Archive for Human Resources Leadership

Tips for Formal Observations

This week’s #educoach chat was on Effective Pre/Post Conferences with Teachers for Observation and was a great discussion that all principals could benefit from.  If you would like to read the archives of the chat, you can find a link at the end of this post.

I’ve previously written about leading with a “coaching hat” and try to do so even in the formal

observation/evaluation process. While principals can get into classrooms with a coaching hat on, we are still ultimately responsible for evaluating teachers.  Yes, each school/district/system has its own evaluation requirements for the formal observation process, but I still believe it is possible to utilize the process with a coaching mindset as much as possible.  When a principal approaches the formal observation as simply an evaluatory task, they are more focused on judging teachers and completing the necessary paperwork.  In this situation a teacher will feel like they are simply “under the microscope” or become too nervous for it to be an opportunity for reflection and growth.  A principal completing formal observations with a coaching hat on puts the opportunity for conversation first and the necessary paperwork second.

I know that it is not possible to truly approach a formal observation as an Instructional Coach does, because the principal ultimately has the formal evaluation paperwork in the end; however, teachers will see much more value if the principal puts the emphasis on dialogue and growth first.

Unless you have a concern that is so significant that it warrants an improvement plan, the post-conference should be an opportunity for reflective dialogue.  Ask reflective questions that allow the teacher to do most of the talking.  Two of the easiest questions to ask are “What went well?” and “Was there anything that didn’t go as you had intended?” The ORID Framework provides a variety of sample question stems for different purposes. ORID questions are: Objective, Reflective, Interpretive and Decisional.

Here are some of my tips for principals on the formal observation process:

  • Before the school year starts, create a year-long schedule spacing out the formal observations month by month.  When creating this schedule plan more or less formal observations based on busier or calmer months (i.e. December holiday, state testing month, etc).  Give all teachers a copy of this schedule so they can see how many are being observed each month.
  • Email teachers a reminder at the end of each month if they are “up” for their formal observation in the following month. This gives them a reminder and allows them to schedule an observation with you.
  • When scheduling an observation, schedule the pre- and post-conference all at once.   If possible, schedule the post-conference for the same day as the formal observation. Save yourself a lot of time by having your secretary in charge of your calendar. 
  • Give all teachers a pre-conference form ahead of time so they know what questions to be prepared to discuss during your meeting. Some recommended questions include:  1.What are the objectives/outcomes for this lesson? 2. Describe the population of the class and what differentiation is planned for this lesson. (Once you know your classes well from frequent walkthoughs, you will no longer need to ask for the population of the class). 3. What will be observed? What instructional methods will be used? 4. How will student performance be assessed throughout or after the lesson? What evidence of success/student achievement are you looking for? 5. Is there anything in particular you would like to be observed during the lesson for you to receive specific feedback on? 6. What do you believe to be any areas of concern?
  • Complete as much of the observation form as you can while you are observing in the classroom, but include questions you’d like to ask the teacher in the post-conference and wait to finish it until after you have that post-observation discussion.

If you would like to read the full archive of the chat, you can find it HERE. (*Note-If you’re new to reading storify, it shows some tweets several times based on the number of times it was retweeted by others).  Throughout the #educoach chat I favorited several tweets, here are the “nuggets” from the chat:


Getting Started with Informal Classroom Walkthroughs

Of all the things I have to do each day as a principal, my favorite “task” is getting into classrooms each day to see what students are learning. I actually don’t see it as a “task” of something I “have to do,” in fact I prefer it over all the other things that are on my necessary list of to-do’s (like the stack of paperwork!)  I am very passionate on this topic and believe it is every principal’s responsibility to be in classrooms. While I could write an entire book on this topic (and hopefully will someday) this post will just be some simple tips to get started.

It is very common for a new administrator to follow an administrator that was not in classrooms, which can make it awkward for the teachers and students that are not used to this practice. Or maybe you as an administrator have never really been in classrooms and have decided that you are going to start. If you just enter the classroom without doing some initial introduction of this, you will likely end up disrupting a class. Either the teacher will stop the lesson to greet you and ask what you need or a student will announce to the teacher that you’re there. 

Before getting started, you will need to inform teachers of your purpose for being in classrooms.  During my first year as an administrator, getting into classrooms helped me to get to know all of the students, know each of the teacher’s instructional styles/strengths, better learn the curriculum for each grade level, and just have a pulse of what’s happening in the building.  (If you want to know more about what I do with walkthroughs now, you’ll have to wait for the book!)

During the first week of every school year I go into each classroom and read students a story, practice their names (I love it when I get them all right during the first week!) and tell students that they will see me frequently throughout the year as I come into their classroom.  I tell students that I am coming into the classroom to see what they are learning and how hard they’re working.  I tell them that I do not want them to stop what they’re doing and they don’t even have to say hello to me when I come in. In fact, I tell them not to say hello, but if they must they can give a smile or a wave.  I learned as an Instructional Coach that when the younger students wave they flail their arms around in excitement (which is so darn cute, but a disruption to learning), so I teach them instead to give a special little wave with just their index finger.  This “micro-wave” is their special, silent way to say hello to me.  When I go into classrooms, if a student shouts out or announces that I’m in the room, I treat it just as I would as a classroom teacher—I rehearse the procedure.  I give a reminder that they can just wave, I walk out of the room, and then come back in so they can practice the wave.  After 4 years of this, it is extremely easy to pop into classrooms and just blend into the room.  In fact, a few weeks ago during summer school a student told his teacher that I’m like a Ninja, because I’m so sneaky!

If you’re a new administrator or a veteran administrator, put walk-throughs on your daily schedule and get into classrooms! 

My "Coaching Hat"

Here’s another cross-post of my Friday Focus post for staff, in which I openly reflect for them on how my practice impacts their reflection. I’d love to hear feedback from other administrators trying to balance between the coaching and evaluating hats.

In a previous Friday Focus posts I have shared with you my goal to get in classrooms and provide feedback and questions encouraging you to reflect. I also shared with you in this post that I want to act more like an Instructional Coach than a supervisor to help improve instruction and learning. Throughout this year, I have networked with other administrators (both on twitter and in “real life”) and had conversations around evaluations and coaching. In addition, I recently joined DPI’s Teacher Design Team-the committee that is developing the teacher rubric to evaluate teacher practice. Throughout these formal and informal conversations, I have struggled with trying to figure out how I can formally evaluate teachers, yet be seen as someone to give non-evaluatory feedback in a coaching manner to help your reflective process in the classroom. I have read books on instructional coaching and read books geared towards principals, though none that combine the two roles for an administrator. I’m sure by now, you’re probably wondering why I am sharing my own personal reflection with you?

Because I recognize that when I come in your classroom and send you an email or talk to you afterwards, that it may make you feel nervous or worried…which is NOT my intent! As I reflect, I realize, I have probably never clearly explained (or maybe I never clearly understood myself) what my intent is as I come in classrooms and give feedback. When I am come into classrooms for informal walkthroughs I am coming in with a “coaching hat” on, so to speak. Quite honestly, I feel like I’m doing the same when I come in for the formal observations (for the evaluation process) and meet with you afterwards to discuss how the lesson went. I may pose a question to you that stretches your thinking that is not meant to be intrusive or evaluatory, but is a question to have you reflect on why you do what you do. When you are reflective and consciously aware of why you do what you do, you will continue to utilize effective strategies for students in your classroom. I can share with you from my own experience that when I had a guest administrator with me a while back, she asked me ma ny questions for her learning, but as I explained my answers to her, I realized how much it made me reflect on why I do those things she asked about. So, my key message to you is that unless I specifically say, “I have a concern…” then you have nothing to be concerned about, I am just in there wearing my “coaching hat.”

In the future, I would love for us as a staff to begin collaborating even more for our learning and student learning as a result. We have had several staff members be recorded and reflected while watching their own lesson. Several staff members have o bserved each other to gain new ideas and we have even had teachers from other districts visit us. I have recently begun to read about other schools taking this even one step further and putting in the practice of “Instructional Rounds” in which teachers go together in groups to observe and have follow-up discussions. Here are some of the posts I’ve read on this topic:
Teachers Observing Teachers: Instructional Rounds
Walking the Learning Walk
Engaging Teachers in Instructional Rounds
Don’t worry, this isn’t something we’re starting tomorrow 😉 However, if you are interested in taking some walks through classrooms, just let me know and I’d be happy to cover your class for you!

For your reflection this do you engage in conversations with others to reflect on instructional practices and student learning? What are your thoughts on if I’ve had an impact on your reflection process as a result of walkthoughs (this question you can actually hold on to, because in a few weeks I’ll be asking for your anonymous feedback on a survey to help me reflect).

Image by Kathy Cassidy

Reflecting on my classroom visits

Last week I tweeted that I had completed 126 classroom visits during the month of September and quickly had several replies from other administrators (in public mentions and direct messages):

  • How long do you stay in a classroom?
  • What form/method are you using?
  • Do you always give teachers feedback?
  • How do you make time for that many walkthroughs?

Since my professional development plan is on the practice of conducting classroom
walkthroughs/providing teachers with feedback to improve student learning and I had this many questions coming my way I thought it would be the perfect topic for a blog post.

I know that many districts have an adopted/required method of walkthroughs that dictates what they are looking for, how long to stay in the room, and how they provide teacher feedback. I have read about several different methods, used a required method in my previous district, been to an all day training on one method and participated in a webinar to learn about Marzano’s iObservation. Despite all of that, our district does not have an adopted requirement and I do not do always do the same thing.

I use the app Simple Goals to keep a running tally of how many classrooms I have visited (which is the total number I tweeted for September). This running tally includes when I visit a classroom for a walkthrough (which could be anywhere from 1 – 15 minutes), a full length observation, to observe a student or for me to teach a class. I do not count if I was just dropping something off for a teacher or getting a student to come to the office.

Since our school is now running with wifi, I recently created a walkthrough tool for myself using google forms. I made it very handy on my iPad by adding it right to the homescreen on my iPad so I don’t have to waste any time finding it. I love being able to view the results in summary form so I can see the graphs and see how many times I’ve been in each classroom. I use this google form to gather data, NOT as a set of criteria I’m looking for or to give it back to teachers. Why? The best teachers are their own worst critics and if you give them a checklist that doesn’t have everything checked off, they are going to be disappointed that you didn’t see x, y, or z which happened 5 minutes after you left the classroom. I have also found that my best teachers are so reflective that they will come to me after I’ve been in their class and apologize about what I saw (even though I saw something great!) or tell me what they’d already reflected on from what I saw and how they’re going to improve it. They do not need a checklist!!

While I want to give teachers feedback every time, it just doesn’t happen. Ideally, I’d love to give verbal feedback, but that’s even more unrealistic (although I do try when I can). Last summer I attended a conference with Regie Routman and she suggested to give verbal feedback to the teacher and students while you’re in the room. I struggle with this, because I do not want to interrupt, however, I have started trying this and do enjoy it…but I only do this when there’s a point in the instruction that I can do so and know that the teacher would be ok with it. At best, I provide an email that just states:

“When I visited your classroom, I noticed students were….(tell what I saw/heard them doing, try to state what was effective or something in regards to student engagement or mastery of the objective)….I wonder….”

Or something to that effect. It’s different every time based on what I saw. If there is something I had a concern about, I go to the teacher, because emails can be taken the wrong way. My goal in providing feedback to teachers is always for them to reflect on student learning–whether it’s as to what was effective for student learning or what was not effective for student learning.

The google form that I use provides me with data so I can keep track of whose room I’ve been in/how many times, what class period, what instructional groupings I saw, what level of student engagement I saw, and how I provided feedback (email, verbal or none).

For the first few weeks of using this method, here are some of the trends I saw and my reflection for each:

Since our school is implementing Daily 5 in every classroom, I have made my focus on getting into classrooms during their literacy block so I can see how it is going and offer feedback/encouragement/support as needed. I have also enjoyed sharing with all staff different things I’m seeing in each classroom to help them all learn from each other.

The instructional groupings I saw were almost split between whole group instruction and individual/independent work. This is because during the literacy blocks teachers were either giving mini-lessons or it was a daily5 session in which students were independently reading or writing.

I really wish I would have data from previous years on student engagement, because I truly believe from my observations over the years that students are more interested and engaged with the Daily 5 framework for reading/writing. They have a sense of urgency and know what they need to do to become great readers and writers. Most importantly, students have choice in what they are reading/writing and they love it…even our most reluctant/struggling readers/writers!

I am disappointed to see my results for feedback given to staff. We have had issues with our wifi, so I did not have the email function working on my iPad, which made it difficult to email feedback to teachers in a timely fashion. However, this should not be an excuse. If my goal is to provide teachers with feedback to encourage reflection on student learning, then I need to make better efforts to provide them with feedback.

The final question from a colleague on twitter: How do you make time for that many walkthoughs? The short answer is simply that I make time. The long answer would be another long post about how I’ve learned to manage my time, be more efficient with managing my emails/phone calls/paperwork/etc and about how my days are for people and nights are for paperwork (after my kids are in bed). I think getting into classrooms is the most important job of the principal. By being in teacher’s classrooms I am able to share teachers’ great ideas/strengths with the rest of the staff to benefit all students, not just the students in a great teachers’ classroom. In addition, it helps me to know all of the students. If I receive a parent phone call with a concern, I usually have background information before the parent even calls from being in classrooms (on a side note, the amount of concerned parent phone calls over the past few years have dropped significantly).

That said, I already know the next 2 months will not be as great as September was due to the amount of my time that will be consumed by state testing as the District Assessment Coordinator (it’s much more than just the week of testing on teachers/students).

I welcome any feedback from other administrators/teachers on this topic and would love to hear your ideas.

Managing the Teacher Evaluation Process

Teacher evaluations are a necessary component of every administrators job. Managing the teacher evaluation process is quite time consuming for administrators. Recently I recorded a podcast at Eduleadership Radio with Justin Baeder and another guest principal, Chuck Bell. It was a great opportunity to learn about the process in other states and learn some great tips from them as well. You can download the podcast here. This new series of podcasts with Justin Baeder are off to a great start, so I hope you’ll join in me in subscribing to them on iTunes to continue learning from other great principals.

As a side note-recording a podcast was more nerve-wracking than I thought! I wonder how many times I said “ummm?”

Documenting Walk-throughs

Blog 12 of Spilling Ink Challenge

More on walk-throughs…
I’ve explored various ways of keeping track of walk-throughs. This past year I used a spreadsheet for each quarter. On the left collumn were all teacher names (organized by grade level, then alphabetically, because that was easiest for me). Then there were 9 collumns…one for each week of the quarter. As I completed a walk-through for each classroom I would record the date in the box for that teacher’s row. I liked being able to visually see how many classrooms I had been in for the week or to see how long it had been since I was last in their room. Since my goal is to get into at least 15 rooms a week, I would try to get into each room every other week. This spreadsheet made a great visual for this. I would also circle the date if I gave feedback (verbally or written).

I recently skimmed a book while sitting in Barnes and Noble and want to try something new that I saw. This year I will have a simple spreadsheet with 2 collumns. The left with all staff names and the 2nd collumn being much larger so that I can record a date and some information about the walk-through (ex: “guided reading groups, all on-task… asked tchr about word work center). I will complete a walk-through for each and every teacher, before I complete a walk-through on another teacher and record on a different spreadsheet. I plan to print off 15 of these spreadsheets with the goal of getting into each classroom 15 times next year. I think this system will hold me accountable for not “shying away” from any classrooms (as I’ve previously discussed) and give me a tool to record what I’m seeing.

Reflecting on my classroom walk-throughs

Blog 11 of Spilling Ink

I’ve previously talked about my professional development plan (for state licensure renewal) being focused on using walk-throughs to improve student learning. My goal this year was to get into at least 15 classrooms each week and provide staff with meaningful feedback. When I wasn’t inundated with tasks related to my position as District Assessment Coordinator, I did a great job at getting into classrooms, but finding a good way to give meaningful feedback has been a struggle for me. I think the most effective is when the feedback can be given verbally, because it will lead to dialogue between you and the teacher.

In the book, People First, the authors suggest using a staff roster to reflect on how you personally interact with each (writing a D next to those you have daily communication wiht, W for weekly, R for rarely, a star next to names that you regularly call on for extra duties and a check mark next to those teachers meeting expectations. I did this and was disapointed to see that I spend more time talking with my teachers that are meeting expectations, but far less time with those that are not meeting expectations. Shouldn’t this be the other way around? Yes, it sure should, but I don’t because they are difficult teachers to deal with and it is a lot of work. I am ashamed that I even just said that. My job is to make sure that every student has the best education, so I never want to say that again. Next year, I want to focus on those teachers, get into their rooms frequently and have the conversations that need to be had to improve student learning.

Hiring procedures/tips

I used our week long spring break to catch up and plan ahead for my maternity leave. What I couldn’t plan for at that time was the amount of time I would have to spend on hiring new staff. With retirements, resignations, and staff moving into different positions in the district I had seven new staff to hire. In addition to this was keeping track of the movement of staff changing grade levels. Most school districts around us are on the opposite end of the spectrum; laying staff off. Because of this I have had to screen hundreds of applications for the hiring process. Something that you don’t learn in college is how to efficiently screen applications to narrow down the amount of candidates for interviews. Through this experience, I’ve come up with my own set of criteria: cover letter/resume must have appropriate format and be free of grammatical/spelling errors, must have three or more letters of recommendation (one must be from the current principal), the last important of each recommendation letter usually points out well whether it is an outstanding or just an average candidate, frequent movement between positions is a “red flag” to be concerned about, and it is worth looking at applicant transcripts.
Our school/district uses a committee process to hire additional staff, so I had to form 7 different committees and seek their input on interview questions that addressed what qualities we were seeking for each position. Again, this was time consuming, but I found it essential to have a variety of members on each committee to provide a variety of insight and to have enough variety of interview questions to really find out about each candidate. I found it very important to have dialogue amongst the committee after interviewing each applicant and by the time we completed interviews each day, we were able to come to consensus on our top choice for each position. I then had the additional time consuming task of calling all references (which usually turns into multiple games of “phone tag”) before offering the candidate the position. I’ve learned from a previous experience to always wait for the candidate to accept the position before calling the others to inform that they were not chosen for the position. In addition, I’ve found it very helpful for myself to have a “script” on an index card that I use to call each of those candidates, because otherwise I fumble with my words when giving them the bad news.
What have others found to be helpful in the hiring process to ensure that you hire the best candidate and ways to save time when flooded with hundreds to choose from?