Monday, October 17, 2011

Observation Season Open (Team Approach)

It's that time of year again when most Principals begin the open season of formal observations.  I have heard from others that it is somewhat of a static process.
The principal says they want to come observe a teacher, the teacher tells the principal what they want to hear in a pre-observation conference, The principal observes the teacher and then  tells the teacher what they want to hear in the post-conference.  Each party tries to use an educational buzz word and include things on the district goal sheet.
I believe in the power of questioning and reflection.  When observing a classroom I like to give the teacher a student perspective and some questions to think about.  The power of the observation is not in the time spent in the classroom but the time spent in reflection or more importantly in conversation during the post-conference.  At a recent Embedding Formative Assessment training, the presenters talked about feedback for students.  They discussed classrooms that did not give grades but gave comments and other classrooms in which teachers told students that they had two wrong but did not tell them which two.  I felt reassured that I was modeling some of that in my evaluations of teachers.  But, teachers need to know that they are "proficient" or "meet expectations" before they can truly listen to your discussion.  In the current economic and political time, it is extremely important to tell teachers upfront that this lesson was "good" and only then can you focus on making improvements toward "greatness".

This year I wanted to try something new.  As a building, we are attempting to increase our professional dialogue through a PLC approach to team meetings.  Our district goals also include a shift toward PLC's.  At a team meeting where we were discussing a student's behavior changes between classrooms and another student's academic advances and struggles throughout the day, I suggested that I would like to follow a group of students throughout the day.  I said that next week I will observe each teacher on the same day.  I wanted to see a Math, English, Science, Social Studies and Reading class and would formally observe each.  Students enjoyed seeing me in multiple classes throughout the day.

The experience was amazing as an observer.  I was able to give specific feedback to the whole team of teachers about what it is like to be a student on their team.  I asked students what they were doing and why.  I asked them what they did in other classes and they made some connections between classes.  For the first time as a principal I could help out parents with an answer to that age old question, "What did you do at school today?"

The best part of the day was that in each classroom I observed solid research-based teaching strategies and more importantly, I observed students learning.  Each classroom gave students an opportunity to read, to move, to be social with class materials, and to receive feedback from the professional about their learning.

It was a great day for me and for each student on the team!  Great job teachers!

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