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Follow through: It isn’t just about your golf swing (Part 1)

golf swingA couple of years ago I was looking at our school district’s data regarding the number of classroom observations that were being conducted.  We had been focusing on using walk-through forms to collect data and follow through conversations to give teachers objective feedback regarding their teaching, Visible Learning and Teaching and student engagement. Many hours were spent discussing classroom observations and follow through discussions. I was very pleased to see that, after all of the work we had been doing, administrators were in classrooms conducting observations and we were able to look at data to make decisions about professional development for the district as well as individual buildings.

It was May and I was looking at observation data to determine what would be the professional learning focus for the coming year.  As a district we had just wrapped up two years working on professional development for our administrators on providing quality feedback to teachers.  Each building had selected a couple of indicators from the Student Indicators of Engagement form as their building focus and I was curious to see if the feedback teachers were given was changing practice.

I glanced at individual building PD plans from previous years, looked at each school’s observation data and I noticed that cooperative learning and small group instruction had been a focus for two years in three of our schools. Digging a little deeper I looked at the written feedback given on the SIE forms and I noticed that, in more cases than I like to admit, teachers were receiving similar comments throughout the year and the data showed that non-examples of cooperative learning structures were still being observed consistently. I asked myself “What was missing?  Why wasn’t the professional learning and feedback we were providing having an impact?”

I put on  my Sherlock Holmes hat and went out to a few schools to have some informal Sherlock-Holmes-007conversations with teachers about their thoughts on our (fairly) new observation protocols. With very few exceptions, teachers were very positive about the increased presence of administrators in classes, they liked getting objective data about instruction and engagement and they preferred the 15-20 minute walk-throughs to the dog and pony shows of the past. When I asked about how they felt about the follow-up conversations they were having, either formal post-observation conferences or informal chats I found that 75% of the time they would receive their observation data via email and there was no follow through.  It all made sense to me know.

In order to effect change through classroom observations it’s essential to follow through afterwards with a post-observation conference or even an informal chat about the data. There are many ways to follow-up on a walk-through…some yielding better results than others; the key for me is to focus on having a post-observation conversation not a conference.

In Part 2 of “Follow through: It isn’t just about your golf swing” we’ll take a look at how to conduct a meaningful post-observation conversation to inspire teachers to be more reflective and effect meaningful change in instructional practice.