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.
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
- 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%).
Marshall 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).
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.