Monday, March 24, 2008

Self-Directed Professional Growth

I've been in numerous discussion with Teacher Leaders recently, and come across a common frustration. It seems that no matter how hard they try to convey that they are 'just there to help', there lingers a resistance and trust issue. When I did deeper, I find that the observation process is one of identifying 'good' practices, and sometimes 'bad' practices; or it's one of taking notes on 'what occurred during the observation'.

I think that when the process has, in any way,  judgment or valuing language involved there will be a defensive resistance. Even the notes are a problem as the choice of what to record is a judgment made by the observer.

Since this doesn't occur in the Data-Based Observation Method, it's really easy to get past the initial trust concerns - you just have to follow the system and prove that you are not there to hammer them with the data.
Key concepts:   Don't Praise, Don't Criticize, Don't Provide Solutions!
Follow this sequence of interaction:
Pre-conference: Centered around determining what data to collect - "What do you want to know about your classroom?". This an be in light of a teacher's individual goals, some teacher-perceived problem, or building/district/state standards.
During the observation, gather data without making any comments reflecting praise, criticism, or solutions.
In the post conference, ask these questions when presenting the data:
  • Is this what you thought was happening in the classroom? (teacher reflection and interpretation)
  • Do you think a change is indicated? (teacher and observer professional discussion about the interpretation of the data)
  • If so, what will you change (teacher ownership and empowerment; enhanced professional discussion)
  • How can I support you? (professional collaboration)
  • When should follow-up data be collected to see if the change is effective? (making the entire process not one of pleasing the observer, but in implementing effective change)

This approach shifts the dynamic from defensiveness to empowerment, from judge to colleague. There is no observer, Teacher Leader or Administrator, who can solve every classroom problem. It's far better to develop the teachers' skills in reflection and problem solving. This can be accomplished by basing the discussions on data rather than opinion.
I welcome comments about any of my thoughts.


Rachie-Babe said...

I really like your comments about observing in the classroom. This info will be highly useful to me as a new director!

Sarah Hanawald said...

Thank you--this is helpful. We do peer observations at our school, but have been considering recently with how to make them more effective.