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

Best Practices for Classroom Walkthroughs

5 Best Practices for Classroom Walkthroughs

Of all the different components to the various teacher evaluation frameworks out there, the most misused piece is often the classroom walkthrough. It’s no surprise given there’s much less discussion and research on classroom walkthroughs compared to formal observations. In fact, if you googled walkthrough right now you’d get results mostly about video games! In her research, Carolyn Downey and colleagues offered this definition for a classroom walkthrough, “short, informal visitations to classes followed occasionally by reflective questioning.”. In this way, classroom walkthroughs are quite different than short classroom observations which are formal and evaluative.

When used correctly, classroom walkthroughs provide the observer with key information they can use to build reflective dialogue with teachers and customize professional development opportunities for teachers. If you follow the 5 best practices outlined below, your walkthroughs will transform your performance evaluation processes into something more meaningful – a framework of self-reflection and self-direction to drive the cycle of continuous improvement.

Here are 5 best practices to follow for classroom walkthroughs:

  1. Classroom walkthroughs should be informal.
    This means that minimal data are collected. Any data that is collected is not shared with the teacher directly, rather the information is used to generate reflective questions.
  2. Classroom walkthroughs should be short.
    Most walkthroughs should be no longer than about 10 minutes – just long enough to gather information on how curriculum and instructional decisions are made.
  3. Classroom walkthroughs should be non-evaluative and nonjudgmental.
    This means no checklists with performance descriptions, and no feedback! The focus isn’t on judging the actions of teachers, but to gather information about decisions teachers make. This allows the observer to take on more of a coaching role with the teacher.
  4. Classroom walkthroughs should be tied to a model of collegial supervision, not conventional supervision.
    This puts the focus on teacher development rather than teacher conformity. Conventional supervision will result in substandard results and even lower job satisfaction. Walkthroughs make supervision practices more collegial and encourage collaboration and ongoing reflective inquiry.
  5. Classroom walkthroughs should be tied to a reflective dialogue process.
    The overarching purpose of walkthroughs is to create high quality reflective questions to guide reflective dialogue with teachers. The goal is for the reflective questions to nurture teachers into deeper self-awareness and self-reflection of their teaching practices. However, dialogue with teachers is not necessary after every completed walkthrough.

At the very core of these best practices is trust. Remember, trust is the foundation upon which all teacher observations and classroom walkthroughs are built. If you stick with the core best practices listed above for classroom walkthroughs, your school will build a cycle of continuous improvement focused more on self-reflection and professional growth instead of mere conformity.

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!

How Do You Measure Teacher Effectiveness?

As educators, we have a lot on our plates.  Somewhere among best practice, student relationships, responsive instruction, 21st century skills, and our own families/personal lives we need to find time to reflect.  What is going well for you and your teachers right now?  What is not?  How effective are your teachers?  And probably most importantly, how do you know?

There are a myriad of ways to measure teacher effectiveness.  Rubrics and walkthroughs are the most common ways, but some schools and districts have also included student assessments into the teacher evaluation mix.  Personally, I am a huge fan of the word ‘balance’.  Relying on any one tool to measure all aspects of teacher effectiveness is short-sighted and may result in faulty data or incorrect conclusions being drawn.  Instead, looking at several data points can increase the credibility and validity of data.  This is the concept of data triangulation.

When thinking about data triangulation, consider multiple data points collected in various methods (qualitative and quantitative) and sources, such as:

  • Rubrics: rubrics are powerful and communicate to teachers their performance based on a continuum of effectiveness.  Typically 3 – 5 different descriptions of teacher performance are described with specific teacher actions in each rating category.  Ratings could range from ineffective to highly effective, basic to distinguished, and other categories.  Observers can give very specific feedback to teachers when using rubrics.  Rubrics are typically used for longer observations and final teacher ratings (when applicable) but can also be used for formative feedback throughout the school year.
  • Walkthroughs: walkthroughs are typically meant to be used during shorter classroom visits.  Walkthroughs have the ability to collect big-picture data to determine trends among things like teachers, grade, subjects, buildings, and observers.  Walkthroughs usually have a specific list of possible selectable options in various categories, such as student engagement, types of questions, or instructional strategies being use by the teacher.  Walkthroughs are highly customizable and provide flexibility for organizations to collect data that matters most to them.
  • Short observations: short observations can be very simple in design and are typically used for narrative observations and feedback.  This narrative feedback communicates to teachers what was observed and the observers’ own reflections after the lesson.  Within the feedback could be questions, comments, commendations, and recommendations.
  • Student assessment data: Ultimately the goal of education is for students to do well when taking some form of an assessment.  The assessment could be a performance, creation, reflection, discussion, test/quiz, state assessment, portfolio, etc.  When the assessment itself is valued and reliable, the student data can be a very important part of the teacher effectiveness equation. On the other end, though, if the assessment itself is not valued (think state assessments…) or reliable, perhaps it’s better to consider other assessments for teacher evaluation data points.

There are a few other data points schools could consider when thinking about teacher effectiveness: parent input, student input, and peer input.  All must be carefully considered before deciding to include within your teacher evaluation program.

This leads me to a few questions: what’s best for you and your unique situation?  What information do you want to be able to measure and track?  How do you know that your teachers are performing well or not well in certain areas?  Each school/district/organization will have specific indicators of success based on the the unique community the organization serves.  There is no one-size-fits-all approach that will work for all organizations.  Instead, consider what your collective goals are, what your vision of success means, and align your teacher evaluation program to your goals.

How do you measure the effectiveness of your teachers?

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