Category: supervisory practices


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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3. Observer should record what the students do AND what the teacher does!

4. Observer should use a range of artifacts as concrete evidence to substantiate principles for analysis and assessment in the post observation.

Vague impressions or memories of a given lesson certainly don’t give a teacher and / or a her ¬†supervisor any meaningful data for a team-learning / personal mastery opportunity.

What is perhaps even more dangerous for improving solution might be where the observer’s lens is half closed. By that I mean where the focus is ONLY on the teacher’s activities and less often where the focus is ONLY on the students’ activities.

I’m reminded of a lesson where I was to be observed where I had brought the class to the library to research projects re immigration. My supervisor got up after about five minutes and told me to tell him when I was “really” teaching (aka lecturing) so he could come back.

The various lesson observation models out there lately like Danielson and Marzano among others to a more or less degree re-focus the observer to recognize, record, and react to teachers’ behaviors and activities, students’, and the interaction between the two. And this is clearly a preferred systemic development because at the very least, doing so promotes a dialogue between teacher and observer where professional analysis, learning theory and management dynamics are seen in their systemic Rubik’s Cube.

The fourth premise noted above goes back to “Just the facts ma’am.”

Let’s reiterate and elaborate on what may constitute artifacts / evidence of the sum ¬†of a lesson:

  1. The lesson plan itself
  2. Teacher questions
  3. Student answers
  4. Peer to peer interactions
  5. Homework
  6. Classroom projects and visual displays
  7. Student Portfolios
  8. Teacher modeling of expectations
  9. Rubrics

What else do you use?

“Observer and teacher should have pre-agreed on which components of the lesson that they felt were priority.”

I call this the blunderbuss versus the BB gun syndrome. In other words if I blast a shotgun at my target some of its pellets might hit the target but most will cause what is sometimes called collateral and more often than not, needless damage. If I aim and shoot my BB gun precisely I will be able to hit what I needed to hit in the first place.

Remember the old Tom and Jerry cartoons? That’s what I am talking about.

Leveraging from the previous post where I identified several guidelines for meaningful and effective supervisory practices in order to optimize meaningful and sustainable learning, I am strongly arguing that a teacher benefits most from an observation when the supervisor / coach and the teacher have agreed on what the supervisor should prioritize in the actual observation.

A dialogue in a pre-observation might go like this:

SUPERVISOR: So your lesson plan appears to be about the causes of the civil war. What do you want the students to be able to do as a result of this lesson?

TEACHER: I want them to be able to prioritize the causes of the civil war and be able to offer evidence for their conclusions.

SUPERVISOR: Great, and you’re going to do this by having them read a variety of prime sources.

TEACHER: This approach is new to me you know. I am a little uncomfortable in my questioning. I’m not sure if my questioning is high level enough to draw out this kind of thinking.

SUPERVISOR: Ok, why don’t I pay most of my attention to scripting your questioning?

TEACHER: Sounds good.

Now, this is in contrast to supervisor reviewing the lesson plan, nailing down the teacher’s objectives and then on the observation, writing everything-everything that the teacher does from scratching her nose, to sneezing.

Clearly, the focused precise targeted approach over time will help coach a teacher to acquire the spectrum of skills and practices to optimize students’ learning.

How does this and the next several entries relate to systems thinking and systemic reform of education? In this case we’re talking mostly about Team Learning and also about Personal Mastery and Shared Vision. (We’re always talking about Shared Vision!)

Having an inquiry-based dialogue and exchange about the qualities and elements of a good lesson and / or unit design is clearly about Team Learning for you see, the assumption in this Discipline is that the organization has striven, through a variety of means to acculturate its citizens / stakeholders to have co-mastered the principles of great lesson design and implementation. The mindset (as in Mental Models?) that the supervisor has a monopoly on all things instructional and the teacher is merely the serf-implementor of a given lesson is just pretty silly if not absurd. Better it would be, no, that both observOR and observEE can both talk the same talk and exchange a meaningful analysis between them rather than one where the observOR talks / coaches “down” to the observEE? That’s called dialogue.

Personal Mastery is all about the organization’s obligation to make meaningful and effective attempts to “grow” their citizen / stakeholders by providing opportunities for or supporting the stakeholder’s own attempts to learn their craft and to excel in it. In this case, we’re talking about the teacher’s diagnosis, whether generated by the supervisor’s coaching or through their own self-analysis, that there are holes in the (w)hole of their teaching skills.

A good observation, undergirded by all participants’ recognition in and commitment to sound teaching principles, will provide the opportunities for the system of exemplary teaching to improve on itself when it needs to improve on itself.