Principal Leadership - March 2015 - (Page 58)

instructional leader Creating a Stimulating Learning Environment Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey I nstructional leaders spend a great deal of time in classrooms observing teaching and learning. Many superintendents expect that principals spend two hours per day observing classrooms-a figure we believe is reasonable. Leaders should set aside at least that much time per day to focus on the learning environment as a whole. We have worked with a plethora of school leaders and teams, encouraging them to focus on what the students are doing, not just what the teacher is doing. As Schlechty (2002) reminds us, "Schools cannot be made great by great teacher performances. They will be made great by great student performances" (p. xiii). As we like to put it, look down, not just up, to see what students are doing and learning. But there is another place to look that is often neglected: the school's walls. We recommend that classroom observations include a review of the visuals and resources available to students. After all, the classroom is a learning space, and its walls should help facilitate that learning. Unfortunately, in some classrooms students stare at blank walls. In others, they gaze at posters that were purchased at a teacher store months-or even years-before. But luckily, in some classrooms there are resources available all over the walls. We are reminded of a comment an English teacher made: "If my students are going to stare off into space, and sometimes they do, I want them to see words and ideas. I want them reading and thinking everywhere they look." This teacher even has quotes painted on ceiling tiles and rotates them every 58 Principal Leadership | March 2015 break so that the room is constantly changing visually. Minimum Expectations for Environmental Print At the most obvious level, the print in a given classroom should reflect the current unit of study. It does no good to have posters and charts about cell division when the class has moved on to the ecology unit. Nor does it do any good to have posters up for the whole year-they just become wallpaper to students. Having current content reflected in the learning environment requires that the walls are updated every few weeks as new units of study are introduced. It also implies that there may be different areas in the classroom for different classes that learn in that environment. Say, for example, that a science teacher teaches both chemistry and genetics. Portions of her classroom are devoted to each of her classes. As a side benefit, several of her chemistry students request to take the genetics elective, because they are intrigued by the content on the wall over the course of their year. An additional, minimum expectation is a current word wall (Yates, Cuthrell, & Rose, 2011). There are all kinds of word walls, and they don't need to take up a lot of space. They do need to include words that are currently being studied or used in the classroom. We like to move a few words on the word wall to see if the paper behind them is faded. If it is, it's likely time to update the word wall. Generally, word walls are organized collections of words displayed in large letters on a wall (or other large display place) in the classroom. In middle and high school classrooms, word walls are typically focused on content (domain-specific) words, such as words for a unit of study on triangles (hypotenuse, leg, congruent, equilateral, obtuse, and median). There are also word walls that focus on literary devices, prefixes and suffixes, synonyms and homonyms, commonly misspelled words, and conjugated words (such as when learning Spanish). Word walls are typically organized alphabetically, but there are special cases in which words are organized thematically. There are a number of classroom learning activities that can be completed using word walls. At a basic level, word walls can be used in a simple bingo game where students write words of their choice on a bingo card, and the teacher or another student calls out meanings until someone wins. Students can also be expected to use word wall words when they answer questions verbally, take notes, complete a graphic organizer, or write in response to prompts. None of these would be possible if the words were not posted in the room for students to use. A third minimum expectation for environmental print relates to the procedures used in a given classroom (Frey, 2013). If there are standard operating procedures in a class-and there should be-the instructions should be posted in the room. When students fail to follow the established procedures, the environmental print can be used to reinforce the expectations. This reduces classroom punishment and increases the likelihood that students will complete tasks as expected. For

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Principal Leadership - March 2015

From the Editor
B ulletin Board
Cases in Point
Healthy Schools, Healthy Students
Military Partnerships: Paving the Way to Success
Designing Futures
Teach to Win
Keep it Simple
Communication: The Unspoken Key to School
Discussion Guide: Communication: The Unspoken Key to School Culture
Coherence and Collaboration: Fundamentals for Common Core Success
Layers of Leaders
Widening the Road
Oregon Students Have PEP!
From Good to Great
Instructional Leader
Breaking Ranks in Practice

Principal Leadership - March 2015