One of the most fun parts about my job is the opportunity to coach and give feedback to teachers who want to be the best in their field. We are currently piloting a new program in our school under the guidance of Bo Adams and with the dedication and willingness of some first class teachers and administrators. I am planning many more posts on this topic, so this is merely an introduction.
When asked what would make the biggest difference in accomplishing our wildly important goal of aligning with the School’s mission, our four exemplar educators (also known as our Heads of Grade) identified “coaching and feedback.”
After much brainstorming, we determined three components that would be most beneficial to achieving this goal.
1. Instructional Rounds: Each teacher (four Head of Grade) would be observed by four coaches at the same time. Each coach would complete a commonly agreed upon survey form providing observation and feedback. All eight educators would meet on another date to debrief and allow the ‘observed’ teachers to ask questions (they are discouraged from explaining themselves, but so far still feel a strong need to do so). As a team, we would all look for commonalities or trends among and between the observations.
Simultaneously, the feedback would not only be useful for informing the individual teacher’s practice, but also for mapping a macro level cartography of the School’s practices. For example, after repeated usage, the surveys would capture enough data to begin to tell us what percentage of the time certain instructional methods or seating arrangements were being used. We would have a greater understanding and predictability of areas of strengths and areas of growth in the classrooms.
2. Written Reflection – All members of the instructional rounds pilot team would be encouraged to blog about their experiences in striving to master the standards of professional excellence. We created a shared WordPress blog where anyone on our team can post and respond to posts anytime.
3. Informal Observation – Finally, each Head of Grade is paired with another partner and encouraged to informally observe one another on their own initiative. None of the other teachers or administrators are present and some of the intensity of group observation and feedback is taken away in these instances.
All of this is likened to the metaphor of a sports team. For example, if you play baseball you have games (this is when you actually teach or assess in a classroom). You have a set number of games on the schedule, they are announced in advance and people prepare for them.
You also have practice. And you have coaches. How helpful is it for a player who is trying to improve to have a coach who only observes them practice a couple of times a year and then gives all of the feedback at one time at the end of the season? This would be disastrous for a sports team, yet it is commonplace in education. Why do we settle for this level of mediocrity?
Well, for one thing – time is limited. And also because ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it.’
I am so thankful to work among educators who want to be the best in their field and are willing to submit themselves to scrutiny for the sake of improving and developing their craft. I am thankful to belong to a school that does not use the phrase, ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it.’