I am now wrapping up a two month training for a districts’ administrators and supervisors whose focus is to upgrade and standardize its supervisory practices.

The need for this came from at least two sources. The first was the realization of their new Assistant Superintendent for Instruction that the district’s practices were inconsistent and probably not very effective. The second was that we in New York State have been charged with adopting a supervisory model that has consistent, research-based rubrics that will ultimately enable a school district to somehow “quantify” at least part of the effectiveness of each teacher and each principal.

If any of us could have a penny for each word, spoken, written and shouted about this process we’d all be a lot richer than we are now.

What was good about how this process kicked off in this district was that the second need while certainly not being ignored for it cannot, does not appear to be the driving interest behind the efforts to upgrade their observation practices. Very refreshingly to the contrary actually, in that the district’s supervisors have recognized that the systemic practices associated with shared vision, mental models, and personal mastery,,,, and also systems thinking skills in general, could all benefit from upgrading what they do.

And the benefit(s) certainly appear to start with the belief that using good clinical observation practices will result in ensuring increased achievement for their youngsters.

I will eventually put the PowerPoints I used to help coalesce the supervisors’ work up on my website: http://www.actvelearningconsult.com, but the purpose of these next posts will be to codify my own reflection of the extent to which the group could of its own vision, improve what it does, and what the role(s) district leadership played and plays in solidifying and impelling its positive momentum.

To begin with there was no real model for effective clinical supervisory approaches. Oh there was an “observation form”. And here is where I will argue that function follows form rather than form follows function. By this I mean, that the actual physical format of the observation process was wanting in many dimensions. One of these, as silly as it may seem at first glance, was that the space provided for comments, recommendations and goals was such a small space that the observer would be hard pressed to capture and offer anything meaningful for the teacher to embrace. The message behind the music then appeared to be to write “something” but that its significance or effectiveness would not add up to much.

The supervisors certainly recognized this and there is active negotiation between the district and the teachers’ union about adopting a more effective format.

So the letter of the law will be addressed and the new “form” will generate a much more successful set of functions. But the spirit flowed from the group’s common values and priorities.

The group certainly adopted the shared vision that they could pull together a set of consistent practices and paradigms that would enable them to help all their teachers be exemplary.

Perhaps the key word is consistent because as is often the case in more districts than we all probably realize, there was no consistency of expectation of what a good lesson should look like. The only consistency was the “form” but the process of engaging teachers in meaningful dialogue about the qualities of a good lesson appeared to be lost in the flurry of administrivia that we all can find ourselves mired in.

So we began with affirming several teacher supervision models. You know, Danielson, Marzano, et al. But while any of these models have research based merit I pushed past this for the time being at least to emphasize Supervision 101 as in the value of pre-observation.

Apparently this was problematic on three counts. One is that pre observations were not necessarily the rule. Another was that supervisors would often do unannounced observations or do walk-throughs a’ la  Elmore, each protocol of which, does not lend itself to pre observation analysis. The third was that not everyone knew how to conduct a meaningful pre observation conference.

Perhaps a fourth issue was and is that the entire clinical process is pretty time consuming isn’t it? Using the 5 Disciplines as guideposts, that working against severe time constraints all school leaders feel, sometimes leads them into practices of expedience rather than into preferred. Here I am reminded of Steven Covey’s time use quadrant who argues that effective people spend the majority of their time in Important but not Urgent time usage. To be sure, it may not be urgent (as in health and safety urgent) for school leaders to spend a major chunk of their time in clinical supervisory practices, it is nonetheless IMPORTANT for the long term health of the school organization to devote major energies to raising and maintaining the quality of instruction.

These certainly speak to Senge’s Shared Vision discipline and to his Mental Models discipline.

As for the first issue, not necessarily the rule, here was an instance where the Assistant Superintendent and I had no problem offering up research and support to validate that a pre observation is a non-negotiable.

As for the second problem, that a good portion of observations done were walk throughs and drop ins we needed to be more creative. Here the group got creative by deciding to develop a new practice where all teachers would schedule what I will call a “what-if” conference where teachers and administrators could generalize about what kinds of instructional practices the teacher might think she would need feedback about. This would enable the supervisor to have some sort of guideline to use when she dropped in or walked through.

As for the third concern, where, supervisors needed to learn how to do a meaningful pre observation conference, using research, YouTube, and role playing we were able to generate a substantial model for implementation.

So yes, we are beginning to re-tool the overall system of clinical support but there were more issues to solidify as well most of which lie  in the systems practices of the district.

The next post will speak re data gathering.