April 2019 Volume IV Issue III
eVALU(E)ation & superVISION
This issue of Professional Practices has been written in my head numerous times, but never made it to paper. However, I recently approached the topic of supervision and evaluation from a fresh perspective – one of adding value and supporting a vision. When I began my career as a principal, I felt an overwhelming sense of anxiety about evaluating and supervising staff. I had done the right things up front before starting the evaluation cycle including:
Marcia Baldanza, the author of Professional Practices and a Just ASK Senior Consultant, lives in Arlington, Virginia. Until recently she worked for the School District of Palm Beach County, Florida, where she was an Area Director for School Reform and Accountability; prior to that she was Director of Federal and State Programs.
- Building relational trust
- Supporting change and professional learning
- Creating the walk-through tool together
- Orienting teachers to the instrument
- Providing feedback that was specific, timely, and goal directed
So, what was I so anxious about? I was anxious about the time I knew I needed to invest to have positive outcomes for teachers and students; I was anxious about keeping the mountain of paperwork organized; and I was anxious about making a difference with such an intensive system.
As expected, I found myself behind in getting the paperwork turned in on time, a big focus for my boss and school board. I scripted (and still script) lessons I observed taking notes on what teachers and students said and did on paper (really). After the observations I used the tool to examine where the snapshots of teaching fit and what I could offer to teachers as ways to grow. I did not take the tool into the classroom because if I did so I found myself less focused on the quality and quantity of teaching and learning and more focused on the tool itself. I got better with experience, but found I was spending hours per teacher on forms and that the formal evaluation process wasn’t adding value and certainly didn’t align with our school’s shared vision. What a predicament! The school district expected a complete set of summative evaluations in April and I wasn’t ready – not a good place to be. Tough thing is I was in the same place every year. I believed then, and believe today, that the supervision and evaluation process is an opportunity to provide one-on-one professional development and that takes time. What the teaching staff and I found most valuable was the classroom walk-through.
In this issue, I discuss various types of walk-throughs and observations and urge you to consider using the classroom walk-through as a tool to inform your professional learning community (PLC). I explore Professional Standards for Educational Leaders Standard 6: Professional Capacity of School Personnel and offer tips and tools as you ramp up and close out your evaluation process with value and vision that embraces a culture of classroom walk-throughs.
Begin the Process with Professional Conversations
The research is clear. Rick DuFour wrote that the single most powerful, school-based factor influencing student learning is the quality of teaching delivered each and every day. Furthermore, Charlotte Danielson states, “Of all the approaches available to educators to promote teacher learning, the most powerful is that of professional conversation. In these conversations, teachers must consider the instructional decisions they have made and examine student learning in light of those decisions.”
In order to conduct meaningful professional conversations, instructional leaders need data. Classroom walk-throughs can produce such data. Potheroe notes that classroom walk-throughs are a series of brief but frequent observations based on a consistent, clearly appropriate set of expectations (student friendly objectives, access to prior knowledge, checks for understanding, use of technology) for teaching and learning. Data become the basis for collaborative dialogue. Ultimately, classroom walk-throughs can produce the valid, reliable data necessary for the kind of dialogue that will nurture continuous improvement of instructional practice.
Because classroom walk-throughs have such potential as a catalyst to support both excellent instruction and a positive shifts in learning, this process is quickly establishing itself as a best practice in educational leadership circles.
Why Invest in Team Learning?
At their most productive, learning teams put teachers in the driver’s seat of professional learning. They can provide structure and purpose for teacher collaboration, study, and problem-solving. Their core work centers on educators studying and understanding the curriculum, instructional materials, and common assessments. Stephanie Hirsh notes in the Learning Forward report titled 4 Cornerstones of Professional Learning that learning teams should incorporate the following components:
- Professional learning is intentional and driven by clear goals for student and educator
- Teacher leaders are recognized for their commitment by leading a team
- Teachers experience critical and needed support
- Teachers exercise professional judgment
Ideally, all teachers experience professional learning as part of their regular work routine – learning that helps them grow, learn, and solve daily problems of practice. Such professional learning engages teams of teachers in ongoing cycles of continuous learning and improvement, building collective knowledge and responsibility for the successes of all. I believe the data collected from classroom walk-throughs should be used to inform and drive the learning team, in the same way that results from formative common assessments inform and drive instructional practice in the classroom… light bulb moment!
Why Use Classroom Walk-throughs?
A wise mentor told me that classroom walk-throughs are the intersection where expectations meet reality. They do not replace the formal evaluation system. Rather, classroom walk-throughs as described here support team learning and growth that can’t help but have a positive impact on the process. Fundamentally, walk-throughs are focused on specific look-fors that provide valuable information about what’s working and what’s not working in the classroom. Ideally, the look-fors are developed and defined collaboratively with teachers. See an example of how we implemented this at Patrick Henry Elementary in Alexandria, Virginia at www.justaskpublications.com/areas-of-focus/instructional-leadership/resources/
Marcia’s “New” Walk-through Approach
I know better, so now I will do better. After reading, reviewing, reflecting, and practicing, I’ve learned some things that have shifted my thinking of classroom walk-throughs. Here are some new” aspects guiding my walk-through protocols and priorities. I always consider the essential question behind every classroom walk-through to be “What should we see in every classroom that makes a difference in student outcomes?” I decide before I enter the classroom, what aspect I will look for, not once I am inside. This lends to the reliability and validity of the snapshots I capture.
KISS: Keep it Short and Simple
The walk-through should be brief, 3-5 minutes, and not more than 10 minutes. The observer enters the room looking for the identified priorities (aka the look-fors) listed on your data tool and quickly and efficiently takes note. There is no need to linger. The point is to take a snapshot of what’s going on in the classroom at that moment and then exit. No interruptions. No discussion. No adjustments. If a student wants to talk to me, I ask if we can meet at lunchtime.
Be aware that it is unlikely that observers will see every look-for during each and every walk-through. However, across time the snapshots reveal patterns in content, delivery, and assessment. Taken together, walk-through snapshots form a powerful video of instructional practice in the school and district.
“Simplexity” is the combination of simplicity and complexity. Fullen describes this process as finding the smallest number of high leverage actions that will unleash the most powerful consequences. In terms of the classroom walk-through this translates to defining the focus and importance within priorities, programs, and initiatives.
“Simplexity” assists leaders in answering Just ASKs’s essential questions:
What do classrooms, schools, and districts look like when they are organized around a commitment to high achievement by and well being of all learners?
- In such learning environments, what would students be doing?
- Therefore, what would teachers need to know and do?
- Finally, what do I, the leader, need to know and do to facilitate and support this work?
Routine and Regular
Walk-through observations must be routine, regular, and continually conducted to generate the most useful data. Classroom walk-throughs become an expectation. They are a habit for the observer and a typical procedure for the teacher and students. I have a colleague who commits the visiting 5 classrooms for 5 minutes every day. Using a term originally coined by Madeline Hunter, he calls it his 5×5. For classroom walk-throughs to become regular, it is necessary to establish with the front office staff a protocol for handling parent requests for urgent appointments and parent phone calls. It is also important to establish and communicate a system for students who might be sent to the office while you’re conducting walk-throughs.
Shhhh…Unannounced and Unobtrusive is Best
Ideally, the classroom walk-through should be unannounced and unobtrusive. Minimal or no interaction should take place between the observer and the teacher and students. This is a big change from my prior practice of asking students about what they are learning and asking teachers about how they selected the grouping, strategy, content, etc. I still ask those questions, just not in this type of classroom walk-through. What I found was that soon after using this approach, both teacher and student continued as if I wasn’t even in the room. This is classroom walk-through at its best. This is where authentic observation becomes routine and can take place. These data genuinely reflect the classroom teaching and learning environment and can make a real difference in the quality of teaching as leaders support teachers and the school moves forward with a common vision of excellent teaching. It can’t get better than that!
Maintain Structure and Focus for Validity
It is important to the classroom walk-through process that all parties be on the same page. With clarity comes confidence. Leaders gain respect and teachers are well served and supported when the walk-through is focused on collaboratively agreed upon priorities and when the focus is transparent and consistent. A mutual understanding of expectation is critical for both teacher and observer. Observers must understand exactly what they are looking for and why. and teachers must understand exactly what is being observed and why.
Structure and focus will support the brevity of the walk-through as well and increase the likelihood that more and more observations will be conducted on aroutine basis with minimal intrusion. This process can generate powerful data – the data needed for self-reflection and the data needed to empower the important instructional conversations, coaching, and mentoring. Bottom line: These data support excellence in teaching and learning!
Ask, “Do I see or hear it or do I not?”
To the best of the observer’s ability, the classroom walk-through should be objective. The observer marks either observed or not observed. A well-designed rubric will minimize guesswork and allow the observer to determine if the look-for is present in the classroom or is not. I looked at several examples of classroom walk-through tools with my faculty. We determined what we liked and what aligned with our values and vision from those and, taking pieces from many of the samples, we drafted our own tool.
Be Supportive and Honest
Best practice reflects that a powerful classroom walk-through system is about nurturing excellent teaching by observing and not evaluating. Walk-throughs are about supporting teachers and recognizing their accomplishments and their needs. It is not a “gotcha!” The goal is to create an observation culture where teachers invite observers into their classrooms to experience practice and provide honest feedback.
Of importance to note classroom walk-throughs do not replace the evaluation process, nor do they replace longer observations associated with that process. However, the feedback provided by the classroom walk-through becomes the motivation for reflection on professional practice and topics for team instructional conversations.
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Baldanza, Marcia. “evalu(e)ation and supervision.” Professional Practices, January 2019. Reproduced with permission of Just ASK Publications & Professional Development. © 2019 All rights reserved.