Teacher, teacher can you hear me?

When I first began teaching, one of the most stressful times was when the director would come in to supervise/evaluate. I knew when he was coming of course but, still, it would cause me no endless stress. Would the lesson work? Would the students listen? Would I remain my composure? The lesson was orchestrated and each time, thank goodness, it went without a hitch. This is how it was for the first two years of teaching. After that, like most other teachers to whom I’ve talked, I didn’t really see any supervisors for quite a while.

For almost 8 years, there was little supervision. Luckily, for me, I began and completed a MEd. and had two interns in that time. It was the combination of these two that really helped me to develop as a teacher, searching for new ways of doing things and seeking new ideas. I also discussed things with other teachers, asked questions and learned some valuable lessons when mine flopped.

My move into administration brought a change of location and various supervisors to my classroom. In two years I changed schools each year, changed my teaching assignment, changed vp assignments and changed staffs which meant I was working with new principals. Each year was a learning experience but with a rather small percent of admin time and no real direction on what I was to do, I turned to do quite a bit of reading on various types of supervision and evaluation and how they affected teacher growth and development.

Today, six years later and two moves hence, I am once again thinking about the role of teacher supervision and evaluation and wondering just what exactly we have learned in the meantime. I know that we are more apt to look at a growth model rather than the clinical model that so many of us were introduced to in our first observations. The clinical model, which takes much of its framework from Madeline Hunter, focuses on objectives, strategies, targets, pacing and a clear sense of review and wrap-up. This structure, which is very useful now, became so rigid that any deviation was somehow seen as a weakness.

I don’t know if it is the students who have changed, my own practice and view of what a “good” lesson entails or if it is a combination of many factors, but I now allow my students a great freedom in directing the movement of lesson with my responsibility being to make sure that the objective is explained and covered. Since there are many different ways that students learn and many different strategies for each style, I know that I have to make sure that my lessons are really focusing on the objectives as I allow students to explore in a variety of directions.

Another thing that has changed the landscape of teacher evaluation is the whole idea of the Professional Growth Plan (PGP) that teachers are using to map out their growth in particular areas. When I first began doing the PGP, I wasn’t really sure what exactly to do. I would eventually find an area that I figured needed some development and then head off to a convention during the year. Some of my colleagues didn’t even do that, seeing them as a waste of time. I didn’t really see any use in them until I began to take classes again. It was then that I began to realize that the real power in teacher supervision might lie, not in the traditional watch and conference type but in one where the teacher, through conversations and reflections, began to evaluate their own teaching and improve upon it.

Jump forward to my present position as an administrator in a K – 12 school. For the past 3 years I have been working on helping teachers develop PGP that were of use to them. Something that was attainable and current rather than just another paper filled in. I’ve conferenced with them about their goals, visited them in their classrooms and begun to look at some new ways of doing supervision like using the Three-Minute Walk-Through, portfolio development and PGP review.

I’ve noticed that teachers come to their PGP from two different vantage points. They either are enthused about developing themselves and eagerly seek out information about developing themselves or they really see it as a poor use of their time. And, to be truthful, I wasn’t sure how to get these teachers to see the benefits and to really understand how important it was until this year.

SMART Goals

Last year, our school division began the long walk of creating a system-wide method of school and teacher development that would help us achieve the objectives as outlined by provincial learning. The short of this move is that all schools create a goal in an area of need. The PLT’s then create a goal that is linked and, finally, each teacher creates a goal that will help their PLT reach their goal. What I like about this whole concept is that teachers are working in a collaborative manner and are responsible to all the members of the team, not just themselves. Thus, it becomes much easier to discuss their goal in terms of how they are doing in accomplishing the team goal and their own portion. Another reason I like this is that there is built in reflection time for each person in the PLT, so when I go to discuss their PGP’s, there is the chance for discussion about their reflections, positive or negative and, if negative, what might we change to make them positive.

Of course, this doesn’t just magically make everyone’s PGP’s great or get everyone to become a reflective practitioner but it does give us a place to start, a situation to reflect upon and certain expectation about what each teacher is to do in relation to the goal of the PLT.

For me, it creates opportunity for discussion and reflection instead of going through the standard clinical observation. I am in more classrooms, visiting more teachers and gathering more information about what is going on in the school. I’m having more fun doing this and having more discussions about teaching ideas and teaching methods than before. I know that there needs to be a standard of accountability and our role is to be part of that but I wonder if, like our students, we were to provide teachers with an array of different options, knowing that each teacher has a particular style, we might be able to combine the clinical observation with a host of other types of observation and reflection methods to create something that is a bit wider in breadth while still being manageable in time.

As I started, teachers are uncomfortable with the clinical mode of supervision despite how long it has been done. Could that be telling us something which we need to which we need to pay attention? Can we get a more accurate view of the teacher through a combination of different methods that would be less intrusive on the teacher and more in the developmental mode while still providing us with the information we need for an evaluation?

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One response

  1. I’m the retired (ha!) director of the Willamette University School of Education and author of the Data-Based Observation Method (and supporting software). Like you, I’ve observed hundreds of classrooms and long pondered over the best way to build reflective teachers. From that came the Data-Based Observation Method and with it a shift in the role of the observer and a change in the language used when working with teachers.

    The eCOVE Classroom Observation Software (optional, but saves time) will gather objective data on the behaviors in the classroom, teacher or student. Examples of the data are Class Learning Time, Response to Misbehavior, Time on Task, Teacher Talk/Student Talk, and many more. The approach is to find out/guide the teacher to what they want to know about their classroom. The observation’s focus in on gathering the objective data (no judgments, no checklists).

    The data is presented to the teacher with the question “Is this what you thought was happening in your classroom?”. That starts the teacher’s reflection process, and is followed by additional questions: “Do you think a change is needed?” “If so, what will you change?” “How can I support you?” “When should I return to gather data to see if your change is working?”

    The shift in dynamic/role from judge/critic to colleague and supporter does wonders for the professional discussions that follow. In many cases, it moves to teacher to teacher observation and discussions. In the best of worlds, the administrator becomes the vision/direction setter, while supporting the self-directed professional growth of the staff.

    I invite you to my blog Data-Based Classroom Observation, and to the website eCOVE Software Blog. Feel free to email me at John@ecove.net

    Peace, John

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