Recently, I posted 3 Reasons Why Your Observations May Be a Waste of Time and to say it struck a nerve would be an understatement. I’m glad it did, because leadership is important and there is a strong disconnect between how teachers feel and how principals say they lead. This is not about picking on leaders, but it is about opening up a larger conversation about school leadership.
There are really 3 areas that are at the heart of the disconnect. Those 3 areas that prove problematic for school leaders are faculty meetings, teacher observations which ultimately affect the school climate. School climate is the plate on which everything else sits, and it is clear from the comments and results of a few small sample surveys, that there are many school climates that are fractured.
Why is this a big problem? Due to our present stressors of increased accountability, mandates, and high stakes testing, the rhetoric in the media is that schools are broken, and if leaders don’t do something about the issues that we face, the rhetoric will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It’s a vicious cycle. What/who is responsible for the disconnect teachers feel from their leaders? Is it the increased accountability or the leadership? I used to believe that all school leaders worked as hard as those leaders I know and have worked with, and I have realized that not all leaders are created equally. The disconnect is deafening.
Area 1 - Faculty Meetings
In 3 Reasons Why Your Faculty Meetings are a Waste of Time I wrote that those 3 reasons are,
Summed up in an e-mail - Dates, times, compliance, compliance, compliance. Do your faculty a favor. Send it out in an e-mail so they don't have to seem engaged and interested. They're teachers, not children, and can read more easily than they can possibly hear when it comes to the typical faculty meeting information. Teachers didn't help co-construct the meeting - Why are teachers so negative? Probably because they have to show up to another venue dictated by school leaders where they didn't have a voice in the process. Many school leaders walk into a faculty meeting with a single idea of how they want to move forward and walk out with the same idea. That's telling. If you walk in with an idea and walk out with the same one you're either insecure, a tyrant or clueless. Our teachers can help make any idea better. They spent as much time in education classes as you did. Do them a favor...respect them and ask them for input. The best school leaders always do. It didn't focus on learning - Look at your mission statements. Do you have an aspiration for your school? Do teachers know what it is? What about parents and students? Is the word "learning" anywhere on there? If not, it's probably not at the focus of your faculty meetings either.
At the end of the post I added a survey asking a number of questions. Here are 3 of those questions along with the responses. The first questions was regarding whether faculty meetings are co-constructed between teachers and school leaders.
Over 85% of the nearly 500 teachers who responded said no. I get that it is a small randomized sample but I don’t think the results are off-based. How many leaders really do co-construct faculty meetings with staff?
Question #2 asked whether teachers felt that faculty meetings mirrored professional development sessions.
80% of respondents answered that there faculty meetings were not professional development sessions. And sadly, the last question simply asked whether faculty meetings are a waste of time. 80% of the respondents felt that their faculty meetings were a waste of time.
Which leads me to this...
Area 2 - Teacher Observations
According to John Hattie, someone I work with as a Visible Learning Trainer, when teacher observations are done correctly, they can have a high effect size. Formative evaluations that focus on a teacher’s teaching can have an effect size of .90 which is over two times the Hinge Point of .40.
Unfortunately, taking the comments on the post and the survey results teacher observations are falling short. The 3 reasons I suggested are:
No New Learning - The teachers observed learn nothing new during the teacher observation process. And more sad than that is the fact that the teacher never expected to learn anything new from the process! What is the aspiration of the teacher and students? How are school leaders helping to achieve those aspirations? Too Much Talk - The school leader talks more than they listen, and they only focus on the positive...and that positive is fairly surface level. In Improving Teaching One Conversation at a Time (Educational Leadership. 2015), Shelly Arneson writes, "Even if the administrator has only glowing things to say about a classroom lesson, the post-observation meeting is often one-sided, sounding like this: "I thought it was great. I liked the way you grouped the students. Any questions before you sign to acknowledge you received this?" Even if the teacher wanted to talk about the lesson, this type of introduction shuts the door." Surface Level - If you are familiar with the Danielson Framework, than you know that observation meetings should be "All about the conversation." Unfortunately, too many leaders and teachers don't dive down deep enough into the good, the bad and the ugly of the observation. Arneson sites "time constraints", "fear of the unknown" and other reasons for this happening. This is even more complicated due to the relationship between leader and teacher, the overall school climate, and the respect for the observation process.
As usual, there are people who comment under anonymous names, and sometimes those comments can be brutal. Over the years of writing this blog though, I have learned to weed out some of the venomous comments and look for a common theme. The following are some of the comments that were made on the blog and in the survey results:
Having never had a principal or assistant stay longer in my room that 5 minutes, here are three possible more: Revenge, Required , Ridicule (Dr. Harper). As a former principal, superintendent, and university faculty training principals I can honestly say the problem is time. I have long said that if a principal will walk through every classroom every day, they will have a sound picture of each teacher and each child long before Winter Break (ptrkfav1). Many principals spend very little time as actual teachers. In my district there are principals with less than 5 years teaching experience. To think that they can offer any insight or guidance I to good practice is delusional at best. Waste of time (Craig1071). This is a good place to again point out that widespread adoption of Charlotte Danielson's process has made the evaluation process even more pointless while increasing work for both parties (Ebasco). First, when is the last time an administrator (by definition someone who couldn't cut it in the classroom!) was an academic and not an ex-PE teacher? Or, better yet, not even of your discipline? Observations by those who cannot teach of those who arguably can are illogical (Yukio).
Time was seen as a factor for the lack of effective evaluations, and there were respondents who made comments that their leaders did an excellent job of providing effective feedback. However, more times than not, the respondents suggested that the observations were either short...or one-sided. Additionally, some of the comments on the survey had teachers admitting that they have not been observed in a year or more.
We cannot ignore the fact that some school leaders have not been completing observations which only helps to further the disconnect that leaders and teachers feel from one another, and it has an effect on the leaders who are doing their jobs every day.
Area 3 - School Climate
There is no doubt that others responded that their leaders work hard to forge relationships with stakeholders but in many cases the results were not favorable to school leaders, and this has an effect on the leaders who are doing their jobs, and being innovative in their roles, because they have to counterbalance the opinions of so many that are negatively responding about leaders.
All of this, good or bad, ultimately has an effect on the school climate. There are school climates that are positive, supportive and inclusive, which means they are a good place for kids. And then there are others that are unsupportive and hostile. If leaders are going to work toward having a more positive school climate, they need to start with at least two places that have been in existence for as long as formal schooling has been around, and those two places are faculty meetings and teacher observations.
How will you lead?
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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.