October 30, 2020
Observing in Remote and Hybrid Classrooms
Each EmpowerED 3.2.1 features a brief summary of my musings about and learning from multiple disciplines as they apply to leadership in education.
An Education Week article caught my attention this week. “Yes, Teachers Are Still Being Evaluated. Many Say It’s Unfair” written by Madeline Will begins with, “For many teachers, stress levels are at an all-time high this year, as they navigate remote lessons, socially distanced classrooms, or a combination of the two. And there’s yet another looming stressor: teacher evaluations.” Some states are giving guidance on teacher evaluations and others are allowing for local districts input. A few things ring clear for me when thinking about teacher evaluation and supervision.
3 Big Ideas
- eVALU(E)ation and superVISION is a critical human resources function of leadership in any field.
When considering the importance of added value and clarity of vision in evaluation and supervision, the need for observation is obvious. This 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. Additionally, John Hattie’s meta-analysis supports this. Yes, we’re in some sort of remote, hybrid environment and teachers are still making important instructional decisions that become stronger with growth producing feedback. Because classroom walk-throughs have such potential as a catalyst to support both excellent instruction and positive shifts in learning, this process has established itself as a best practice in educational leadership circles no matter the environment. The intent is to seek value and vision and not use the process as a gotcha look for things going wrong.
- obSERVE with grace.
Start with a conversation by asking the teacher what practice they would like feedback on. A wise mentor told me that classroom walk-throughs are the intersection where expectations meet reality. Classroom observations at their best support team learning and growth that can’t help but have a positive impact on the teaching and learning 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. Leaders then apply their credibility with ideas that strengthen and serve teaching and learning. 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.”
- CONVERS(E)ations are key.
Justin Baeder doesn’t realize that I consider him my new BFF. His emails make me smile for their realism and humor and his tools are extremely useful. In an email this week, Dr. Baeder made a lot of sense to me and my principal colleagues. He said, “You need a plan, just as you need a plan for getting into classrooms when that’s possible.” He recommends the same structure we use when we’re in-person:
- Make a list of your staff, or better yet, make a stack of notecards—one for each teacher. Do download this tool. The cards and prompts are awesome!
- Make yourself a short agenda for a cycle of conversations, including:
- What information you want to convey
- What information you want to gather
- What questions you want to ask to maintain the relationship and gather information
- Have three of these conversations each day, either by picking up the phone, or by asking people to schedule appointments with a tool like Calendly
- Track these conversations by writing the date on each teacher’s notecard, so you don’t skip anyone (even if you have to try several times to get in touch)
Baeder says, and I agree, people are Zoomed out. Instead of a video call, do a regular, old-fashioned, voice-only phone call. People will be:
• More willing to speak with you
• Less self-conscious
• More honest, and
• More thoughtful
“Only give feedback that will solve big problems.
Don’t bother with minor suggestions for now—
they’ll just irritate people, and frankly, you don’t have time.”
– Justin Baeder
“During these unprecedented times,
where educators have to adapt their instructional practices to respond to changing settings and
needs of their students and communities,
opportunities for thoughtful feedback remains.”
– Colorado Department of Education
Do you have a plan and process for observing in remote and hybrid classrooms?
About the Author: Marcia Baldanza is also the author of Professional Practices, a Just ASK Senior Consultant. and adjunct professor at Virginia Tech. 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.