At BetterLesson, we believe that the most effective instructional leadership is rooted in its community. Effective school leaders draw on the strengths, knowledge, and experience of the school community to create an environment for teachers and staff that provides them with instructional support, collaborative structures, and a focus on student learning and growth.
Great instructional leaders use a student-focused lens to:
create and support the structures for teacher collaboration that provide meaningful peer coaching, collaboration, and mentoring
provide a continuous improvement system for teachers via both formal and informal observation, feedback, reflection, and coaching
guide the community to understand who their students are and what they need not only as learning but also as valued citizens of the community
deliver a learning experience to students that embodies high expectations, high support, and content that is relevant to the students' success in school and beyond.
One of the most important, and sometimes challenging, elements of instructional leadership is to put in place a productive, collaborative, and non-threatening observation and feedback cycle that supports teacher development and growth. Although many instructional leaders must, at least in some part, play an evaluative role of teachers, the best instructional leadership occurs when a variety of professionals (coaches, colleagues, administrators, and mentors) regularly observe classrooms in a non-evaluative manner and use their observations to collaborate with teachers to drive improvements in teacher practice and, most importantly, student learning.
At BetterLesson, we believe the most effective observation and feedback cycle uses the Try-Measure-Learn (TML) methodology. The TML method works within any formal or informal observation system, supporting educators to try a new strategy in their classroom environment, immediately measure its effectiveness, and then learn from the results. The learning step helps to determine the next steps for the participant, thus launching each successive TML cycle. When instructional leaders observe the classroom, they are able to provide additional ideas of which teaching strategies could be tried, observe how well those strategies are working with students, and collaboratively reflect with the teacher on what they learned in order to identify next steps for improving student learning.
BetterLesson's coaching approach is student-centered in that it is grounded in observing where students currently are - their behavior, their understanding, their output - and using that observed data to determine what a reasonable and effective next step for the teacher would be. Because the classroom observation is focused on students, the teacher's learning and next steps are developed in terms of the desired impact on students. By focusing on how instructional changes will lead to the desired changes in students, this observation and feedback cycle is teacher-friendly in that it creates a sense of safety for the teacher and nurtures a shared professional relationship with the observer.
Why it's important
The goal of Instructional Leadership is to support teachers to improve their teaching practice in order to drive student learning. The objective of the observation and feedback cycle is to improve the quality of instruction by providing specific student-centered evidence, clarifying expectations for effective teaching, and helping teachers meet those expectations through high-quality feedback and support. Norming around this practice means that both formative and evaluative classroom observations give teachers the opportunity to receive meaningful feedback about their practice and use that feedback to grow and develop as educators.
The BetterLesson Instructional Leadership practices support sustainable, continuous improvement because they focus on teachers making incremental, measurable shifts over time that are aligned to a desired student outcome. Because each observation is tightly focused on a "one thing at a time" approach, the results of the observation are specific and lead to actionable next steps. The observations are not open-ended but instead focus on examining how students respond to new strategies or instructional moves, assessing whether the change is moving the classroom towards a desired outcome, and identifying next steps. This reflection on implementation launches the next cycle, leading to a continued pattern of teacher growth and development.
What success looks like
Once the practice of observation and feedback cycles is fully up and running, teachers and instructional leaders will expect:
Frequent, ongoing, collegial classroom observations
Timely and specific feedback using the T-M-L method
Actionable, measurable next step(s)
Collaborative strategizing between teacher and observer
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