teacher coaching

To Differentiate Professional Development? Or Not?

We expect our teachers to personalize the learning in their classrooms, to differentiate to meet the needs and learning styles of all students.  This is considered best practice.  After all, each student comes to us from a unique background, has different experiences, and learns in a certain way.  For example, student A comes from poverty, has limited experience in literacy, and helps to take care of his younger brother each night while his single parent works two jobs to keep the family afloat.  Student B has a different story: she has two parents at home who work during the day, has soccer practice three days per week, is read to each night, and travels with her family each summer on vacation.  Most teachers wouldn’t dream of treating these two students identically.  So they don’t.

Administrators are in a similar situation.  Instead of students, they have teachers to consider.  Each teacher comes to us from a variety of backgrounds, has different experiences, and learns in a certain way.  Sounds familiar?  It’s just like the students in the teacher’s class.

In a classroom, oftentimes the teacher’s intention is for students to transfer their learning.  The teacher has a vision of a specific outcome, performance assessment, problem the students must solve, project to complete, etc.  Throughout the learning, the teacher reinforces what each student is doing well and scaffolds when needed.  It is only through this backwards planning, starting with the end in mind, can the teacher personalize the learning for each student.

Shouldn’t administrators adopt this same mentality when it comes to professional development for our teachers?  Isn’t what is best practice for our students also going to be best practice for our teachers?  Not so fast.

Administrators need to consider the idea of fragmentation.  Fragmentation occurs when there is little direction and focus for where the staff is going.  Professional development can become fragmented if there is no clear target, goal, or direction.  Simply differentiating professional develop for the sake of calling it differentiated will lead to confusion, lack of clarity, and few meaningful outcomes.  Teachers will become upset and wait for this learning to pass.  Without a clear direction or end goal, the learning will not stick.

However, if the administrator has a clear vision of the end, much like the teacher has a clear and authentic assessment, differentiated professional development can, and most likely will, align everyone’s efforts.  The key is the administrator having a clear direction and defined outcomes.  The administrator then provides scaffolding and reinforcement specific to each teacher throughout the learning.  The goal is for the administrator to know where the teachers are going and guide them to their destination.

What are your experiences with differentiating professional Development?  Have you run into fragmentation?

Eric Bransteter

Sped Teacher

5 Considerations When Being Observed

Last week we looked at the teacher evaluation/observation process from the eyes of the observer.  Today we’ll look through the lens of the person being observed, the teacher.  When being observed, it is natural to feel anxiety, for the entire observation to go by in a blur.  Oftentimes when the observer leaves the classroom the teacher will instantly start to consider all the things he/she did “wrong” instead of the many great things that happened.  Every class period and lesson is unique, and this observation is just a sliver into what you do on a daily basis.

When thinking about how to approach the evaluation/observation process, keep in mind the following five considerations for teachers:

5 – If you were observing this lesson, what feedback would you give yourself? – Truly reflect on your actions, the actions of your students, and the words being used throughout the lesson.  Think about your lesson plan, its purpose, its execution, and how you responded to your students.  If you were a student in your class, would you have wanted to attend this lesson?  What went well and what didn’t?  Why?  What would you do differently if given the opportunity to reteach this lesson to these students on this day?

4 – Approach the observation process from a learning perspective –  It is natural for teachers, or anybody who is being evaluated, to be defensive when receiving feedback or while in a face-to-face observation debrief meeting.  You are being critiqued, analyzed, and judged (or at least it feels this way!).  Instead of instantly defending your actions, listen openly and think about what you could learn from this process.  There are times when you may feel the need to defend your actions and/or words.  Advocate for yourself if needed, but try to learn something at the same time.

3 – Seek clarification – Ask questions and seek exemplars.  You will receive feedback that you either agree with or don’t.  When you don’t agree, ask questions!  Try to figure out why your words/actions came across the way they did, and figure out what you can do about it.  Are there teachers in your building/grade/department that you could observe?  Exemplars are a great way to learn!  Sometimes teachers receive feedback such as “Great job!” and not much more.  In these instances, ask for clarification.  Try to figure out exactly what about the observation was great so you know what to repeat.

2 – Think critically, but don’t be critical –  While thinking critically about the lesson, it’s easy to be critical of yourself.  Don’t be.  You became a teacher for a reason, most likely to make a positive difference in the lives of others.  Your students and colleagues need the very best version of you possible, and you can’t give the best of you when you are being critical of yourself.  This can be done by remembering consideration #1.

1 – Separate your role as a teacher from your identity – You are a teacher, but that does not define who you are as a person.  You are also a mother, father, sister, brother, friend, learner, colleague, etc.  There are many different roles you take on during a typical day, week, month, and year.  As much as possible, especially for those observations and evaluations that didn’t go as intended, remember this is one of your roles.  Don’t bring down the rest of your roles, and remember – who you are, your identity, is much more.

Teachers, what do you consider when somebody is observing you?

Eric Bransteter


Special Education Teacher

5 Considerations For Teacher Observations

For many educators (both administrators and teachers), the teacher observation/evaluation process can be stressful!  From a teacher’s lens, somebody is coming into your classroom, the place you spend 8 hours per day plus countless extra hours, and evaluating you.  This observer is looking at everything on your walls, hearing everything you and your students say, seeing all the work completed by your students, and critiquing you.  There’s nothing quite like being put under a microscope, huh?!

And from the evaluator’s lens, he/she typically wants to get into classrooms each and everyday to give constructive feedback, sincere commendations, and better understand all that is happening related to instruction and learning.  This is on top of lunchroom duty, car and busy duty, parent/community relations, student discipline, planning professional development, keeping up with best practice, building maintenance, safety and security of all, and the list goes on…

Is it even possible to balance all aspects of education in the 21st century and keep a healthy life/work balance?  Maybe not, but we can sure try!  One way of balancing all that is required of administrators related to observations is to keep in mind the following five considerations when completing observations:

5 – Long-term goals – There are two mindsets when working with teachers: short-term and long-term goals.  You (either in isolation or with your faculty) will create the long-term goals for student learning, growth, achievement, etc.  Effective instruction is the key to reaching these long-term goals.  Be sure your staff knows exactly where you are going as a building/district/organization.  Only with this clarity can we achieve the next consideration.

4 – Short-term goals – What teachers actions are necessary to reach your identified long-term goals?  Is there a particular set of teacher actions that are lacking in order for you to reach your long-term goals?  If so, do your teachers know this?  Keeping in mind your long-term goals, short-term goals can be created per grade level, subject area, teacher, building, or district.  Perhaps this is a hypothesis that clearly articulated lesson objectives (purpose) is required for students to understand what they are doing or why.  Or maybe you have found that checks for understanding need to be improved so that your teachers can better modify instruction in real-time.  Short-term goals should align and push you to your long-term goals and be based on evidence collected during your observations and the various assessments given in your building.

3 – The Platinum Rule – Each teacher has a unique set of needs and preferred way of communicating.  While it might seem impossible, administrators need to understand the best way to communicate to each teacher.  We’ve all heard of the Golden Rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.  The only problem with this is I respond to things differently than you do.  Instead, think of the platinum rule “Treat others the way they want to be treated.” (from Dr. Tony Allesandra).  I was the type of administrator that used questions to guide teacher improvement.   However, there were times when the teacher I was talking to would rather just have it straight.  Consider the recipient of your message and how he/she would best receive your message.

2 – Collaborative Conversations – While leaving a post-it note or sending an email after an observation is important (critical some would say), try to find time to schedule time to meet with your staff soon after an observation/walkthrough.  This is especially true of longer observations.  Immediate feedback sent to the teacher shouldn’t replace real face-to-face conversations with your teachers.  These conversations will help you better understand consideration #1

1 – Your observation is but a snapshot – The time you spend in the classroom observing is just a snapshot, a window into the classroom.  There is always much more to the story of instruction than your short time in the classroom.  When meeting with a teacher, or sending feedback through your favorite app/software, be sure to ask questions to better understand what you saw.  For example, why did the teacher choose to teach today’s lesson, and where does it fit into your short-term and long-term goals?

What do you consider when completing teacher observations?

Eric Bransteter