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Eradicating Meerkat Teaching

One of the things that drove me a little crazy about being a Principal was the looks that you get.  There’s a look that a parent gives you when they bump into you at the supermarket.  There’s a look that students give you when you when you try to (awkwardly) play a little four-square with them on yard duty.  And there’s certainly a look that the unsuspecting teacher gives you when you arrive unannounced in their classroom.

What’s with that?  Why do teachers sit bolt upright and jerk their heads in your direction, eyes bulging, with a distinct look of “What on Earth are you doing here?” written across their faces?

The simple answer is fear.  It was engrained into us when we were young and at school ourselves that Principals or School Leaders only arrive at the coalface when there’s bad news to deliver.  It’s often a student who is in trouble, a teacher who has had an ‘incident’ on their yard duty or news for the class about a special District Superintendent attending the next assembly so behaviour needs to be at it’s absolute best … or else!

When this manifests in our current teachers it’s evidence that we’ve not quite managed to deprivatise practice in our school.  Sure, we might share stories at staff meetings, on the portal and in the staff room – but the concept of having another significant adult in the room while I’m practicing has not yet become commonplace and comfortable.

It’s when meerkat behaviours in our teacher evaporate completely that we know that practice has truly been deprivatised – or brought out into the open.  And there are some very simple strategies that School Leaders can use to gradually create a more open and sharing culture:

  • Proactively communicate your intention to visit classrooms regularly for the purpose of knowing how to support your teachers better.
  • Let teachers know in advance the aspects of practice that you are building a focus on.
  • Teach! When you get there, make their life a little easier by helping out, showing your skill and reminding them of your credibility.
  • Establish a “3-1 Rule” by aiming to show up for three positive reasons to balance out each negative reason for attending.
  • Model. Share your own practice. Ask for advice on important issues, acknowledging even the Black Hats you might tend to avoid.
  • Provide structure in both the meetings timetable and in the meetings themselves for discussions about practice.
  • Develop platforms where teacher programs, evidence and achievements are shared among your staff. No good idea should live and then die within one classroom.
  • Conduct your own purposeful classroom walkthroughs and facilitate peer walkthroughs too.

As you can see, there’s no single action that will fully deprivatise practice in your school.  This one is going to take some time and some persistence.  But it will be worth it.  The burden of feedback provision will be lessened upon you as others begin to do your job for you over a coffee at recess.  You’ll develop banks of great ideas, great programs, great resources, great units of work and great memories.

And you’ll eventually be greeted with a warm smile when you enter a classroom – and not the face of a meerkat who just smelled a lion on  the breeze!



Don’t have time to absorb the whole article today?  Here’s the big points …

1) Fear is stopping teachers from welcoming you in the classroom.

2) Deprivatising practice is the key.

3) Show up for positive reasons.

4) Don’t forget you’re a teacher.

5) Structure for change & persist.


AITSL STANDARDS FOR PRINCIPALS … and you addressed them by reading!

The Big One

Professional Practice 3 Leading improvement innovation & change.

But also …

PP1 – Leading teaching & learning

PP2 – Developing self & others.

LR2 – Knowledge & understanding

LR3 – Personal qualities, social & interpersonal