Seven Decision Points for the Principal
Short, unannounced classroom visits are the best way for principals to see representative slices of teaching (not the dog-and-pony show), give credible feedback to teachers, and be players in improving teaching and learning. But for principals to make effective use of mini-observations (a term I prefer to "walk-throughs," which has the connotation of walking through a classroom rather than pausing and observing thoughtfully, and is often confused with the “learning walk,” a tour of an entire school with general feedback to the staff), they need to make good choices on seven key questions:
How long to stay in each classroom. When I first started doing mini-observations as a Boston principal, I found that if I stayed less than five minutes, my impressions were superficial, but if I stayed 10 or 15 minutes, I wasn’t able to fit in as many visits. Five minutes yielded surprisingly rich information on each classroom, so that became my default. “What can you possibly see in five minutes?” people huff, but I’ve convinced hundreds of skeptics by playing a five-minute videotape of a classroom in action; almost invariably, they say that it seemed like a lot longer than five minutes and that it provided plenty to comment on afterward.
Some teachers do object to such short visits: “Hey, stick around! Watch my lesson from beginning to end.” They’re right—someone should observe a whole class occasionally and give detailed feedback on how instruction unfolds and how students respond, minute by minute. But that’s a job best done by instructional coaches and peer observers, or by videotaping the lesson and watching it with a critical friend. The principal’s highest priority is getting a whole-school perspective on teaching and learning, and this is incompatible with doing a significant number of full-lesson observations. Those should be reserved for unsatisfactory teachers, who need a detailed diagnosis and...
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