Inspect what you expect

Earlier this year Penny, one of my assistant Principal’s, and I participated in the ASCD summer conference in Boston. One workshop we attended was by Pete Hall the Principal of Sheridan Elementary School in Spokane.

Pete spoke about the need to monitor classroom instruction to improve performance. He used a walk-through as tool to monitor instruction and provide individual feedback and coaching to teachers. I have wrestled for some months with these what I thought at times contradictory actions of monitoring or evaluating requiring judgements  and coaching and feedback.

Contradictions

This year I have completed a 3 day course on differentiated coaching and I’m currently reading Jane Kise’s book “Differentiated Coaching – A framework for Helping Teachers Change”.  It appears there are at least two sorts of coaching frameworks (Cognitive and Instructional) however the one thing they both have in common is that the power to change within a coaching situation is in the hands of the coached – not the coach who must be free from judgement.

As principals we wear at least two hats: coach (non judgmental) and evaluator (of teacher performance – with the overlaid of  judgement – have teachers met the required standards?).

How does a teacher distinguish when you are coaching and when you are judging performance? If there is no distinction how does the principal as coach build up trust for the teacher to disclose an issue they want to work on (knowing the evaluator is not far away) .

I asked Pete how he reconciled this apparent contradiction – his answer was, as I recall, you cannot for you are always making judgements when you complete a walk through) in a classroom [do the facilities work, are the required O.H&S signs displayed, are the students following the school norms and finally is the teacher making their intent explicit). The only time he felt there was an issue was if the teacher was not performing well in which case he said that he stopped his walkthrough and made a time to meet the teacher to discuss the issue. That teacher was not part of his regular walkthroughs again till the issue had been resolved.

This year the annual teacher survey rated teacher feedback as very low.  After three meetings to explore the issue (e.g. was feedback just acknowledgement or was it objective and factual) we have come to a point where teachers acknowledge that if the purpose of the classroom observation and feedback  is clear then it might ease teacher apprehension about judgement.  

I have tried to clarify three purposes for classroom observations:

  • walkthroughs (short 3-8 min observations) to monitor and gather data on school instructional targets and expectations and the effect of the professional learning program – feedback as a whole staff to the leadership and staff as a team.
  • learning walks (medium 15 – 30 min observations)  to monitor classroom instruction for individual teacher feedback (written with an offer for a follow up conversation)
  • coach [medium or longer – up to whole lesson) to provide requested feedback on an individual teacher improvement target.
  • instructional rounds (medium 15 inute) observations collected by a team to gather data around an instructional problem of practice identified by teachers from student assessment data.

I have shared my wondering with colleagues recently at a network meeting who came back with another challenge – finding the time to any of these on a regular basis. That’s still a work in progress.

Pete’s mantra still applies no matter what the purpose – We must inspect what we expect!