STRENGTHS IDENTIFICATION (SI) OBSERVATION MODEL

When I began my administrator program I met the best teacher in my life, my education mentor, Warren Aller.  My work with Warren led directly to the development and implementation of my Strengths Identification (SI) model of teacher observation and appraisal.

As a teacher I remember wanting to be observed more than the traditional observation model allowed.  I wanted to improve as much as I could and always wished there was a way for my principal to observe more often.  I understood though that principals were very busy and that this limited the amount of visits a principal could do.  I had some ideas on how to improve the traditional observation model, building strong and trusting relationships with teachers among them, but my ideas weren’t all clear and I felt I needed guidance.

As so often happens, life begins to provide answers.  In this case they began to form in Warren’s “Supervision” course.  Over and over we practiced scripting observations and engaging in follow-up conversations which highlighted teacher strengths.  We began by asking the questions:” What were you doing to help students learn?”  “If you had to reteach the lesson, what, if anything, would you do differently?”

I had the beginnings of the SI model.  Now I had to figure out how to best build the relationships.  Warren said it was through time spent in classes, the more the better.  He said if I prioritized and delegated effectively that at least an hour a day could comfortably be spent observing.  That’s what I do; I spend at least an hour a day, as do my vice principals, in class in 20 minute observation sessions followed by additional time having informal reflective follow-up conversations anchored by those questions.

Even better than the creation of the SI model itself are the things I have learned and/or had reinforced since implementation.

  • People grow best, when they feel nurtured and supported, then at the right moments-challenged.
  • It takes time to get a feel for what a teacher is like in the class.  For some teachers, it takes time to feel comfortable with me being in the classroom as much as I am.  So, assuming a baseline of competence, as a general rule I focus only on strengths for the first five or six visits.  Most teachers feel comfortable with my classroom visits by this time.  They realize this is about growth instead of critical evaluation and as a result they usually begin to ask about things they can do to improve.
  • The path to growth is often more successful if, through asking a question, the teacher states the growth area themselves instead of me telling them the growth area.  Based on experience, 95% plus of the time the areas where teachers desire to grow is the area for growth that I observe.
  • Scripting allows teachers to realize strengths they might not have been aware of previously.  For example, encouragement was a strength for one teacher; she would always throw out lines like, “See, see, you are starting to get it, way to go.”  She had no idea she gave out these encouragements, let alone with such regularity, until I read the script to her.
  • The discovery that has provided the most unanticipated benefits is in the area of instructional leadership. I discovered what teachers’ best strengths were.  So when teachers would tell me that they wanted to get better at relationships I could say, “Go observe and talk with Chadwick about that, he is amazing.”  On a side note, we always offer to cover a teacher’s class so they can do these peer observations.  This strengths identification morphed into asking teachers to lead engaging PD sessions on their strengths. Teachers valued having their strengths recognized and felt empowered when they were asked to share their strengths with the faculty.  All teachers benefited from the new information, learning and opportunities to grow.

With time, experience, trial and error, the SI practice of observation has evolved. I still script but also use a self-created observation form that looks like this:

 

GAA Secondary School Observation Feedback Form:

Teacher Name: …………………..           Subject: ……………………

Daily Objective Connected to Standards:

  • Stated as benchmark/objective/skill/knowledge/understanding
  • Verbally discussed at beginning of class
  • Visually displayed in class
  • Formatively assessed during class
  • Reviewed at end of class

Evidence of:

…………………………………………

Risk Taking:

…………………………………………

Teacher/Student Rapport and Relationship:

…………………………………………………………………………

Classroom and Student Behaviour Management:

…………………………………………………………………………

Teacher Relentlessness and Accountability for Student Learning (High Expectations):

10-2:
Start Time: …………

Time at activity change: …………

Time at activity change: …………

Time at activity change: …………

Time at activity change: …………

Inquiry Questioning/Higher Order Thinking Skills:

…………………………………………………………………………

Teacher/Peer/Student Feedback/Assessment:

…………………………………………………………………………

Specific Differentiation:

…………………………………………………………………………

Formative Assessment/Knowing What Each Student Has Learned to Guide Next Steps:

…………………………………………………………………………

Student Interview (Can student articulate what their goal is and demonstrate learning of the goal?):

…………………………………………………………………………

Learning Principles Used:

  1. What were you doing to help students achieve performance outcomes?
  2. If you had the opportunity to re-teach the lesson what, if anything would you do differently?
  3. What progress have you made towards your individual Big Goal for the year?

 

Lesson Script:

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I expect the practice to continue to evolve. I am now experimenting with the McRel Power Walkthrough as well. I am interested in the larger data analysis and its effects on teacher growth.

One thing I know for sure is that regularly getting into the classrooms to do teaching and learning observations while focusing on teacher strengths and following the visits with timely relationship feedback conversations focused on strengths and growth is by far the most effective method to improve teaching and learning.

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