Claremont, Calif. — We have an in-law who, in his early 30s, has just finished his second year as an elementary school principal. He loves his work. He loved teaching, too, and left it for an administrative position with considerable reluctance. Perhaps that is one reason for his being, as I am sure he is, a good principal.
Recently Randy, the principal, and Janine, the wife-mother-teacher, and their two children had dinner with us. As I always do when I have a chance, I lured Randy into my study and asked him how his work as a principal was going.
This time what I wanted to know was whether the principal of an elementary school ever got into classrooms and observed the work of teachers. My own experience had been as dean of the faculty at a college.
I tried to keep close, friendly relations with members of the faculty. But I knew I would have been unwelcome, to put it mildly, if I had ever visited a classroom, the professor's domain. I would have been thought an intruder, even a spy.
If Randy's school is typical - and I hope it is - visits of the principal to classes are common. And, according to Randy, they are good for both the teacher and the principal.
These visits, especially when followed up by a conference, are part of the process known by educators as ''clinical supervision.'' They are expected by teachers. Also, it is intended that such visits be accomplished in such a friendly way that even a new teacher will not be unnerved by them.
In fact it is the new teacher, whether new as a teacher or new to the school, who is most likely to ask to be observed and advised.
Randy told me he makes two kinds of visits to classrooms. The first, a certain number each year, might be called formal. They are the most ''clinical.'' At these he takes notes on the teacher's instructional methods and later has a session with the teacher to discuss what he has observed.
The second, or informal, are visits he makes to notice whether there have been any changes in methods, which may or may not be improvements, and afterward to talk in a casual way about how things are going. He may have some suggestions or ideas, possibly picked up in other classrooms, which he hopes will be useful.
In addition to his scheduled visits, he drops in for a few minutes from time to time, perhaps not so much to judge the work of the teacher as to indicate his personal interest and his desire to be helpful.
I didn't ask Randy whether teachers occasionally came into the principal's office to find out what he was doing and perhaps add some advice.
But he has a lively sense of humor and a relaxed and appealing laugh. I am sure a sudden visit from a teacher - or the superintendent - wouldn't upset him.
After all, he might learn something. And eagerness to learn is one of the things that can make a good principal, as well as a good teacher, even better.