Because Counting Our Blessings Just Isn't Enough

Our principal will be spending the day with us. What do you want her to learn?

Leading a Reading Group on No Office Day with Our Fifth Grade

The potent question, “what do you want our principal to learn?”, posed by one of our teachers to her class at the beginning of my No Office Day with the second grade last week, not only served as a short journal writing prompt for students to begin their day, but also deepened my understanding of No Office Day.

I love No Office Days! I get to spend the entire day, from arrival to dismissal, with one grade. I’ve scheduled six this year, one for each of our grades – kindergarten through fifth. With each No Office Day I celebrate, I gain greater perspective and insight on the tremendous value of the practice.

I’ve written about No Office Day before in a guest post on the PEJE (Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education) blog here as well as on my own school blog, Perspectives From the Principal here and here. I’ve been interviewed on an Eduleadership podcast along with my talented colleagues Jessica Johnson and William King which you can listen to here. And, I’ve been privileged to collaborate creatively with many inspiring educators on No Office Day, some of whom have shared their reflections on our  No Office Day wiki, which was honored as a featured wiki by Wikispaces and described in a guest post I authored for the Wikispaces Blog.

Don’t misunderstand. No Office Days are not the only times I am in classrooms.  I deliberately schedule two hours every day – No Office Hours – during which I escape the gravitational pull of the office: the meetings, the phone calls, the e-mails, the planning, and the communications, making sure I am present where it matters most, among students and teachers. I’m also out of the office other times: leading student council, covering or co-teaching a class for a teacher, participating in assemblies and programs, interacting with students at lunch and recess, and more. Yet, while I strive to spend much time throughout the school, No Office Days are special. I do no supervision or evaluation of teachers on these days. Instead, I participate actively in learning and teaching as a peer. Sometimes I teach a lesson a teacher has planned and sometimes I teach lessons I have designed myself. Sometimes I provide student support – taking on a small group or assisting an individual student. Still other times, I am simply present, participating enthusiastically in whatever the activity.  

OK, I carry my cell phone and ipad with me throughout the day and have responded to texts from my administrative assistant with questions she needs answered in order to support management of the school while I am out and about. I’ve replied to e-mails from parents or members of the educational leadership team that appeared to require a quick response. Some teachers have sought me out during No Office Day when they feel they need immediate direction on a challenge they face. Our Director of Admissions has introduced me to prospective parents while I am in a class on No Office Day.  I’ve even received calls from the nurse at my own children’s schools and have dashed out of the building, dropped one of them off at home, and returned as if there had been no interruption. Life, both professional and personal, happens. But, mostly, on No Office Days I’ve managed to be present for our students and teachers, actively engaged in learning.

So, back to the profound essential question posed by a second grade teacher – Our principal will be spending the day with us. What do you want her to learn?

What students wrote was potent. What they shared was even more powerful.

Second graders wrote that they wanted me to learn about their centers, their class library, tens and ones, math, reading, writing, how we do tefillah (prayer), good things, what we are learning about nonfiction books, and naming stuff (i.e. text features) in nonfiction books like bold words and headings and captions. One particularly curious child astutely wrote, “I wonder what our principal noticed about our class.”

Students have shared with me on No Office Days even more, including the best place on our campus to build a fort, global variations on the Cinderella story, the status of a child’s sister struggling with an illness, insights on Jacob’s ladder described in the book of Genesis (Bereisheet), favorite football teams, how to have fun solving word problems, ways our pets make us laugh, games to play in Hebrew, areas on our campus that suffered erosion after Hurricane Irene, what the shapes of the continents remind us of and how to critique a friend’s writing respectfully.

With each No Office Day I’ve not only learned more, but as the wise second grader quoted previously wondered, I’ve noticed more. I’ve developed greater respect and understanding for the rhythm and nuance of our students’ days. I’ve gained deeper insight into our students’ school experiences, from their perspective, in their terms. I’ve seen school through the eyes of our students. I’ve been transformed from the leader to the learner; paradoxically helping me to become a far more effective educational leader. That transformation from leader to learner to more effective leader has been the greatest gift of No Office Day, making the time devoted simply to being with students and teachers absolutely indispensable.

Comments on: "The Greatest Gift of No Office Day" (2)

  1. One word: insight.
    I wish more principals stepped out their offices and reflected on these experiences as you do (for the very reasons you mentioned above).

    • Shira Leibowitz said:

      Dear Cristina,
      One teacher called No Office Day “the best idea of the decade”! OK, hyperbole, and yet the time spent in classrooms simply being present is invaluable. Please don’t hesitate to continue sharing about additional ways principals can support teachers and students. I benefit tremendously from your insight!

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