According to Merriam-Webster dictionary the definition for wandering is as follows:
wandering (adj.): characterized by aimless, slow, or pointless movement
When reading this definition, one would believe wandering is the antithesis of effective leadership.
However, upon further review it appears wandering is one of the best actions a leader can take.
In their 1983 book In Search of Excellence, Tom Peters and Robert Waterman concluded that successful businesses often emphasize an approach called Management by Wandering Around. This practice asks managers to spend a significant amount of time making informal visits to work areas for the purpose of interacting with employees.
To date, many Fortune 500 companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Disney, 3M, GE, Walmart, and PepsiCo have implemented this practice.
But what does this have to do with school leadership?
It means everything.
Management by Wandering Around in schools suggests that leaders need to be intentional about getting out of the office and into the "trenches" of their schools for the purpose of understanding the experiences of their teachers and support staff.
In my role as a school superintendent I am a huge believer of the importance of getting into buildings and classrooms. I have found when I am out and about I have a much better perspective of what is going on in the lives of our staff and students. When making decisions for our district, I am able to draw upon first-hand experiences as opposed to going off of perceptions, rumors, or second-hand information.
One day I was discussing the importance of getting out of the office with Jason Kline, Principal at Cedar Rapids (IA) Kennedy High School. He mentioned getting into classrooms and interacting with students and staff gives him "energy." Until that conversation I hadn’t thought about interacting with students in those terms.
I believe Jason is on to something.
I have noticed when I sit at my desk for too long I get worn out. I get tired. My back tightens. My head aches. Coincidentally, these ailments seem to go away when I get around kids.
Put another way, visiting buildings is like popping four ibuprofen with a shot of espresso.
In The Principal, Andrew Marotta suggests, “Get into classrooms constantly and consistently. This is a top priority. You can get so busy that sometimes it is easier to just sit in your office and "get your work done." Except being in the classroom is your work. To be an educational leader, not just a building manager, get in there.”
Leadership by wandering around can also strengthen relationships with employees. In The Leadership Challenge, James Kouzes and Barry Posner contend, “Being visible in day-to-day undertakings demonstrates you care, makes you more real, more genuine, more approachable, and more human. Being where they are helps you stay in touch with what’s going on and shows that you walk the talk about the values you and your constituents share.”
Next time you hear a school leader is wandering, don't assume she is getting in a quick game of Pokemon GO.
Instead, realize she is making great use of her time.