Planning an Observation

Begin with the end in mind, and you have a roadmap to arrive at your desired destination
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About This Strategy

Goal setting is critical to successful observations. Successful observations transform teaching. At BetterLesson we believe that transformative superpower is accessible when using a student-centered approach to teaching, coaching, and school leadership. We make that action scaleable by using the Try-Measure-Learn method to guide the change cycle. This strategy provides the student-centered language and tools to support the goal planning start of the TML cycle, all of which can be integrated into a district, school, or state established process.The TML resources, found in the BetterLesson Lab, can be used as is, or can be integrated with other coaching models such as GROW and WOOP. Conducting an observation can be collegial, coaching, or evaluative. All of these types are covered as separate observation strategies.

Implementation Steps

In general, most districts have a protocol for the planning procedure. These steps are intended to be added to that protocol, to strengthen the process towards the true purpose of teaching observations, which is to improve the teaching and learning in the school.                                     

  1. Conduct a collaborative planning meeting, using the guiding questions of the TML cycle and coaching language.

  2. Select a specific, measurable result (what will I see that tells me that .... is working?) as an observation focus.

  3. Select a time that will allow you to observe your teacher working on the goal set during the planning meeting.  

  4. Prepare a note taking tool focused on what you are looking to observe such as a collaborative log, the GROW model, or the WOOP model (see resources below).  These models are also available as strategies in the BetterLesson Lab.

Planning a Collegial / Coaching Observation

Getting into each other's classrooms to observe the teaching and learning environment established by colleagues has been proven to be one of the most effective means to support positive change. There is more to it, however, than just showing up. This strategy will provide you with guidelines to making this a transformative experience.

Implementation steps:

  1. Establish a purpose for an observation. Being specific about what you want to learn about your own practice, and hope to learn from others, leads to more actionable data.
  2. Collaborate with a colleague or colleagues

Planning an Evaluative Observation

The formal observation process varies depending on the district, state, and school. The observation tool is generally already prescribed, and within that tool are the prescribed planning steps. However, we believe that since the purpose is always the same, to improve student learning, the process of planning can be infused with a more student-centered approach. These steps focus on those additions to the process.

Implementation steps:

Note: Many of the preparation steps can be done whole school in an all-faculty professional learning meeting. This move also creates momentum for a collaborative support system.

1. Define the goal. In general, this has been done already but as it is fundamental to success, it is repeated here.

2. Differentiate. What does this goal "look like" in the classroom

  • of a new-to-teaching teacher?
  • of a veteran teacher (10+ years)?
  • of a mid-term teacher (5-10 years)?
  • of a new-to-this-school teacher?

3. Develop the observation plan collaboratively. Ask:

  • What is your vision for your classroom?
  • How do these ideas could help you reach your goals?
  • Do you have ideas about what you would like to try in your classroom?
  • How do you see your vision and (district, school, teacher) goal coming together?

4. Thought Partner. This is the pivotal part of the conversation where suggestions and ideas are shared. Listen as much as you talk. 

5. Select. Have the teacher name the observation target. Make sure it is narrow enough to provide evidence of impact. For example, rather than observing a "reading lesson", observe a specific element of a reading lesson such as an interactive read aloud. Guiding questions to help with the observation targeting process:

  • What is the learning purpose of this lesson?
  • How will you know if students are "getting it"? (If the strategy, change in model of instruction or practice, is having an impact?)
  • What are you doing?
  • What are students doing?
  • What should I be looking for in this lesson?

6. Set a date.

Planning an Observation During Distance Learning

Caitlin MacLeod-Bluver
BetterLesson Instructional Coach

Observations can be a powerful tool for teaching and learning. Use distance learning observations, either synchronous or asynchronous, to transform learning for students. 

Implementation steps:

  1. Conduct a collaborative planning meeting with the colleague you will be observing in a virtual space. During the planning meeting, complete the using the guiding questions of the TML cycle and coaching language included as resources in the implementation steps sections above in a shared google doc so as to keep a record of your notes. 

  2. Remember to reestablish norms with the teacher. Distance learning is new for everyone. It is important that the teacher feels supported and knows that the observation is to support teaching and learning. Some new norms for distance learning might be about how the observer interacts in a live synchronous observation. 

  3. Determine what you will observe: synchronous whole-class instruction, synchronous small group or 1:1 instruction, or an audit of asynchronous learning tasks. Consider asking the teacher what is going well in distance learning and what is not going well and use this knowledge as guidance to determine what to observe. 

  4. Select a specific, measurable result (what will I see that tells me that .... is working?) as an observation focus. For example, if a teacher wanted to know if synchronous or asynchronous discussions were equitable, an observer might look to see whose voice was shared in each setting. Make sure that the teacher has a voice in the creation of this goal and keep in mind that it might be specific to the challenges of distance learning. 

  5. For an observation of a synchronous learning session, set up the logistics for the observation. Make sure you know the time and have the correct video link. Also, discuss if you will introduce yourself to students in the video call and if you will have your video on. Make sure you know the context for the video call (for example, a live instruction, office hours etc.) 

    • If you have determined that your observation will be asynchronous, make sure the teacher will record the session and send the recording link to you. This video could be shared with other leaders or colleagues for learning purposes.  See resources below for steps to record the video session. 

    • If you agreed to do an audit of asynchronous learning tasks, ask the teacher to share all relevant directions, communication, and student work with you. 

  6. Prepare a note taking tool focused on what you are looking to observe such as a collaborative log, the GROW model, or the WOOP model (see resources included in the implementation steps above).  These models are also available as strategies in the BetterLesson Lab. Consider using a shared Google document or the Talk and Comment feature of Google to create voice notes for the teacher. 

  7. Set a time to debrief with the teacher in a virtual setting. Consider using Google calendar or Calendly to create this space.