Early into the virtual learning move last spring I was hearing from teachers that they were having more short observations/visits to their instruction from principals than when everyone was at school. Most teachers shared that they appreciated the encouraging responses they received. I sensed that principals felt a need to cheerlead as teachers tackled new instructional practices with a trial-and-error process.
As time has proceeded many administrators are finding a need to be more formal in these observations with some required to create a formal evaluation. I am working with some schools that have been virtual since March and do not predict a return to physical classrooms in the near future. One central office administrator recently shared that teacher pushback to administrators’ comments from virtual walk-throughs was surfacing. In this blog, I am sharing insights from some thinking I’ve done in preparation for coaching administrators and instructional coaches in similar circumstances.
Last spring had many schools pull back on requirements related to student assessments and grades as well as teacher evaluation. Consider these comments from an education week article Should Schools Be Giving so many Failing Grades This Year.
“When the coronavirus shuttered nearly all of the nation’s public schools in March, most districts quickly moved into triage, instituting “pass/fail” arrangements or allowing students’ completed work over the final weeks of the semester to boost, but not lower, their final marks. Few officials at that time felt that the pandemic would continue into the 2020-21 school year. But as the crisis continued and school began in the fall, most districts reverted to their old grading systems, in part because of the infrastructure that depends on those grades: Senior transcripts need to be prepared for college admissions. Grades determine access to specialized middle school programs, magnet schools, and sports scholarships. Old grading problems worsen during the pandemic.”
I think we can make a similar statement for the supervision/evaluation of teacher practices. Old problems can worsen in the current virtual, hybrid, and social distance classroom settings.
I have never been a promoter of giving teachers feedback in written form following walk-throughs. No matter how strongly a supervisor feels that the feedback is non-evaluative and coaching focused, without the teacher’s engagement in a conversation, it is interpreted as evaluation. The perfect example came from the central office administrator who described the teacher’s pushback to the virtual walkthroughs with this example, “Please, no more I’m wonderings.” Most written “I am wonderings,” as well as spoken, are interpreted as the provider thinking there is a better practice than what they observed.
The following statements on feedback illustrate the problem: “It doesn’t matter how much authority or power a feedback giver has; the receivers are in control of what they do and don’t let in, how they make sense of what they are hearing, and whether they choose to change” (Stone and Heen).
“Feedback without goal setting, without a conversation about what might be an alternative way of thinking and behaving, is just information. Feedback is less helpful, even damaging, if it is just an exercise in getting something off one’s chest” (Campbell and van Nieuwerburgh).
I have historically proposed that the purpose of walk-throughs should be to educate the leadership team of a school about what is occurring in the teaching and learning process. This information should guide leadership decisions about leadership behaviors. I have suggested that those supervising administrators might ask them, “What patterns are emerging from your walk-through observations and how are you thinking that impacts your actions?”
Joellen Killion states that we should shift our focus from feedback-as-product to feedback-as-process (The Feedback Process: Transforming Feedback for Professional Learning). For me, the easiest way to structure my coaching use of feedback is seeing myself as a learner alongside the teacher. Killion uses the term learning partner and proposes a focus on the construction of knowledge by talking less, listening more, and asking powerful questions.
It’s obvious that working as a learning partner requires more time than emailing notes after a walk-through. My thoughts are to hold the feedback until you make the time/process for it to be meaningful. You will be modeling what teachers should be considering about feedback to students.
“Just 19 percent of teachers say they should be evaluated (with associated consequences and/or rewards) during the winter/spring of 2021. Many district leaders disagree 52 percent say teacher evaluations should continue as usual. But only 38 percent of principals support evaluating teachers this school year.”
– Education Week