BULL*HORN-- The Orion: 864,000 Invisible Minutes



Connecting the dots is an intuitive process that has been around since the beginning of time.  It makes sense that the sky became an element of mystery; an untouchable piece of magic.  The Orion (read educator) holds his shield against the mighty bull (read political/educational agenda), who is ready to charge the warrior.  Through our own careful examination, thousands of years later, we can see this glorious moment of violent tension in the crisp winter sky just by connecting the dots.  But what is perhaps even more magnificent, or even terrifying, is the millions of stars that lay within the artwork that we can’t even see.


It was originally law enforcement that recognized the inability of any supervisor to be effective when his/her resources were out on the streets, unobservable for entire shifts.  How can you manage or make better something you can’t see?  Maybe cameras were put into cop cars to protect the officer, or maybe they were put there to give a supervisor some sense of how their officers were conducting themselves in the street.  Regardless, research has shown that the use of cameras have bolstered law enforcement productivity.


How different is education?  We ARE fortunate to be able to walk into any classroom at any time to see our teachers in action.  We DO have a hand in shaping instruction and setting expectations.  But think about this for a moment.  Let’s just look at an average building with 350 children, 15 teachers, and 1 Principal.  Even if the Principal is a true instructional leader and admirably spends 3 hours of a 5.5 hour day in the classroom (not just saying hello, but really watching), that equals about 27,000 observable minutes of instruction a year.  Compare that to the 891,000 minutes of teacher instruction and you have an alarming 864,000 minutes of unobserved instruction.  That means that 96.9% of the instruction that happens in your building is unobserved in the best of circumstances.


So we are left to connect the dots.  Some test scores here, some RtI data there; some formal observations here, some assessment binders there.  These are the bright stars with which we attempt to paint a picture of how instruction looks in our schools.  But are they indicative of success/failure?  Because in those classrooms are 350 little minds that are or are not gaining by the minute, and collectively, they encounter 302.5 million minutes of instruction a year.  There are too many invisible stars for us to truly believe that we as supervisors can have a real grasp of what’s happening.  It’s like the difference between being at a crime scene and seeing it on the news.  Perception versus reality has led our top reformers to endorse over-testing and grading teachers through computer driven programs and algorithms because of what DOES happen, unfortunately, when we aren’t around.  The argument here is as simple as this:  Micromanagement is a myth, but you CAN make an impact by establishing far-reaching practices in your building.


  1. Find your popular experts and build teams around them and create your instructional goals from this platform.  Whether based on subject or grade level, we need to work diligently to support our authentic leaders and abandon the traditional roles we have given them.  Having them conduct professional development often alienates them or builds resentment.  When you create clusters or teams in your buildings without handing out titles, your experts will emerge, and teachers are far more likely to reach for optimum levels of instruction to meet goals when they are accountable to their peers. 
  2. Look for clues that lead you to believe a classroom needs heightened observation.  Learn how to spend your visitation hours wisely.  If a teacher is consistently transitioning within 30 seconds of your entrance, it usually means they believe what they were doing wouldn’t meet your expectations and are moving into an endorsed process.  
  3. Have a weekly lunch with students.  Pick a grade, and then one student from each class, and hold discussions.  “Out of the mouth of babes.”  Ask them about their learning, listen to student/student dialogue as they discuss their classrooms.  If too many differences emerge, it can tell you a lot about grade level planning or one teacher specifically.  Ask them to bring their favorite piece of writing.  Cameras in classrooms would be deemed unconstitutional; yet there are about 25 living breathing ones in there already.


The last suggestion is my next step, and I look forward to the results.  The bottom line is: A majority of our teachers are awesome and perform their job with a wealth of expertise and a ton of heart.  They have been battered by the media, but they are true heroes who give and give endlessly.  But they all don’t.  And we all have room to grow.  This isn’t about being sneaky or playing a game of ‘gotcha.’  Instead, it’s about finding ways to increase our ability to overcome insurmountable odds.  You have ways to get back some of the 300 million minutes you don’t see.  You just can’t do it by yourself and you can’t do it without building teams, trust, a set of high expectations, and forms of accountability that can’t be faked out.  You will always have tests…AFTER THE FACT.  But what about now?  As you stare up at the crisp winter sky of your school, what can you do RIGHT now to impact a student’s learning?  I’d like to hear about your dots as we learn to share in an age where our responsibilities are changing at the speed of light.

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Comment by Michael Keany on October 28, 2011 at 4:19pm
Another thought provoking piece!



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