The Promise of Classroom Observations That Work – Part II: Sourcing Solutions

In part one of Classroom Observations Designed to Work, we identified the challenges of effectively observing teachers delivering instruction. Here, we will key in on some solutions.

Classroom observations hold great promise—when built on a foundation of research about what makes learning rigorous, relevant, and engaging and when executed from a collaborative structure that positions teachers as active agents in their own learning. We’ve found that successful classroom observations occur when a series of interlocking components are in place. It is true that classroom observations can fall short of their promise if they lack any of these necessary components. Years of research at ICLE have shown that when classroom observation makes a teacher better such that students also improve, it is highly likely that all of these components are intact:

1. Observers should be rigorously coached. Practitioners should understand that delivering classroom observations is a specific skill (National Education Association, 2010). Coaching needs to establish clearly what the observer is expected to observe and why. Whenever possible, coaching should also be catered to content and grade level so that the observer can give more relevant feedback. For coaching to result in intended outcomes, observers must have opportunities to practice observation and deliver constructive, actionable feedback while maintaining a supportive, respectful demeanor.

2. Observers should be conditioned to account for bias. One of the most effective and straightforward ways to achieve this is to use coaches, consultants, or administrators from outside of the building and with little knowledge of a specific teacher or students.

3. Observations should look primarily at student learning and secondarily at teacher instruction. Too often, observers put most of their attention on the teacher (Dynarski, 2016). In turn, they are evaluating teacher performance in a vacuum, as it’s not measured against its impact on student learning. The most effective observers will spend most of the time watching students, observing their work, and analyzing their level of engagement, the rigor of their cognition, and their capacity to apply learning in relevant, flexible ways.

4. Observations should be made against a known and shared rubric that establishes clear expectations of student learning and related instructional practice (Wayne et al., 2016). Clear, specific, consistent rubrics that are shared with all involved parties let everyone know the factors of observation and what they’re working toward to affect student achievement.

5. The rubric should strike a balance between being robust and not complicated, while also being directly tied to research-based pedagogy and student outcomes. A rubric is only useful if what it is derived from has been known to work in enhancing student learning. Checklists will not unearth what is and is not driving learning in the classroom. Yet cumbersome, overly complicated, arbitrary rubrics impede an observer’s ability to home in on precise indicators of rigorous, relevant, and engaging learning.

6. Observations should be frequent to produce meaningful data. Many studies confirm what we’ve observed ourselves: a single classroom observation and round of feedback amounts to time and resources wasted. The more frequent the observations, the more the investment pays off through reliable data (Whitehurst, Chingos, & Lindquist, 2014).

7. Feedback should be actionable and on a loop to support teachers through long-term improvements that raise student achievement. Similarly, the more frequent the feedback, the more likely teachers are to apply new insights to instruction that boost student outcomes (Wayne et al., 2016).

Are Your Teachers and Students Supported on the Path to the Growth They Deserve?

As we all set out to support our teachers in bettering their craft so that students better their learning, we have to ask ourselves what our classrooms look like. Do we see evidence of students thinking rigorously, applying skills relevantly, and actively engaging in their own learning? As a guide to making this crucial determination, our rubrics can be used to create a baseline of your classrooms/student learning.

Read more on the potential for impactful classroom observations, including details on ICLE’s Collaborative Instructional Review Process. Download the complete whitepaper: Classroom Observations Designed to Work: Better Instructional Support. Better Teachers. Better Student Outcomes.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.


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