A Coach’s Toolkit: Three Ways to Take Observational Notes

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in a brainstorming session with other coaches where we talked about our successes and challenges around observational coaching. I find coaching can be even more isolating than teaching — I’ve gotten together with other coaches maybe four times during my three years of coaching — so it was a huge treat to have an hour to share ideas and struggles.

During our meeting, each coach talked about how she takes observational notes and discusses those notes with teachers. We noticed that during observations we all script what teachers and students are saying, but each of us had different approaches to organizing and sharing these notes.

Give Wows, Wonders, and Suggestions

Shelia Banks, a School Support Specialist for Jefferson Parish Public Schools in Louisiana (and a Teaching Channel featured teacher), scripts out everything the teacher is doing and how the students are responding. After the lesson, she leaves the room and writes feedback for the teacher she observed. Shelia begins her feedback by listing “wow” moments, and then writes “wonders” in question form. For example, “I wonder how we can work on increasing student engagement in the classroom?”

Finally, Shelia lists suggestions to address her questions. For example, “Consider having students take brain breaks to maximize their engagement.” Along with her suggestions, she sends teachers resources and schedules a time to work through them. I love how Shelia not only gives suggestions to her teachers, but also provides concrete resources and follow-through to help them implement those suggestions.

Help Connect the Dots

Similar to Shelia, Instructional Mentor Stacy Davison makes a t-chart to record teacher and student comments. Then Stacy, who works for Bellevue Public Schools in Washington, adds time markers throughout. Many of us don’t realize how long we spend on tasks, and this helps teachers reflect on their pacing and time management. Stacy says that often, without any additional feedback, teachers will get an ah-ha moment from seeing how they are using their time.

After scribing what happened during the lesson, Stacy writes connections on the right side of her paper. On the left side, she connects what she’s seeing with what it means to her — often noting effective instructional moves, linking to the Danielson rubric, and connecting to evaluative criteria. Making these connections helps teachers see how their instruction connects to larger goals and frameworks.

Look for Evidence of Goals

Ruth Corley, an Instructional Reform Facilitator for San Francisco School District, begins the year by setting goals with each teacher she works with. Ruth scripts what happens in each lesson and after each observation, she sits down with the teacher with a particular goal in mind. Together, they look at the script and make notes on evidence of these goals. For example, if the teacher is working on student engagement, she’ll mark all the areas where students are engaged/not engaged. I love how Ruth actively involves her teachers in reflecting on their lessons while using concrete evidence to guide them.

As I move into more teacher observations, I can’t wait to try out these new approaches. I’d also love to hear about your methods for taking and sharing observational notes — please share below!

Lily Jones taught K/1 for seven years in Northern California. She has experience as a curriculum developer, instructional coach, teacher trainer, and is also a contributing writer for Teaching Channel.

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