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  • Writer's pictureJim Mercer

SamTastic Weekly Tip: 10/1/18 - Make it real.

Today’s tip: Make it real.

Kim Marshall had a great article in the Marshall Memo last week. Read the first two paragraphs:

“I hate being observed,” says elementary teacher Justin Minkel (who was the 2007 Arkansas Teacher of the Year) in this article in Education Week Teacher. “When my principal walks in with her laptop or a clipboard and pen, I’m instantly afflicted by a crippling self-doubt I haven’t felt since junior high. I scan the room with the alert panic a gazelle must feel when scanning the savannah for predators.” Minkel loses his train of thought and becomes acutely conscious of student misbehavior and anything about the classroom that might catch the principal’s critical eye. He imagines her writing, Why on earth did we hire this fool?

“There’s something deeply personal about appraisals of our teaching,” Minkel continues. “It’s not just our professional competence that’s wrapped up in an observation, but a sense of our worth as human beings. In walks the administrator, often at the worst possible moment, and suddenly our flaws loom in our minds like the distorted reflection in a funhouse mirror.”

A lot of SAM teams address this issue directly. Take a look at these ideas:

1. Ask the teacher if you can sit and work with a group of students during the lesson. This allows you to help at the same time you are observing. If this isn’t allowed by contract during a formal observation ask if the teacher waive the restriction so you can work with the teacher as a coach and colleague. If that won’t work, make all of your informal observations “work with students”. Your teachers and students will love the change. TimeTrack has four “watching teaching” descriptors: Work with Students would fit this situation.

2. Do frequent mini-observations or walkthroughs and make sure that feedback is regular, clear and specific. In TimeTrack the descriptor “Walkthrough” applies.

3. Offer to model a lesson several times each year and invite teachers to observe.. .and then give you feedback in a meeting after school on how you could have done it better. This can help break down the barriers as teachers are able to talk about practice without fear. In TimeTrack the descriptor “Teaching and Modeling” applies. This requires a lot of bravery but principals who try it swear it works.

4. Pay attention to student learning behavior when you observe—help by redirecting student attention to the teacher and use your proximity to keep kids focused. In TimeTrack the watching teaching descriptor “Student Supervision” applies.

5. Place “my table, lunch” tickets on three student desks.. who are exhibiting great learning behavior.. .and then talk with the kids during the time you are supervising the lunch room. Powerful.

6. Explain to students as least once each year what you are doing when you come into the room. For example: “I love being your principal. I get to work with your teachers so we all get better at helping you learn. I get to work with you so your learning behavior takes you in the right direction.”

7. Let the teacher pick the time you will observe. Say: “See my SAM and pick any time that is open on my TimeTrack this week.”

8. For a formal observation let the teacher have a “do over” any time they would like. Formal observation is scary and most everyone knows it isn’t the path to better teacher practice unless it is combined with frequent coaching and informal observation. Make clear that we are all in this together and share a common commitment to help students be their very best.

9. Offer to grade a set of student papers while you observe. Teachers love the help and you will see student work. You might even take a few students aside and talk with them about their papers. In TimeTrack the descriptor that applies is “work with students”.

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