You take a class on a field trip. You return from the trip and NEVER allude to it at all. NEVER ask questions about the students’ perceptions, NEVER try to gauge what they learned from the experience! This would amount to a teaching mortal sin!

Experiential activities can only be at best half-effective if the themes and issues are not peeled off and examined.

This is called debriefing.

My wife insists that the kitchen sink sponge always be placed in its little holder until it is needed. As the sponge dries it becomes what I call “scuzzy”. Every now and then, klutz that I am, I have been known to spill a glass or two of orange juice in the morning. So I take the dried up scuzzy sponge from its holder, immerse it in the orange juice, soak it up, and then squeeze the now swollen sponge’s contents into the sink.

That is the metaphor for debriefing of an experiential activity. The juice on the counter was the actual activity. The squeezing of the sponge’s contents into the sink tells the “squeezer” how much was soaked up.

The debriefing segment to effective supervision is the post observation! For a supervisor to have had a meaningful pre observation with a teacher, then to have done the actual observation as described in previous posts, but THEN to have not had an effective post observation leaves the juice on the counter. A supervisor’s mortal sin.

This post is not intended to offer a primer on effective post observation strategies as such although I do have two important points to make below. The sum of all these posts is to emphasize the need for healthy and effective macro systems, sub systems, and their behaviors and practices so that school organizations can do their level best for their students’ needs to be effective twenty first century citizens.

A good post observation best reflects the systems disciplines of mental models, personal mastery, and team learning. Let’s concentrate on mental models.

Ah mental models, as in ‘tudes, as in paradigms, as in DIALOGUE. Two perspectives deserve exploration.The first is the attitude part. The second, and more important is the DIALOGUE part.

Hopefully, the attitude part will have been taken care of long before a post observation. More specifically I am talking about the mindset between the teacher and her supervisor, or for that matter, her peer coach, where the point of view each shares is that the commingling of teacher and supervisor exceeds the sum of their parts to create their shared belief that the process they’ve engaged will in fact result in improved instruction and thereby improved learning.

And if this is NOT the shared mental model, both supervisor and teacher must engage in what Senge calls Dialogue. Senge points out that the Greek roots of this word combine to mean two-talk. My many experiences lead me to sadly generalize that far too much of what we do in schooling is not really dialogue. Rather it is, to term it politely, yapping and I-thinks. In other words, we spend far too much time talking and talking and talking some more re things educational without using techniques to bring closure and / or agreement about an issue or concern. This is in contrast to dialogue where the participants use techniques to actively listen to another’s point and to find ways to generate agreement about the issue under review.

Covey would call this “Seek first to understand before being understood.”

My own website, http://www.activelearningconsult.com, speaks to creating groups with High Involvement factors. One of these is the knowledge component, as described by Wohlstetter, which of itself has two sub-components, the ability to analyze data, and the ability to function well as a group. I’d recommend that you’d check that out for more information about dialogue and about effective group functions. Patrick Lencioni’s “The Five Dysfunctions of a Group” is also well worth looking at.

The point is a post observation must be driven by strong dialoguing skills between the two participants for the purpose of solidifying the effectiveness of the sub system we call instructional excellence.

No, I didn’t forget the two specifics I’d like to offer for worthwhile post observations. The first is of goal setting. The second is of using evidence.

Every lesson post observation should end with an agreement about what the goal(s) might be for the next lesson observation. Doing so ensures that observations build on their own process to continue to improve lesson quality. I think Lee Iaccoca said “When you stop trying to get better, you stop being good!”

The other point to reiterate, is to assure agreement and to acculturate the dialogue towards exemplary instructional practices, promote a spirit of inquiry by both using and agreeing to what evidence and artifacts you will use to assess the extent to which the goals for the observation have been met.

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