Individualized Professional Learning Plan

Top 4 Benefits of Individualized Professional Learning Plans

Last week we discussed the ineffective use of scripting for teacher observations. This week, we’ll focus on a component of a more effective teacher evaluation model: Individualized Professional Learning Plans.


You’re probably asking yourself, “So what, exactly, is an individualized professional learning plan?”.

Individualized professional learning plans are an individualized, focused, and on-going means of setting goals for teacher professional growth. The focused, individualized nature of these plans makes them an effective roadmap for teacher reflection and growth. Below are some more reasons why individualized professional learning plans are an integral piece of a comprehensive professional practice framework.


#1 – They’re Focused on Community Standards

One reason these plans are effective is that the implementation begins with a focus on state and local standards. In other words, what does the school know about its students, and what are its expectations for them? Schools then use data to determine where their students are regarding those standards and set goals for improvement.


#2 – They’re Focused on Purposeful Goals

With a focus on the goals set for student improvement, teachers determine their own set of goals – their contribution to student growth and improvement. For example, if the school data determined that students were weak at evaluating bias in nonfiction texts, an individual teacher may set a goal for how they can improve that skill in their own classroom. In this way, the goals are purposeful and goal centered.


#3 – They’re Focused on Measurable Goals

Another reason these plans are effective is that the teachers set measurable goals. In other words, they include quantifiable data to determine whether they are seeing student growth in a determined area. For example, a teacher may determine that they’re going to incorporate three more pieces of nonfiction writing into their curriculum through which students will practice evaluating bias. Teachers can then measure students’ progress throughout the course of the year through formative and summative assessments on evaluating bias.


#4 – They Lead to More Efficient and Meaningful Teacher Evaluations

Evaluators who primarily use scripting write down everything that happens in a classroom. At the end, they have vast amounts of unfocused data to sift through, so reflection with the teachers they evaluate is often time consuming and disconnected. Instead, the individualized professional learning plans mean teachers and evaluators have a specific focus along with meaningful data to inform their conversation and determine a plan for teacher growth. In other words, did the data indicate student growth in assessing bias in nonfiction text? Were there still areas of weakness? The evaluator and teacher may determine, for example, that while students improved overall in evaluating bias, they still struggled with identifying loaded language in a text or evaluating credibility of the writer. They would then reflect on how the teacher could better help students regarding these specific skills.


How do you see individualized professional learning plans fitting into the teacher evaluation model at your school?

Top 3 Problems with Scripting for Teacher Evaluations

While most people generally agree that teachers must be held accountable, the current system of teacher evaluations doesn’t really do that.  Scripting, although ineffective at delivering significant improvement, has been one of the most widely used tools for teacher evaluations, largely because of the common misconceptions surrounding the practice.

So what, exactly, is scripting? Scripting involves recording what is happening in a classroom, including what the teacher is doing and saying, what students are doing and saying, and the interactions between teacher and student. Below are three major problems with this practice.

Problem #1: Scripting is Inefficient
If scripting sounds tedious, it’s because it is. It’s also inefficient and not as effective as it was once thought to be. In our work with schools throughout the country, school leaders are lucky if they can get 1-2 scripted observations completed for every teacher each school year.

Problem #2: Scripting is not as objective as it claims to be
A common misconception is that scripting is objective. If an observer is writing down or typing into a computer everything that happens in a classroom, then they’re being objective, right? Wrong.
First, it would be impossible to record every interaction. Think of the number of interactions that happen in a room of 20+ students and a teacher just using nonverbal communication alone. On top of this, evaluators are people, and people sometimes see what they want to see and fail to see what they don’t want to see – it’s called confirmation bias.

Problem #3: Scripting is really just a compliance practice

Although the flaws surrounding scripting are clear, evaluators are still using it. Why? Because they have to do something to be compliant, and this is what was touted early on to meet compliance. Unfortunately, this led to a widespread missed opportunity.  Teacher observations shouldn’t just be about checking boxes to meet state and federal requirements.  It’s time for schools to progress beyond mere compliance practices (i.e., scripting) and instead focus on processes that foster teacher reflection and growth.  One such process leverages video observations over scripting, and the results are very encouraging.

Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research (through the Best Foot Forward project) examined the benefits of using video observations to help teachers accelerate their development. The many benefits video observations, like iAspire Reflect, provide over traditional scripting practices include: capturing all information from an observation, unlimited opportunities to review the observation, objective data and feedback, opportunity to observe without being physically present in the classroom, allows teachers to record themselves and choose which lessons to submit for review, increased number of coaching cycles with each teacher, and the creation of a professional development library of exemplars of instructional practice that can be shared among staff.

Are you tired of prehistoric, time-consuming teacher observation practices involving scripting? If so, you’re probably ready to learn more about teacher video observations and leap into the 21st century of teacher evaluation practices!

teacher evaluations

When Teacher Evaluations Fail – Lessons Learned!

Last week we explored some common pitfalls of teacher evaluations. Now, let’s discuss how evaluators can avoid these pitfalls and turn teacher evaluations into an effective process for professional growth and continuous improvement.  Here’s how:

Problem: Incorrect Perceptions or Just Checking Off the Boxes – In this scenario, the evaluator placed dots on a page to track teacher interaction with students. The focus of the classroom observation was to “check the boxes” of the evaluation. The feedback – that the teacher needed more dots – was not meaningful. This teacher was left wondering why. In this case a dot only meant a teacher spoke out loud with a student, not whether it was meaningful. The requirement that every student should have a dot during the classroom observation was arbitrary and didn’t add any value.

Solution: Establish and Communicate a Clear Objective for the Observation – Classroom observations should have a clear objective that helps to focus the intent of the teacher evaluation: what do effective teachers do? How can this teacher be more effective? The evaluator should use the dots to jumpstart a conversation that leads to teacher reflection. He could ask and/or observe what kind of conversations were taking place and how they represented student understanding of the material. This type of reflective dialogue encourages the teacher to become more self-aware of his engagement level with the students.

Problem: Small Sample Size or Bad Timing – In this scenario, evaluators based their evaluations on one or two short observations, some of which were poorly timed. This type of evaluation also failed because it only took into consideration a small sample of the teacher’s work over the course of the school year with the students.

Solution: Flexible Scheduling, Video Observations, Supportive Artifacts – Obviously, a larger sample size is the ideal way for the evaluator to fully understand the teacher’s effectiveness. However, the reality is that evaluators have numerous demands on their time, too, so spending more time on observations is not always feasible. An efficient solution is needed to improve the quality and fairness of the observations. What might that look like?

First, it’s important to observe a lesson more representative of a typical day in the classroom. Ask the teacher for a list of days that may not be the norm (e.g., perhaps they are giving a test) and avoid those days. Sometimes teachers are forced to change plans for various reasons (e.g., moving a test because there was a fire alarm), so evaluators should be willing to change plans also. Evaluators can even start the observation with a simple question, “Is this a good time?” and come back another day if there’s a reasonable explanation why it isn’t.

The evaluator can also supplement a short observation by looking at a unit lesson plan and/or having a conversation with the teacher about where the observed lesson worked into a unit. For example, they might observe a lecture and then through a conversation with the teacher see that it was essential context for students to understand a historical event, which they would later analyze and connect to a current issue. Had the evaluator only seen the lecture, they would’ve missed the depth of learning and application that was taking place in the classroom. A bigger picture evaluation would lead to more conversation and purposeful feedback, and it would be a more reasonable representation of the teacher’s work.

The evaluator and teachers can also use video observations to increase the number of lessons and activities observed, which then increases the number of coaching cycles with each teacher. Imagine a teacher recording themselves on their tablet or phone and then reviewing the video with their evaluator for targeted feedback. This is now possible with iAspire Reflect.

Problem: No Immediate Feedback is Provided – In this scenario, a teacher was briefly observed numerous times throughout the year to get a “snapshot” of what he did in class. However, his evaluator did not give him any feedback regarding these visits. He was left wondering what the observers were looking for and whether they had found it.

Solution: Use a Digital Solution with Immediate Feedback Capability – To make short observations more open and efficient, the evaluators should know what they’re looking for during the visit and provide immediate feedback. Are they checking to see if a specific curriculum is being taught, whether a certain methodology is being used, whether differentiation is taking place, or whether students are actively engaged? After the observation, there should be specific feedback related to these objectives, to reinforce strengths and improve weak areas.

In every scenario there were issues related to inconsistent feedback over a seemingly ambiguous set of objectives.

This means evaluators must have clearly-communicated objectives and also get a complete picture of the teacher’s work, regardless of the number and length of classroom observations. The feedback should then be based on these objectives and include opportunities for reflective dialogue. Follow these simple solutions, and you’ll create a teacher-centric and teacher-driven process for nurturing professional growth.

~Dawn Knight

Teacher Evaluation, Teacher Coaching

When Teacher Evaluations Fail Teachers

I’ve been an English teacher for 23 years, so I’ve participated in numerous teacher evaluations. While some of these have encouraged growth and improvement, others have been what my students would call a “fail.” Educators today, like yourself, often voice frustration at their evaluation processes. I reached out to some other educators and explored their teacher evaluation experiences. A common pattern emerged from these experiences despite the varied approaches to the teacher evaluation process.

Sometimes, teacher evaluations fail teachers.

Below are some of the common pitfalls these educators shared with me regarding their teacher evaluation experiences:

Incorrect Perceptions or Just Checking Off the Boxes – One California educator described how his evaluator placed dots on a sheet of paper as the teacher interacted with students. When the evaluation was over, the evaluator pointed out a cluster of four dots missing; four students the teacher had not engaged in conversation. However, the educator had left the group alone on purpose. They were actively engaged in a rich discussion over the topic, and he didn’t want to interrupt the conversation. When he explained this to his evaluator, he was told, “Do it anyway.” Although this teacher understood the importance of interacting with his students, and his interaction with the other students in the room indicated that he was doing so, he wondered at the feedback. He knew if he inserted himself into the conversation, the students would’ve looked to him, the expert, for the answer. So, he chose to let them engage with the material instead creating a richer educational experience. He wondered why the dots were considered more important than observing quality peer collaboration.

Small Sample Size or Bad Timing – Sometimes, the frustration is that an evaluation is just one small snapshot of what a teacher does with his students. Picture this: a teacher has an evaluator who refuses to reschedule an observation when the class schedule that day has been abnormal. What if a student is struggling with a major life stressor, and the teacher deviates from the planned lesson to provide social/emotional support to the student? This situation probably occurs everyday in classrooms. Often, there is only one opportunity to impress, and the evaluator may only visit the last ten minutes of a class meaning timing is everything.  “In short, a lot of emphasis is placed on that one visit,” one teacher explained. What purpose could be served by a teacher evaluation process that accounts for so little of the daily happenings in the classroom?

No Immediate Communication or Feedback is Provided – Another teacher had the opposite experience, but he was equally frustrated. His administrators wore cardboard cameras around their neck for visits that were considered a brief walk through. The intention of the fake cameras was to eliminate the anxiety of a formal evaluation and to recognize, symbolically, the nature of the visit as a mere snapshot of what he does in the classroom. However, there was no feedback after the snapshot visit, no opportunity for reflective dialogue, and the cameras distracted the students. He wondered what the administrators were looking for and whether they had found it.

Lack of Consistency and Targeted Feedback – Other teachers also expressed frustration over a lack of helpful feedback on a more consistent schedule. A California teacher hadn’t been evaluated in five years, but her colleague in Florida had an evaluator in her room at least once a week. The Florida teacher receives a list of praises after each evaluation, but she is frustrated at the lack of targeted feedback to aid her professional growth.

The common pitfalls of teacher evaluations (listed above) and the related high stakes often frustrate teachers and their evaluators. The end result is a costly and time-intensive teacher evaluation process that fails both the teacher and the evaluator. Evaluators who avoid these common pitfalls can turn the evaluation process into an effective tool for professional growth and continuous improvement.

Do any of these common pitfalls sound familiar to you?  Would your teachers agree with some of these pain points shared by other teachers across the country? 

~Dawn Knight

iAspire Reflect

Using Videos During Teacher Observations Part 4 – Introducing iAspire Reflect

In our previous three posts, we have discussed my own personal struggles with the teacher observation process, creating an environment where teachers self reflect, and sharing a wonderful resource called the Best Foot Forward Project from the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University.    Properly evaluating teachers where a focus is on concrete evidence (video) can be a difficult transition for many schools and organizations.  Why?  Mostly it’s because it is not the norm in education and/or is not what they currently do.

To me, all decisions come down to purpose.  In the words of Simon Sinek in his wonderful book Start with Why: “For great leaders, The Golden Circle is in balance. They are in pursuit of WHY, they hold themselves accountable to HOW they do it, and WHAT they do serves as the tangible proof of what they believe.”  If you haven’t heard about Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle, below is a 3:40 clip of him explaining it:

So what exactly is iAspire Reflect?  iAspire Reflect is a simple-to-use software that allows educators to quickly upload video, add tags to the video (questioning, lesson objective, etc), share videos with colleagues, and search using a variety of criteria. iAspire Reflect also allows you to create a video library of the very best teaching in your organization.

The why behind  iAspire Reflect is to help create an environment where self-reflection and observations based on concrete evidence becomes the norm.  I think about the professional athletes of the world and how often they watch game film.  Being from Indiana (although a Chicago Bears Fan…), I have to make a reference to Peyton Manning, arguably one of the best football players of all time.  It was not Peyton’s elite athleticism that separated him from other quarterbacks. It was his ability and initiative to prepare for opponents that set him apart.  Peyton spent countless hours watching game film.  He reviewed each practice and game from multiple angles, identifying what the opponents were doing, their tendencies, and determining a plan based on what he saw.  He didn’t rely solely on his memory or what his coach told him to do.  Instead, he took complete and total ownership of the entire process and grounded his decisions in concrete evidence – what the “tape” showed him.  Here is an article from the New York Post on Peyton’s video prowess.  He was a machine when it came to preparation and watching video.

In an education environment, video observations allow the teacher and/or other educator to watch a clip, rewind, and watch again.  What specific behaviors were most effective for the teacher, and how do you know?  What exactly did the students do and say as a result of the teacher actions?  This is where recording and watching a lesson becomes extremely powerful.

Another why behind iAspire Reflect is to help alleviate some of the struggles that I faced when observing teachers.  No need to rehash all the struggles – you can read them again here.  Without something concrete, I would not be able to provide the specific actions or dialogue for everything that happened, the teacher would be basing his/her reflections on what he/she remembered, and my own filters would be a barrier to what I was able to capture and document.

As we have been developing iAspire Reflect for teacher observations using video, we have had the privilege to speak with schools across the country to gain their input on our development.  When we discussed our idea for iAspire Reflect, about 95% have been very intrigued and excited by the possibility.  In fact, most of the final responses from these conversations sounded a lot like this: “Can I try it?” or “How can I get started with this?”.


To learn more, please visit


Teacher Evaluation

Using Videos During Teacher Observations Part 3 – Helping You Get Started

The reflection that I did myself, when I videoed, offered me more opportunity for growth than anything an outsider could do for me. Watching my kids, what went on in my room, how I handled it, and things I said—that was more important than any sit-down that I could have with anybody [else]. ” Best Foot Forward teacher, North Carolina (2013)1

In this third installment of our Using Videos During Teacher Observations series, we will dive right in to what the research says with regard to using videos to support teacher observations.  Our previous two posts can be found here: My Own Struggles and Creating an environment where teachers self reflect.

I’m guessing most of you don’t formally use videos during your teacher observations.  Coaching?  Maybe.  The observer sitting down, watching the lesson on video, and providing feedback specific based on what was seen on film?  Probably not.  There are a lot of reasons why schools are hesitant to use videos.  According to Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research and their Best Foot Forward Project, these reasons may include but are not limited to:

  • Compliance Culture
  • Rudimentary Reflection
  • Inflexible Time
  • Inadequate content area feedback

I’ve personally had conversations with several administrators who had various other reasons why they aren’t using videos for teacher observations.  These reasons include their Union won’t allow it, they don’t have the appropriate technology, there is not a simple way to do it, and they are afraid of teachers putting on the proverbial “dog and pony show”.  Others had concerns about students being recorded and what would be required from a policy perspective to allow for recording in the classroom.  However 95% of these administrators rated the potential of video reflections/observations as having a major impact in their school.  In other words, most (95%) think using videos during observations would make a positive difference for them and their teachers.  They just aren’t doing it.

The aforementioned Best Foot Forward Project from Harvard University does a fantastic job providing specific suggestions to break through these barriers.  Their toolkit is simply amazing.  If you haven’t reviewed their toolkit, you should download it now.  The Toolkit provides support in the following areas:

  • Leveraging Video for Learning
    • Video for self-reflection, peer collaboration, virtual coaching, evaluation, and building a video library
  • Cultivating Trust in Video Observations
    • Create a safe environment for teachers and communicate with parents and manage student privacy concerns
  • Turnkey Technology: Setting up Schools for Effective Implementation
    • Choose the right technology, set up your infrastructure, train teachers and observers
  • Measuring Readiness and Assessing Success
    • Ensure readiness, Assess Success
  • Appendix
  • References

Speaking of the dog and pony show, The Best Foot Forward project addressed that directly in its Leveraging Video for Learning section: “If teachers control the camera, they are able to choose a videotaped lesson that they believe represents a comprehensive view of their best work.  Not only does this process increase teacher agency in evaluation, but it also encourages teachers to rewatch several lessons and contemplate what constitutes effective, evaluation-worthy instruction before choosing what will be submitted to the administrator.”  Later it reads “…teachers put their ‘best foot forward’, but this did not fundamentally change the distribution of observation scores between teachers.”2  For a more detailed quantitative review, please see the Best Foot Forward research brief.

The Best Foot Forward Project also includes a self-guided module for analyzing videos of your own instruction, a self-analysis noticing rubric, coaching conversation scripts, and many other worthwhile resources.

If you are considering using videos to support teacher reflection, coaching, and/or evaluation, the guidance from the Best Foot Forward project may help you map an implementation schedule and feel comfortable doing so.  There are definitely logistics to consider, timing issues, collective bargaining disagreements, and other barriers you will face, but best practice suggests using video can have a positive impact on your entire observation process.

Next week we will take a look at how a professional athlete uses video to improve his game, and you may even learn a little bit about Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle.


Have you used videos during any of your observations, coaching cycles, or evaluations?  If so, how did it go?


1Fullerton, J., Greenberg, M., Kane, T., Le, L., Quinn, D., Thal, D., & Zelaya, S. (2015). Leveraging Video for Learning: Strategies for Using Video Observations for Professional Growth [PDF]. Center for Education Policy Research. p. 2

2Fullerton, J., Greenberg, M., Kane, T., Le, L., Quinn, D., Thal, D., & Zelaya, S. (2015). Leveraging Video for Learning: Strategies for Using Video Observations for Professional Growth [PDF]. Center for Education Policy Research. p. 11-12

Video Observations Part 1

Using Videos During Teacher Observations Part 1 – My Own Struggles

We have noticed an interesting yet exciting trend in recent years with regard to teacher evaluations.  Many schools, districts, and organizations have been incorporating coaching (or aspects of it) into the evaluation process.  Most notably, the idea of collegial conversations focused on ongoing, incremental growth has been a noticeable trend.

You may have heard the terms continuous improvement, teacher growth, etc.  They all boil down to the idea of consistently increasing the effectiveness of each of your teachers.  Many states and other agencies require some type of a teacher evaluation to occur, which involves the principal or other administrator to be present in the classroom.  Typically notes are taken, perhaps even scripting of who says what, and then connecting these notes to a rubric or other form.  Feedback is provided, the observer and teacher sit down, and they review the notes (or scripting) and discuss the observation.  Simple enough, right?  But is this the most effective way of growing teachers?

Let me start by saying that the staffs I have worked with have been amazing.  Absolutely amazing.  I have only glowing things to say about them as people and educators.  Even with this “ideal” situation, I still had some of my own challenges with regard to teacher evaluation and observation processes.  The challenges below are specific to me, and you may be facing different challenges than what I describe.  That’s completely okay!  For this blog series, I will be diving into some of my own struggles.  We will also be getting into a fairly new concept for a lot of educators – using videos to help support teacher growth and sustained improvement processes.  

One struggle I had as an administrator (and therefore an evaluator) was the impact my own personal filters had during the observation process.  I would sit in a classroom for 40+ minutes, furiously typing everything that I could possibly capture, and provide feedback to my teachers.  The problem was no matter how consistent I tried to be with my note taking, I would miss something, or many somethings, each and every observation.  Maybe a group in the corner working on a project together had an amazing aha! moment.  Maybe the teacher was circulating the room and giving positive feedback to the quiet student in the back of the room.  It’s not possible to capture everything, no matter how fast you are at typing.  There were times when we were studying best practices for writing workshop, so I would focus on the instruction related to WW.  There were other times when we as a building were focused on positive reinforcement, so that’s what I would be listening for during my observations.  Or maybe I just had a tough conversation with the police and a few parents about an incident that happened that morning – probably not ideal to happen right before a long observation.

These filters meant that I wasn’t capturing everything that was happening in the classroom.  On top of that, I would take some time after a formal observation and try to correct my typos, incomplete sentences, and otherwise faulty grammar.  Then we would schedule a time to meet, which could be 5+ days after the actual lesson. I had completed many other observations during this timeframe, and with everything administrators are responsible for, there were times when the lessons blended together in my mind.  I’m supposed to remember the lesson so I can give acutely specific feedback or ask targeted questions to allow the teacher to self reflect and come up with his/her own aha! moment.  This is tough to do when I couldn’t remember every little detail of the lesson.

The other trend I noticed was the amount of self-reflection teachers were doing, and more importantly what they were using to self reflect.  Teacher observations are inherently a sweat-inducing experience for many teachers.  I’ve had conferences with teachers who said they don’t remember much of the lesson because they were so nervous.  I get it – I was that way too for a while.  Typically my first post-observation conference question was “How do you think the lesson went and why?” This gave the teacher a chance to talk about what the lesson, their reflections, etc.  Then I would base my subsequent questions and feedback on the specific response from the teacher.  Teachers can’t remember every aspect of that individual lesson, so they are stuck leaning on a faulty recollection of what they and their dozens of students did and said.  It’s not their faults they can’t remember everything (just as I can’t remember everything either…)

Teachers would at-times respond with things like “I asked a lot of good questions.”, “I thought it was an okay lesson.”, or “My kids were having a rough day, and I was REALLY hoping you wouldn’t have come in during our science experiment.”  I don’t suppose you’ve ever heard anything like this before, have you?

For sustained improvement to occur, the teacher must be in the center of the improvement process.  We as administrators can tell teachers what to do to improve, but we only get what Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research refers to as a “Compliance culture1: teachers do what the observer says because the observer says to do it.  Perhaps I’m wrong, but I have a feeling that you are not looking for a Compliance Culture if your focus is on increasing the effectiveness of instruction in your classrooms.

Next week we’ll take a look at the impact that self-reflection can have on instruction and how the use of video might help take away some of these pain points we’ve described.

Do you even face any of these same issues?  How do you get past them?

11 Fullerton, J., Greenberg, M., Kane, T., Le, L., Quinn, D., Thal, D., & Zelaya, S. (2015). Best Foot Forward: A Toolkit for Fast-Forwarding Classroom Observations Using Video [PDF]. Center for Education Policy Research.

Teacher Observations

Infographic – 5 Best Practices for Teacher Observations

Just two weeks ago, we published a blog post highlighting 5 best practices for teacher observations.

It was so popular, we decided to turn it into a simple infographic to share with others!

Best Practices for Teacher Observations


Best Practices for Teacher Observations

Best Practices for Teacher Observations

With so many different frameworks and models for classroom observations out there, it’s no wonder why a large number of educators expressed confusion and frustration with classroom observation and teacher evaluation processes in a 2016 report from the Network for Public Education.  The U.S. Department of Education also indicated as much in their 2015 report on classroom observations to improve teacher practice. Evidently, some educators even need a support group!

Surviving Teacher Observations and Evaluations

The truth is that best practices for classroom observations can be condensed into a concise and practical list of core features essential for reaching the intended outcomes.  This is not a one-size-fits-all approach, but rather a core set of practices to ensure your time is well-spent and delivers results.

  1. Streamline your observation domains and rubrics to your state teaching standards.
    • Domains and rubrics should use clear, observable, and explicit language.  The rubrics/forms should be concise, or they will be cumbersome to both the evaluator and the teacher. Clarify vague content and eliminate redundancies or indicators that are not related to student outcomes.
  2. Observations must be anchored to a strong conversational process such as reflective dialogue or cognitive coaching.
    • The observations must engage evaluators and educators in dialogue that strengthens the knowledge and skills of professional educators in a culture of trust and support.  It’s all about professional growth!
  3. Consider differentiating your observations for entry level teachers and experienced teachers.
    • One-size fits all approaches will not work. Entry level teachers and experienced teachers are in different phases of their professional journey as educators. The types and number of observations for these groups should be different to reflect their different professional needs.  For example, consider more peer-based observations for an established, highly effective teacher.
  4. Develop a variety of observation forms and tools from which to choose (formal, informal, long, short, walkthroughs, co-observations).
    • Every situation is unique, so you need to have a fluid process with a variety of observation types to be flexible and adaptable to the unique professional needs of your staff. Maybe a co-observer is needed at times, especially for ancillary staff (e.g., school psychologists, speech and language pathologists, special education teachers, social workers, guidance counselors).  Maybe frequent, informal walkthroughs are needed to complement the longer, formal observations.
  5. Ensure classroom observations are used for both formative and summative feedback in teacher evaluations per the recommendation of the National Education Association.
    • Formative feedback should be ongoing and assist teachers in real-time regarding their goal-setting and professional learning.  Observations should also contribute to summative feedback to help determine whether standards of practice have been met and to help guide employment decisions.

To the extent that different states allow it, picture your district as a center of innovation to try new observation strategies, produce observation forms that benefit observers and teachers, and even create new observation frameworks.  Remember, your classroom observation and teacher evaluation process shouldn’t make your evaluators’ and teachers’ heads spin causing confusion and frustration.  Stick with the core best practices listed above, and you’ll develop a culture of meaningful and manageable classroom observation and teacher evaluation processes!

What is the purpose of your lesson? Did your students actually “get it”?

Why, exactly, are students spending time with you today?  What is it you want students to know, understand, and be be able to do as a result of this lesson and unit? Great teaching starts with a great reason to teach!

My favorite analogy to describe learning objectives (or lesson objectives, learning targets, learning goals, etc.) is to think about a GPS system.  Unless you are on summer break, it is not often that you get in your car and just start driving.  It’s even less often that you get in your car and the car decides to take you somewhere.  Instead, you take about 30 seconds and type in your destination.  Magically, the GPS system gives you turn by turn directions, and you can even look at the route in advance to know why the GPS system is taking you in a certain way.  Is there an accident on your typical route?  Perhaps a road is closed?  And what happens when you miss a turn or make a pit stop?  You receive specific and targeted feedback on how to stay on course.  Voila, you are at your destination!

How does this translate to the classroom?  Clear and specific (measurable even?) lesson objectives, teamed with effective checks for understanding and modifying instruction as needed, allow for students to know where they are going and when they have arrived.  Without a “road map” giving directions and feedback along the way, there is no ending.  Students will never know if they’ve gotten anywhere, let alone their destination. What’s just as important is the why.  Do students also know why they are spending time in school learning this?  Do they understand the significance and real-world application of the concepts being taught?

As simple as this sounds, the magic of these clear and specific lesson objectives comes from the teacher communicating them to the students.  Make it no secret – the students should know precisely what they are doing and why it is important.  Be explicit, and your students will take ownership of the learning themselves.

One simple and effective way of gauging how well students understand the purpose of the lesson is to ask them!  As an administrator, I made it routine at the end of each observation to ask a few students what they were doing and why.  I typically wrote the students’ answers in the feedback I sent teachers so they could read their students’ comments.  The student comments became an important part of my post-observation conversation with teachers.  If students are able to articulate the day’s learning, its impact, and its importance, there was clarity.  If students could not, it was time for me to ask more questions of the teacher to better understand why this might be.

Teachers can ask the exact same question at the end of a lesson, either as a quick exit slip, a short dialogue, or in some other way.

Are you allowing your students to know their final destination before even beginning the lesson, or are you having your students jump into the car without any idea of where they are going?

~Eric Bransteter