A Reflection on my First Day of Observation Meetings

In my last post, I described how I plan to use mini-observations and scheduled observation meetings this year as I learn to be an instructional leader. Today was my first day of observation meetings… and I loved it!

As I was talking to my five-year-old son tonight, he commented that he would be scared if he had to visit his principal, and he wondered if the teachers at my school were scared if they had to visit me. That’s a really weird thought for me. I hope everyone at my school feels comfortable visiting with me, but my son may be right. I wish that weren’t the case.

  • I’m hoping regular meetings will ease those fears.
  • I’m hoping I develop strong relationships that will ease any fears.
  • I’m hoping that everyone in our building sees my goal– to be the best we can be every day.

So today we began the meeting process, and I met with five teachers for 30+ minutes each. (Five conferences in one day to discuss goals, growth, and teaching! I can’t remember having five of those conversations with a principal during my first 10 years of teaching!) In my opinion, the meetings couldn’t have gone better. Our meetings followed this structure:

  • Teachers shared positive things from the year so far.
  • Teachers shared any concerns or needs they have.
  • We discussed the mini-observation process and showed my observation documentation system and how it works.
  • We discussed the observation notes I’ve already gathered through mini-observations.
  • We reviewed the three school-wide instructional goals for the year (writing effective objectives, student engagement, and appropriate and effective student technology use).
  • We identified 3-5 individual PD goals I can help each teacher reach. Essentially, these are some of the key things I’ll look for during a mini-observation in addition to the school-wide goals.
  • Finally, we went over the teacher evaluation rubric. Teachers assessed themselves with the rubric prior to coming to the meeting. We will re-evaluate in December and in May.

This won’t be a typical observation meeting, but it was a great first one. I feel like we got a lot accomplished and we’re heading in the right direction. In our second observation meeting, we’ll be able to have deeper discussions about effective lesson planning and analyzing assessments.

I have seven observation meetings scheduled for Thursday. I can’t wait!

But I will admit that I was pretty tired by the end of the day; however, this is the work.

How I’m Learning to be an Intentional Instructional Leader

My perception of classroom observations changed drastically when I read Rethinking Teacher Supervision and Evaluation by Kim Marshall. I then read Leverage Leadership by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo based on a recommendation from my friend Justin Baeder, director of the Principal Center.

I combined the key ideas I gathered from both books and developed an ambitious mini-observation & teacher meeting schedule that begins this week. Since I am the principal at a private school in Arkansas, we are not required to follow the state’s TESS guidelines. While I understand that many administrators reading this post are mandated to follow certain observation guidelines, perhaps by sharing my experiences and my processes, a few things may be applicable and beneficial.

In the traditional full observation system, classrooms are typically observed 2-4 times a year. When broken down by class periods (6 class periods x 178 days), that turns out to be 2 observations out of a possible 1,068 lessons (.002%). I will never believe that system provides an accurate picture of a classroom.Full Observations


Instead of relying on full observations, my emphasis this year will be on mini-observations which Marshall discusses in-depth in his book. A mini-observation is as follows:

  • 10-15 minute observation
  • unannounced
  • frequent (at least once every two weeks)
  • timely feedback provided

When broken down by class periods, that turns out to be around 18 observations out of 1,068 lessons (1.7%).

Mini-observationsMarshall recommends meeting with teachers informally within 24-48 hours of each observation. He suggests meeting in the hallways, in the copier rooms, at lunch, even in the parking lot– anywhere you can have a short conversation about the observation. After that, he suggests the administrator follow-up with an email documenting the observation and conversation.

While this system makes sense, I tried it last year and it was too tough for me. I would get distracted, and days would be go by before I had the opportunity to follow-up. Because I wasn’t timely with my feedback, the conversations rarely happened and I didn’t see the results I wanted.

So this year I’m going to try a different approach– one outlined in Leverage Leadership. I’m still sticking with mini-observations because I believe they provide a more accurate picture of a classroom. However, the follow-up conversations are scheduled in the form of 30-minute bi-weekly teacher meetings during each teacher’s planning period. Take a look below to see an example weekly schedule of my observations (in green) and meetings (in yellow).

Sample Weekly Schedule

Is it ambitious? Absolutely.

Am I crazy for trying this? Probably.

Is it doable? Yes, if I believe it works– and I do. Marshall convinced me when he wrote this:

Talking to teachers about the teaching and learning that’s going on in their classrooms is the heart and soul of instructional leadership. There’s nothing more productive and satisfying than being in classrooms and talking to colleagues about teaching and learning. This is the work!

(from Rethinking Teacher Supervision and Evaluation)

Today I was able to observe 7 classrooms and I had so much fun! I can’t remember a day last year that I was able to observe 7 classrooms.

Tomorrow we start our bi-weekly meetings. We’ll begin a process where we get to dedicate 30 minutes every other week to talk about student learning, to plan lessons together, to talk about classroom observations, and to help each other grow.

I’m so excited about this!

Today I began to feel like an instructional leader.

Tomorrow I’ll begin to be one.

Love What You Do

Love what you do graphic

Love What You Do by Hugh MacLeod

Last Thursday, my five-year-old son Carson fell off a ladder while playing on a playground. As you might expect, we were concerned about any serious injuries, so we took him to Arkansas Children’s Hospital. I was very impressed by how nice and helpful all of the nurses, doctors, and other hospital personnel were. I was especially impressed with Mr. Scot, Chief Prosthetist/Orthotist. Mr. Scot had to take 24 measurements to create a custom-fit back brace for Carson, and the way he interacted with Carson while taking measurements was fun to watch. The two counted together, talked about each measurement, and Mr. Scot answered every single one of Carson’s questions.

After he finished with all of his measurements, we began talking about our options — white, camo, red… and black. I asked Carson if he wanted a black one so he could be like Batman. It didn’t take long for Carson to envision himself looking like Batman when he wore his black back brace with a giant yellow bat symbol on his chest. The decision was made and Mr. Scot said it would be ready in the morning.

As promised, Mr. Scot stopped by our room early that next morning, and just as he did the day before, Mr. Scot visited with Carson and answered all of his questions. Mr. Scot handed me the brace and I noticed the order sticker inside with the printed patient’s name — Carson “Batman” Collier. We joked about that and we thanked him for doing that. Then Mr. Scot worked on Carson’s brace making adjustments, trimming certain parts, and making it fit perfectly. The neurologist came in to make sure the brace was a perfect fit and thanked Mr. Scot for his great work.

As Mr. Scot was packing up to leave, he said, “Oh, one more thing. The folks back at the office made this for you,” and he pulled a batman logo printed on paper from his front shirt pocket (and he even brought tape to attach it). He centered it on Carson’s brace and made it an official batman brace. It was awesome! We thanked Mr. Scot and he headed out.

Carson CollierIt was obvious to me that Mr. Scot loves what he does. Every step along the way he showed us that he cared and wanted the best for us. He didn’t do anything extravagant — he just paid attention and his small actions made a huge difference for us.

Often that’s all it takes. It’s not about doing really cool things in our classrooms, using the most up-to-date technology or teaching tools, or planning out-of-this-world activities for students. Sure, those things are great and helpful for student learning, but what really shows students we love what we do is when we pay attention and look for small ways to make a huge difference in their lives.

I want to be like Mr. Scot. I hope we all do.