Professional Development Opinion

9 Tips for Making the Most of the Observation Process

By Starr Sackstein — January 11, 2019 3 min read
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Simply put, the observation process is flawed, but that doesn’t mean leaders can’t make it as meaningful as possible within the constraints of the system.

Granted, having to evaluate instruction based on a single class period (whether formally where the teacher knows you are coming or informally when they don’t) is as bad at communicating a teacher’s knowledge and practice as a summative exam is for students demonstrating what they know and can do. Any ‘one and done’ situation leaves a lot to be desired in terms of what a teacher is really all about.

However, this is an opportunity to formally go into classrooms and watch what teachers are doing well and find ways to build on that to help student learning improve. More than just a walkthrough where you experience a snapshot of learning, perhaps more frequently but only in a few minutes, therefore losing a lot of the context and nuance.

If for no other reason, it is a chance to get onto the same page with personal and district goals and set a plan in place for future learning.

Here are some ways educators can make the most of this experience:

  • Script the lesson, as objectively as possible. What do you see? When do you see it? What do you hear? When do you hear it? It takes some practice, but scripting a lesson allows the leader to just watch at first and capture what is happening without judgment.
  • Share the script with the teacher. Give the teacher time to read what you saw and heard with some questions that will help fill gaps during your conversation. Personally, if I have wonderings, rather than assume the negative, I’d rather ask a question and allow the teacher to tell me more before I make any decisions.
  • Give the teacher time to reflect on the lesson with the questions provided, so there are no surprises.
  • Assume the positive, but be curious. If it feels like there is a gap, instead of assuming the teacher didn’t do it, ask a question and give the teacher time to think and answer before judging.
  • See the strengths in the lesson. Actually, seek out what is good. If you have a relationship with the teacher and have observed them before, notice things that have improved and make a point of pointing them out.
  • Review prior observations before going in. This will let you know what the teacher is working on and if they are making use of earlier suggestions. It’s good for teachers to see we notice and work together with other administrators and that we are all on the same page with our expectations.
  • Don’t just point out what isn’t working. Be prepared to share simple, usable strategies that can improve whatever wasn’t working. The feedback you provide the educator is where the learning and growing will happen, so do some homework before the conversation and provide actual resources in the write-up.
  • Assure teachers that you are on their side and want to help them improve. It is a nerve-wracking experience for anyone to have their supervisor or boss come and watch them. Not because they are doing something wrong, but because they want to be great all of the time. No person is his/her best every day ... so stay positive and helpful.
  • Keep the conversation open. After the post-observation, allow the teacher time to review the write-up and invite a dialogue about the learning. It doesn’t have to end with this conversation, it can keep going. Continue to have informal conversations about the strategies and progress. Follow-up is very important.

Since adult learning is a little more challenging than student learning, we have to let our learners process what they hear in a way that is dignified and works for them. It isn’t about the observer so much as it is about what the learner can hear and implement. So be intentional about where you want to focus and keep it simple.

We don’t like to overwhelm students with too much at once as we know that it won’t get accomplished and can actually derail possible growth in a smaller area; the same is true here. One thing at a time and continued follow-up and revision.

What are your greatest challenges with being observed or observing? Please share

*Image made with Pablo.com

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