From the first all staff in-service at the conclusion of summer, to the end of the year checklist session, teachers are inundated with meetings. More specifically, teachers are overloaded with meetings that see them as actors and doers rather than collaborators.
The teacher-centered pre-observation conference shifts this narrative. This approach to the pre-observation meeting is more collaborative and less intimidating and in order to call attention to the nuances of this process, I created two interactive videos for Tch Video Lounge to help you notice how I approach coaching with the teacher taking the lead.
In The Teacher-Centered Pre-Observation Meeting, I model what this may look like with a second-year teacher, Marquis Colquitt. What I hope you glean from our interaction is that the meeting is collaborative, learning-focused, and practice-centered. Additionally, I hope you can clearly observe the principles that guide an effective pre-observation meeting.
Effective Pre-Observation Meetings: Three Principles
- Use Socratic questioning and objective data (scripting, videotaping) of prior instruction to co-create meaning with the teacher in terms of strengths and focus areas as they relate to instruction.
- Let the teacher lead. Use the conference (after you have reviewed prior observational data and set up Common Core-aligned instructional goals for the students) as a way to let the teacher set the agenda for his/her assistance. As you let the teacher use the data and their own reflection to set the path forward, the teacher will feel like a partner in the work.
- Acknowledge teacher expertise. The teacher interfaces with students more often and more authentically than an evaluator could; so leaning on the teacher’s expertise with their own children can make the entire conference a more shared experience. There will be time to speak to a teacher’s lack of expertise when it comes to the children or the content after the observation.
Evaluation vs. Collaboration
Anytime a teacher enters into what could be considered an evaluative conversation, his/her nerves likely will be on edge. When this is true, the absorption of any suggestions can be negatively impacted. One way to lower the pressure is to partner with teachers on the focus of the observation. When teachers get a chance to collaborate in their own learning, the possibility of behavioral change is heightened. This philosophy should continue into the post-observation conference.
As a teacher, I dreaded the observation debrief conversation. First, there was uncertainty as to what my rating would be. Then, there was the prospect of having any other issues I may have had during the instructional year come up. Maybe I was paranoid, but I didn’t see the debrief as a learning opportunity, but as a final exam with high stakes.
For the debrief to be constructive, adult learning has to take the driver’s seat. In the second video, Supporting Teacher Reflection Through Debriefs, you’ll see me, in my role as a coach, making meaning with Mr. Colquitt via a running script or video. I then use the goals from the pre-observation meeting, as well as Mr. Colquitt’s personal conclusions, to frame the results. Lastly, I will provide logical next steps so that the debrief can lead to further teacher growth and development. If the debrief promotes growth, as opposed to mere evaluation, more teachers will hopefully look forward to the experience.
So, shared learning is a clear process design that facilitates observation meetings that can transform into extended professional development sessions. This design can also help model what we expect our teachers to be able to do in their classrooms, thereby ensuring quality learning experiences throughout the school year.
For a closer look at coaching for improvement, quality, and equity, check out this Coaching for Equity playlist. And be sure to check out Teaching Channel‘s Coaching Deep Dive for even more resources.
Josh Parker is a 2013 NEA Global Fellow and the 2012 Maryland Teacher of the Year. He serves the students and staff of Paul Laurence Dunbar Senior High School in Washington, D.C. as an instructional coach. He is a proud board member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year and is a Teaching Channel Laureate. Connect with Josh on Twitter: @MDTOY2012.