When I became a principal, I worked extremely hard to make sure the observation process for my teachers was not only fair but also valuable. Many of my staff routinely commented on how diligent I was in the write-up of each report to capture all aspects of the lesson while offering tangible strategies for improvement. Herein lies the goal of any observation of a teacher or administrator, and that is feedback for growth. Unfortunately, this is not how it is either viewed by some teachers or implemented by administrators.
Many educators downright disregard the entire process as being valuable. I have either read or been challenged by some teachers on social media that they don’t want administrators in their classrooms. If this is the case, then there are probably two issues at play. Either a teacher is not being open to feedback and getting better, or an administrator is not creating a meaningful experience that leads to growth. No matter the reason for animosity, a need for shared ownership to improve the process might be needed.
Instructional leadership should always be a top priority for any administrator regardless of his or her position. The key is to focus on continually growing in this area while building relationships with teachers in the process. Below are some strategies that can be used by administrators to remove the stigma of observations.
- Stay the entire lesson.
- Never make it an “I gotcha” moment.
- Allow the teacher to align artifacts that show the entire picture. These can be detailed lesson plans, assessments, performance tasks, student work, use of data to improve instruction, modifications for ELL/SPED learners, portfolios, or professional learning opportunities.
- Align research and pedagogical evidence to recommendations for growth and improvement (see point above).
- Schedule the post-conference in a timely manner (1-2 days is preferable).
- During the post-conference, make sure it is a dialogue, not a monologue. Since observations are subjective, it is crucial to be open to changes after engaging in a conversation and looking at the evidence.
- Ask the right questions to spur reflection.
- Ensure that some of the feedback can be implemented right away. For areas that need more time, make sure the proper supports in the form of time and professional learning opportunities are made available.
- Provide opportunities for self-reflection after the post-conference.
- Integrate observations as one component of a comprehensive evaluation that consists of portfolios and student feedback.
- Reduce teacher anxiety by routinely visiting classrooms through a non-evaluative walk-through process. This will also make students more comfortable and when a formal observation does take place both groups will be used to seeing the administrator in the classroom and the lesson can more easily go as planned.
Means of evaluation are a reality in almost every type of job. Education is no different. Observations are the primary component of an annual performance review in schools. Instead of outright discounting or conducting them in ineffective and meaningless ways, let’s work to improve the process. In the end, all, including our learners, will benefit.