Posted by: principalsintraining | September 25, 2014

Stepping Clear of the Tangle; Bidding Adieu to “Busy”


  Running through a house of (6th grade) sunshine…hard to do when we’re too BUSY.

I spent much of the month of August settling slowly – and quietly – into a new office in a new school.  Occasionally a teacher would pass through – still in full summer radiance, setting feet and eyes upon the dormant space that would soon become a bustling nexus of interaction and learning, refamiliarizing themselves perhaps with that other self that disappears for a while when the sun shines brightest.  I was surprised by how many of them greeted me, by way of poking their head in: “I know you’re busy, sorry to interrupt…”

There is a lot of archetypal weight attached to the school administrator and the office s/he occupies; one commonly held perception is that administrators are “busy.”  Yes, this is likely true…but busier than teachers?  Hmmm.  I’ve done both jobs and what I would say is that we are busy in different ways.  My wife is a teacher and spends time every weekend working – and begins planning for the year weeks before students set foot on campus; yeah, I think she qualifies as being “busy” as well.

So here’s another thought; what if administrators are willing participants in this storytelling?  I wonder if some of us like using this idea of busyness and urgency as a sign of being important?  Perhaps we require the hectic pace to convince ourselves that we merit this important position…and possibly some of us use it as a way to avoid sinking into deeper, more meaningful relationships with our staff, students and community.  “Busy” becomes our crutch, our shield – our excuse.

Friend and elementary Principal Adam Welcome had a great idea to invite a team of “NoCal” school leaders to co-author a post on the concept of #NoOfficeDay. Peter DeWitt – an influential school leader and prolific edu-blogger for EdWeek – was generous enough to host our guest post on his “Finding Common Ground” blog.  At its core, our piece is a pep talk to leaders to step away from the construct of “too busy” to do what’s most important as instructional leaders: streamline management processes so we can embed ourselves in the teaching and learning going on every day at our schools.

It’s good for our students to see the “bosses” learning with them.  It’s good for the teachers to know we’ll have more knowledge of their work beyond infrequent formal evals and their “street cred.”  And it’s good for our own happiness – a constant reminder of why we do what we do.

Let me ask you this – how would you be able to capture student and teacher voices without shedding the construct of “busy?” How could you document what learning looks like from the confines of your office?  A school podcast or Twitter feed don’t make a school function – but they do reveal its beating heart.

Lastly, as evaluators of teachers, how would you truly understand the work a teacher does day in, day out?  Crafting a summative evaluation out of two visits in a year for a total of two or three hours is farcical.  If site administrators are truly instructional leaders, and the teacher evaluation process is truly about growth, then we need wholesale changes to the nature and frequency of these interactions.

We are now three weeks into the school year; I have visited each classroom at least once (still not enough).  One teacher told me in passing the other day: “I felt so much more relaxed with you in the room today than compared to your visit last week.” That is a start.

A teacher colleague shared the following thoughts:

“Here’s a great question I had reading your post. Do you think that teachers have a role in making sure their admins can make it into the rooms and out of the office? Are there things that we can do which make it easier? A simple invite? Not harping with ‘You’ll never believe what _________ did today?!?! and why aren’t you doing anything?’ issues.

If there were I’d like to make sure that I am doing them.

When I was a unit leader at camp (I’d liken the position to an assistant principal’s position at our school . . . but you dress better) our director always said that when I walked into a cabin, it should happen so often that the kids shouldn’t see me and immediately think, “Oh boy, we are in trouble,” they should see me and be so used to it they say, “Awesome, he’s back!”

Perhaps this is the best measure of whether or not an admin spends too much time being busy? Not sure, but it sure sounded good in my head when I read your post.”

All is connected; I just got this email today.  I love Michael Fullan, and it is apropos that he show up in a post about slowing down and pushing back against Busy – “Turning overload into coherence.”  The last chapter in his book Leading In A Culture of Change is titled “The Hare and the Tortoise.”

“When talking about leading on the edge of chaos, it may seem odd that what Claxton (1997) calls slow knowing becomes more important rather than less.  Claxton provides the reason: ‘Recent scientific evidence shows convincingly that the more patient, less deliberate modes are particularly suited to making sense of situations that are intricate, shadowy or ill defined’ (p. 3).” (p. 122)

As we move into the softer light of fall, walk more slowly – and leave your office more frequently – as you patiently cultivate the “Tortoise Mind” (Fullan) as a salve against the frantic rush towards incoherence.





  1. Thanks, Eric. A tremendously important and insightful reminder for all of us.

  2. Hi, Eric. Thanks for reflecting on this. I particularly like your comment, “If site administrators are truly instructional leaders, and the teacher evaluation process is truly about growth, then we need wholesale changes to the nature and frequency of these interactions.” How inspiring and affirming it can be to know that your admin is genuinely interested in what’s happening in your classroom. This has to be in a culture that is respectful and trusting. I think you’re building by that trust simply by being consistent – you’ll be there because you care.

    I’m about to embark on some action research about the long term impact of coaching on instruction and learning. Interested in being a critical friend in this process?

    • You know I’m always up for international collaboration with you! Thank you for reading and reflecting on this. It takes me back to some early posts of mine – my “Leadership School 2.0.” This would be “Course 6: Fight Back Against Busy.”

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