and dropping into classrooms, but nor do you want to seem aloof and unapproachable. So, how can you strike the right balance? Simon Creasey investigates
24th January 2020, 12:04am
How Often Should You Walk The Corridors?
Simon Creasey


Leaders: how often should you walk the school corridors?


When was the last time you walked through the corridors of your school or department, popping into classes and greeting those you met?

Your answer matters: it could cast you as a control freak, micromanaging those who work for you, or as aloof and unappreciative of others. Alternatively, if you've got the frequency just right, you could be hailed as the greatest boss on earth. So, what do you need to know to help you achieve the right balance between being seen and letting teachers get on with it?

1. It's not enough just to be seen

As you might have guessed, not going out of your office at all is a bad idea. However, wandering around aimlessly is not much better: the research is clear that simply being seen is not enough.

One way to be seen and have a purpose is to adopt the approach of "management by wandering around" (MBWA). It's a method of leadership in which leaders take ad hoc "wanders" around the workplace, checking in with staff, ensuring equipment is working and looking at any ongoing maintenance work.

There is a clear purpose for the wander and the fact that it is not scheduled means the leader gets a clearer idea of what is really happening. The staff also get to see the boss outside of official meetings.

"MBWA is literally getting up from your desk and walking over - or travelling if you are further away - to your team on a consistent basis," explains Loren Margolis, chief executive of the global leadership development firm Training and Leadership Success. "It's important to be visible to your team and it's important to communicate with them while you're doing it."

Of course, it is just as valid to go out with the intention of speaking with staff and colleagues informally, but you have to do this in a certain way, which brings us to point 2 …

2. Don't be a bore

No one enjoys awkward silences and no one wants an impromptu monologue when they have something to do. So, if you have recognised the need to be seen more and you want to ensure interactions are not all about school business, then brush up on your small talk, says leadership coach Antoinette Oglethorpe.

"Value comes from the head stopping to chat to teachers - not in a way that seems to be checking up or spying on them but rather in a way that shows interest and consideration," she says.

It's a view shared by Margolis, who says you should have a couple of pre-planned questions to ask staff members. You also need to listen more than you talk.

"The purpose is to ensure that your teachers feel cared for and listened to," she adds. "Try to avoid advice-giving or lecturing."

3. Scheduling might help

While a schedule is definitely not what MBWA is all about, for the more relaxed approach in point 2, you may want to schedule when you are going to be walking around and make it habitual. The best time to wander the school is when you know your team will be free.

"Therefore, the head may want to plan to walk around at breaktimes or when they know certain teachers have free periods and are available to chat," says Oglethorpe.

Margolis recommends scheduling these walks for the same day each week so that "people know when to expect you". She adds: "Believe it or not, they'll plan around you if they have something important to share with you - and you can plan your activities around it."

You are likely to find staff are much more comfortable disclosing something sensitive away from an official meeting, and they will appreciate some forewarning of when you might be appearing outside their classroom.

4. Frequency is flexible

Being seen and chatting are good things, but how often should you plan to do this?

Grace Marshall, a personal coach and author of How to be Really Productive, says that the level of visibility of leaders should depend on a combination of organisational culture, personality and team dynamics.

"If they [teachers] have a head who's always visible, what message does that give them?" she says. "Do they feel supported or monitored? If they have a head who is always behind closed doors, do they feel trusted or abandoned?"

Make it a priority to find out which perception your staff have and then balance your time accordingly. If perceptions differ, this requires either a compromise where you aim for the best possible fit for everyone's views or some carefully planned routes around the school so that everyone gets the level of "you" they want.

What are teachers likely to be thinking if they see too much of you?

"Where there is an assumption that 'people have to be watched', it conveys a lack of trust and can breed presenteeism rather than shared purpose, ownership and commitment," Marshall says.

On the flip side, if staff don't catch sight of you regularly enough, it can create a disconnect between "decisions made from 'on high' and impact 'on the ground', leading to people feeling unheard, unappreciated and unsupported", she adds.

In lieu of concrete information from staff (they may not give you honest answers, after all), Marshall argues that a better question than "How much should I be seen?" would be "What's the purpose, expectation and impact of being visible to members of staff?"

Simon Creasey is a freelance writer

This article originally appeared in the 24 January 2020 issue under the headline "Walking: a fine line"

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