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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

A Lesson In Time Management: Using an iPad for Teacher Observations

By Peter DeWitt — August 15, 2013 3 min read
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Over the past year evidence-based observations became a regular occurrence in many public schools across the country. Principals and other school leaders had to step it up and complete at least two observations of teachers within their buildings. This was due to new accountability standards in school, but the political side of this accountability shouldn’t overshadow the importance of evidence-based observations.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not concerned about calling them evidence-based because our favorite phrases in education can sometimes come back to haunt us. However, one of the issues was the sheer number of observations that some administrators had to complete. Many school leaders found themselves doing observations almost every day, which was on top of their other duties.

Besides connecting with students, parents and teachers, observations offer us a window into the everyday lives of students. In the last year I saw teachers doing amazing things. They facilitated learning and the students went off on the road to self-discovery because of the guidance of their teachers. I sat in the middle of it all and found it very inspiring. And in the middle of all these mandates and accountability...we need to find inspiration and there is no better place than with our teachers and students.

As an elementary principal, I don’t have the number of teachers to observe that high school and middle school principals have but I also lack an assistant principal. That is not a complaint, just a reality. As I heard administrators share their concerns about being able to get observations completed, I looked to my iPad for assistance.

iPad Eases the Burden
For full disclosure, I am not a technology guru. I work with teachers that flip their classrooms and parent communication from time to time, and I flip my faculty meetings and parent communication on a regular basis but I do not always use fancy apps and cannot speak tech language fluently. What I am is a practical guy who looks for ways to impact my time management.

In our school district we have been using the Danielson Frameworks for 13 years (I’ve been there 7) and we (teachers and administrators) have worked hard to create a culture that focuses on continuous improvement by having many professional conversations around the frameworks. I wanted to combine my respect for the Frameworks and my love for technology and time management.

A couple of years ago I created a special page on my iPad under the “Pages” app that allowed me to create sections for the 2007 Danielson Frameworks. It gave me the opportunity to write in evidence under each section and then e-mail it to myself on my desktop computer. It was there when I walked back to my office. I could then cut and paste the evidence into our data portal that houses all of our teacher Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR). It looks like this...

As you can see, it is not some fancy app created by a multi-million dollar publisher or Silicon Valley start-up company. However, as some administrators spend 3 hours on an observation, I can cut that time in ½ and still have important professional conversations with teachers...and I’m modelling a positive use of technology to our students.

Our students are growing up surrounded by technology and most times know more than we do. I’ve seen kindergartners negotiate their way around an iPad with greater ease than I can, but what I can bring to the table is the wisdom to know how to use technology in appropriate ways. When I walk into the classroom with my iPad, I’m beginning to model that behavior.

Leadership Day
Today is the 7th anniversary of Scott McLeod’s Leadership Day. I first came in contact with Scott’s work when I saw the Shift Happens: Did You Know videos that he created with Karl Fisch. As a new administrator I was completely inspired by the video and it has been a major influence in how I lead.

I understand that many people have an issue with technology (ie. Safety, privacy, etc.) but it can also provide us with an opportunity to authentically connect like never before. In honor of Scott’s Leadership Day, if you are weary of technology, find one thing you like about technology and finds ways to enhance it. Using the iPad for observations was a game changer for me.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.