Setting Up Effective Informal Teacher Observations
Observations that aren’t part of teachers’ annual evaluations are less stress-inducing and provide a great opportunity for quick feedback.
Teachers’ pedagogical practices, cultural competencies, and knowledge of the content have an astronomical effect on every student’s academic and social and emotional success. For this reason, leaders must develop a system and structure for conducting fruitful, informal teacher observations.
So, what makes an informal observation fruitful? An informal observation is fruitful when the feedback is shared in a timely fashion and when the feedback explicitly conveys glows (positives), grows (areas that need improvement), attainable next steps, and quick wins. Fruitful, informal observations are also driven by a clearly communicated rubric and an observation tool. The aforementioned ensures that teachers are clear on what defines their pedagogical practices as sprouting (basic), blossoming (proficient), and pollinating (distinguished).
The use of the words sprouting, blossoming, and pollinating makes the informal observation process feel less formal, while still conveying valuable feedback and action steps for teachers to take. Ultimately, teachers are more likely to buy into the informal observation process, which is not a part of their annual evaluation.
Feedback is the catalyst for professional development (PD). That’s why school leaders must provide feedback to their teachers within 48 to 72 hours of an informal observation. By adhering to these time constraints, an administrator or teacher-leader is allocated time to engage a teacher in a 15-to-30-minute follow-up post-observation conference where they can explicitly engage in discourse about glows, grows, attainable next steps, and quick wins.
However, like anything else, this informal teacher observation practice is only effective if it’s embedded in the school’s climate and culture at the very beginning of the school year, across all grade levels and content areas. Furthermore, administrators and teacher-leaders must clearly communicate the expectations for informal observations during pre-service week, collaborative planning, staff meetings, and PD sessions, and via the staff handbook.
School leaders should hold informal observation conferences in a space that’s most comfortable for the teacher. This can be accomplished by giving the teacher the option of holding the post-observation conference in their classroom as opposed to in an administrator’s office. This practice conveys mindfulness, and it sends the message that you (the administrator or teacher-leader) want to accommodate the teacher, which engenders trust.
The Right Start
Giving timely feedback that’s authentic and meaningful is what all teachers need to feel supported and properly coached. Administrators and teacher-leaders should take very detailed observation notes and only reference their observation notes when speaking to the teacher’s glows, grows, attainable next steps, and quick wins.
All informal teacher observation feedback should begin by explicitly highlighting the glows. This is done when the administrator or teacher-leader acknowledges the areas that the teacher is currently shining in. Ultimately, when an administrator or teacher-leader starts a conversation with glows, the teacher is more receptive to the feedback, which leads to the teacher being a more reflective practitioner.
Plus, no one relishes an informal observation conference that lacks praise. Furthermore, it’s important for school leaders to refrain from creating informal observation conferences that are not fruitful because they are facilitated in a condescending gotcha manner. Remember, no stakeholder wins when an informal observation is overly negative and punitive in nature.
Once the administrator or teacher-leader has clearly communicated the teacher’s glows, they can then explicitly engage in discourse about the teacher’s areas of growth (grows). This should be done by using evidence that’s data driven and objective in nature. It’s also important for administrators and teacher-leaders to stay low on the ladder of inference when giving informal feedback. We don’t want teachers to feel professionally attacked, unsupported, or inadequate.
After a school leader has explicitly communicated the glows and grows, they need to set the teacher up for success by presenting them with attainable next steps that they can implement immediately to experience quick wins. Administrators and teacher-leaders should always equip teachers with attainable next steps.
Here is an example of providing teachers with attainable next steps so that they experience quick wins. Attainable next step: The teacher implements equitable calling sticks, so that all students are called on at random to participate in the classroom discussion. Quick win: This teacher’s newly implemented practice yields a quick win because the student engagement rate is inclined to increase.
It’s important for administrators and teacher-leaders to remember that clarity begets clarity. With that being said, prior to conducting any informal observation, teachers should be given ample time, during collaborative planning or staff meetings, to analyze the rubric and observation tool that will be utilized to give them fruitful, informal observation feedback. Teachers should be afforded time to ask clarifying questions about the rubric and observation tool.
The rubric must also clearly communicate the teacher behaviors that prove their pedagogical practices to be basic (sprouting), proficient (blossoming), and distinguished (pollinating). When teachers are clear on how they are informally evaluated, they are more likely to strive for greatness.
Sabrina N. Crusoe contributed to this article.