In many districts and schools throughout the country, observations are a source of frustration and even fear. Unfortunately, it seems that many simply accept the unease that can come with receiving feedback as simply just the way things are.
Therein lies the problem. The process shouldn't be a rigid, over-regulated opportunity for weaknesses to be pointed out based on a checklist. An observation and feedback session should be an opportunity to build professional relationships focused on growth and reaching goals together.
And as Peter DeWitt points out in his recent post Critical Friends: The Benefits of Instructional Coaches, "The reality is that without fostering positive relationships, we don't grow as professionals."
Significant research has emerged in the last several years proving that the level of support a teacher receives is directly correlated to his or her effectiveness in the classroom.
We've seen this to be particularly true of support in the form of growth-based feedback from peers, instructional coaches and school leaders that is collegial and constructive.
It's clear that positive relationships between observers and teachers are critical to getting the most out of observation and feedback processes. But how can you make it happen in your district or school?
According to Jim Knight, who is currently the director of the Kansas Coaching Project at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning, it all comes down to the level and quality of support principals provide educators. In particular, this means:
- Building trust by ensuring confidentiality
- Setting aside the time needed to fully present and responsive
- Providing specific examples that align with feedback
- Modeling practices and being an active member in a growth-centered culture
To put it simply, school culture and relationships matter. But the good news is that they can improve. So in preparation for the next school year, I encourage you to consider your school's culture—or even ask teachers how they feel about observation and feedback processes—and start making changes now.
Want some advice on how to coach? Download the Coaching for Change Guide, an invaluable resource for creating a successful coaching initiative at your school site.