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Five Steps for Using Data During Teacher Observations

Thanks to its partnership with publisher Eye on Education, EducationWorld is pleased to present this administrator advice from The Learning Leader: Reflecting, Modeling, and Sharing, by Jacqueline E. Jacobs and Kevin L. O'Gorman. In this article, Jacobs and O'Gorman offer insight about using data to positively influence how teachers teach.

Most principals go through the practice of observing classrooms at random, using a standard observation form. They check off a list of items on the form and then leave it with the teacher. Too often principals do not follow up on their observations to provide specific feedback, but more importantly, they’re not looking for something specific when they walk into the classroom.

If principals know that rapidly alternating between teaching and questioning is a strategy that works for successful teachers, then why aren’t we looking for that specific behavior when we do classroom observations? If we know that a lack of engagement (making sure there’s a clear understanding of that concept in a school) is a problem, then why aren’t we observing for engagement specifically—and nothing else—when we do classroom observations?

Just as annual test scores supply information about students, summative assessment data about teachers will provide you with a starting point—but that’s about it. This information will show you where you have strengths and weaknesses in your building. It will tell you where to look for the teaching strategies that work and it may indicate some curriculum weaknesses and strengths.

Most schools in this nation have at least one master teacher whom you can observe in order to find out what strategies are working. The most effective use of your time is observing great teachers to determine what they’re doing that’s different from what less successful teachers are doing. From there, your job is to create an observation form to target those specific behaviors. This task can be done most effectively when you include teachers and a leadership team in sharing and modeling exactly what those teaching strategies are.

Step 1:  In a collaborative effort with teachers in your building, identify the strategies in your building that are the most effective. Douglas Reeves (2010) has created professional development videos specific to this process.

Step 2:  Create an observation form that will allow you to gather data specific to those strategies across your building. It’s important that you also create a systematic process and schedule for doing classroom observations (along with your team).

Step 3:  Analyze your data after a set period of time. Determine which teachers are the least likely and the most likely to use the successful strategy. These data should be used to target professional development.

Step 4:  Create a professional development plan to help your weakest teachers learn the successful strategy. Communicate to them how you plan to monitor their progress.

Step 5:  Monitor the progress of teachers, providing specific feedback at least weekly. It would be highly beneficial to have teachers monitor their own progress as well.

Regardless of the way in which you collect data, it is valuable to remember that no one person is capable of identifying everything that is needed to ensure a positive, productive learning environment. A new approach has teachers observe each other on targeted strategies and discuss their problems and successes.

Likewise, administrators have a view of the school and its needs, but so do students and teachers. If you are aware of your own strengths and weaknesses in leading and developing others, you can draw on the strengths of others to help lead various initiatives.


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