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Peter DeWitt's

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 Method for Fostering Better Observations

By Peter DeWitt — September 17, 2015 4 min read
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School leaders and teachers are busy, and they seem to be going in so many different directions. How can’t they be considering that they each have unique jobs? One is responsible for the building and everything that comes with it. Teachers are responsible for their classroom, and everything that comes with that space.

However, their jobs are very similar too because they impact students and learning.

One area that affects both parties, and is often wasted, is the teacher observation process. In a recent blog about the teacher observation process being a waste of time, nearly 43% of the 216 teachers who answered a survey at the end reported that their observations were not beneficial to them. Only 9% of teachers said they found the experience valuable.

This lack of feeling that observations are beneficial is not a new story. Many of us who were teachers felt that the observation process, which is of course centered around evaluation, was not beneficial. Many of the principals doing those observations probably felt the same way.

It was like 2 ships passing in the night...

However, sometimes the issue lies in the fact that teachers and principals never really take the time to discuss the observation process. Why? Many times it’s because leaders believe teachers already know what it entails, and teachers are either too busy or too scared to ask.

For example, it’s quite popular these days for principals to do “walk-throughs” but there are times when those are only completed in name alone, and really don’t provide any beneficial experience to either parties. Leaders and teachers don’t always take (or get) the time to discuss what they are for and what was learned during the process.

Share the Knowledge!

Principals do so many things to teachers instead of with them, and that leads to bad feelings, negative relationships and poor school climates.

What we need to do is make sure that anything that affects teachers is actually shared with them. I know that sounds like common sense, but many times both parties are so busy that they don’t share the information with one another, which leads to bigger issues.

Let’s be proactive instead of reactive.

Leaders and teachers need to spend at least one faculty meeting discussing observations. Yes, I understand that they are tied to evaluation many times, and that there are states that require principals to grade teachers by using point scales. I get all that. But, we have to do them so why not make them beneficial?

Try the following:

  • Send out a Teaching Channel video of a teacher going through the instructional process with students
  • Choose a video that is 15 minutes or less, which is easy to do with Teaching Channel videos
  • Flip the video by sending out 2 or 3 days (or a week!) ahead of time so teachers can view it on their own first.
  • Leaders should attach the observation form adopted by the school district so that everyone has a copy of that as well.

At the faculty meeting, put teachers in groups at their grade level or content area...or think outside the box and have teachers count off by 1 to 4 and put them in groups that way. Inspire them to work with colleagues they may not know as well.

Show the Teaching Channel video and have teachers write notes that are based in evidence. If they say they notice something, make sure they write the evidence to support the notes. If they see something they don’t like, make sure they write that as well.

After the video has ended, give the groups time to talk about what they saw. After about 10 to 15 minutes of encouraging dialogue among the groups, have people share out what they saw. What was good? What was bad? And then ask them what feedback they would provide to the teacher in the video to support what they liked and correct what they didn’t.

Perhaps, just perhaps...the observation process will change for the better in school because principals will understand what teachers are looking for and what they want to (or need to) hear, and teachers will get an understanding of how difficult it may be to observe teachers and provide feedback.

Time will always be a factor. Some teachers may say they don’t have the time to go through this process at a faculty meeting because they have a million other things to do. The reality is that may be true, but if they don’t participate they will continue to believe the observation process is a waste of time. I think we should all find time to change that perception.

In the End

Working in schools is about building relationships and encouraging dialogue. Very often problems occur between both parties because they don’t understand each other’s role in the process. Faculty meetings are a great venue to encourage dialogue around what this process should look like, and provides teachers the opportunity to share their voice about it as well. Maybe after the dialogue happens, teachers will be less likely to think the observation process is a waste of time.

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Creative Commons photo courtesy of the Mathematical Association.

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.