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Rising Tides: Making Administrator Observations Work

As a school administrator for over 15 years, I have conducted a fair number of observations of teachers and administrators. I have probably seen hundreds of teachers, and with the regulations found in AchieveNJ, I will see many more. In my former role as principal and now as director, I have not only gained experience with our district’s supervisory model, but I have also learned much when reflecting on professional practice with colleagues. This year, I sought to improve my supervisory work by creating collaborative structures with administrators in order to provide choices for their observations. Instead of using an observation solely as a method of evaluating effectiveness at a single point in time, I have transformed the process by offering options. The administrator and I determine a focus according to a specific need, set forth a plan, and then reflect on the shared experience together. By using a collaborative approach, I blend observations with a plan that is deliberate, intentional and inquiry based. Administrators take stock of their skills and abilities while I connect their work to the professional standards for school leaders. I seek to improve their effectiveness as administrators through a learning experience of their choice. Outreach In order to get started, I offer options as part of my outreach. Administrators determine what they deem critical in their roles and select an area they would like to investigate. Methods include, but are not limited to, the following: a collaborative series of walkthroughs to (a) gather data on a specific purpose based on school, district or individual goals; (b) collect data on a curricular component of interest such as articulation; or (c) assess implementation of a newly developed organizational structure recently put into place. Traditional options include delivering professional development sessions to faculty or conducting parent nights. It’s their choice. Rising Tides: Making Administrator Observations Work By Maribeth Edmunds, Ed.D., Director of Secondary Education, South Brunswick Public Schools Educational Viewpoints -7- Spring 2018 Articulation My first step into the new process took place with an assistant principal who is leading a committee of high school teachers in a study of vertical articulation. He had never worked at the middle school before and expressed a desire to learn more about this level. We decided to focus on the kinds of instructional practices that take place in eighth grade classrooms and how students meet expectations. Ultimately, the assistant principal would like to provide greater support to students as they transition to ninth grade. To develop the observation structure, we created a schedule of classroom visits at our middle schools. The administrator selected areas of interest such as (a) rigor; (b) presence of a ‘Do Now’ activity; (c) amount and type of homework given; (d) expectations of students; and (e) student engagement. Together, we visited 17 classrooms. Some were co-teaching sections that served special education along with regular education students; other sections were accelerated. We saw algebra, language arts, literature, science, general math and a session on careers conducted by counselors. He took copious notes. Following the walkthroughs, we spent time discussing our impressions. A good deal of ‘mythology’ about what takes place in middle school classrooms was dispelled. There was active engagement, rigorous instruction and high expectations at a level he had not anticipated. He was so impressed. Following the visits, he wrote individual email messages to all teachers noting something specific he had seen in their class and expressing his enthusiasm for their work. As such, the administrator had new learning to take back to his articulation committee, and I commented on his increased capacity in instructional leadership, collaboration and communication. Teacher Evaluation Another opportunity arose with an assistant principal who was recently transferred from one building to another. He was new to the school and new to the teachers that he was to observe. For his collaborative inquiry, he developed a spreadsheet in Google documents in order to record observation data from walkthroughs using the standards in our supervisory protocol. He devised columns such as: (a) planning; (b) learning environment; (c) checking for understanding; (d) assessment data; and (e) real world connections. Through this process, the administrator began his working relationship with those teachers on his supervision roster. He was able to get a sense of how they connect with students and how their work evolves on a daily basis. He was not relying solely on announced observations. He, too, wrote email messages to teachers summarizing his impressions. Program Delivery Program delivery is another option. Our K-12 music supervisor, for example, wanted to study the consistency of music instruction across elementary schools. The focus of his walkthroughs centered on two basic areas: the K-1 general music program and the instrumental band program. Both of these areas connected to his individual goal of identifying personalized professional development for his staff members and gauging consistent delivery of the program at this level. Through the process, the supervisor took careful notes on a mobile device about delivery of instruction. I observed how the supervisor assessed best practices and discussed how to articulate this feedback with teachers. A good part of our feedback session centered on developing a series of next steps in order to support his program goal. I commented on his supervisory abilities and his support of staff members. Reflection I have been very pleased with the new process and how well the administrative staff has received my outreach to them. They have seriously considered the work they do and how to be reflective about their practice. To me, this is a beneficial step that changes observation from ‘us versus them’ to a collaboration that creates a greater investment on their part in the observation. Feedback becomes targeted. As the observer, I prompt discussion around the topic that was selected versus discussing what may have happened spontaneously or what might have occurred to me in the moment. We have a clear purpose for reflection. I have found this process to be focused, deliberate and meaningful for administrators as I coach them in their professional capacities. It has been gratifying for me as a veteran administrator to coach others in this manner. To borrow a phrase from John F. Kennedy, I believe this process is similar to ‘rising tides lift all boats’ (1963). If we work collaboratively to ensure that our practices are challenging, purposeful, effective and reflective, all members of our school community, including administrators, benefit.

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