Finding a Common Language for Effective Supervision – Growth Plan Reflection

For our professional growth plans, my vice principal and I are sharing a goal this year. As part of the work we are doing divisionally, our goal is to implement supervision strategies to provide consistent and meaningful feedback to our teachers through a common and consistent language.

To achieve this we are basing our work around Marzano’s book: Effective Supervision – Supporting the Art and Science of Teaching. This is a great resource as it provides a nice balance of theory and practice to effectively establish purpose and protocol for visiting classrooms and providing feedback. At the practical end, Marzano provides scaffolding to utilize from a general, snapshot perspective, to a highly specified analytical approach to classroom analysis using a common and consistent language.

As December rolls around and I reflect on the year so far, I’ve picked up on some key learnings and guidance for future growth towards my goal.

Implementing the playbook… it’s a progression.

As I mentioned above, Marzano’s Effective Supervision is a very practical resource. It’s user friendly, hands-on, and scaffolded with observational protocols going from general to highly specific. This is great as it allows a comfortable entry point for both the observer and the teacher being observed.

The dilemma is how fast do you implement the playbook. Being able to analyze practice with a high degree of specificity is great, but if its an awkward process and no one is ready for that level of information, the process will not be effective. My vice principal and I are getting very comfortable with the “snapshot” form and it is making for a good feedback tool with staff, but at some time we need to start getting more specific with our feedback to truly execute the power of the observational protocol. Timing seems to be everything, so we’ll see how things progress over the course of the year.

Using a common language… how do we know we have a common language?

Three months in I am realizing that using a common resource like Effective Supervision not only provides common protocol, but also common language. With this said, the only way to ensure we have a common language is to use the common language commonly… as in together. My vice principal and I have started to visit a couple of classrooms together and then reflect as a team.

Its interesting to go through the classroom visitation process with a peer. New questions come to light. Did we see the same things? Did we see the same things from the same perspective or in the same context? Were we able to articulate similar events using the same language?

The first two questions are interesting as they demonstrate the dynamic and complex nature of the classroom. But its the third question is of utmost importance in terms of classroom supervision for growth. If my vice principal and I aren’t on the same page with our language then the language we use with ourselves and our staff are inconsistent and counterproductive if the goal is to grow and improve.

In Good to Great, Jim Collins talks about getting the right people on the bus before moving forward. In many ways, ensuring a common language of pedagogy is like that crucial first step of getting on the bus.

Using technology

I’m finding that technology is playing a positive role in providing feedback on classroom observations. Like many administrators these days, we’re carting around our iPads like an extra appendage; a technological extension of our very existence. I have to admit I’m one of those people that like the toy factor of most new technologies such as tablets. I am however, trying to be more purposeful in how I use technology to actually make life a little easier and not just use it for the sake of using it.

With regards to classroom visits, I’ve modified Marzano’s “Snapshot Form” into a pdf template that I find user-friendly for my purposes. With the help of a pdf annotation app (I use PDF Expert), I can quickly make notes on the template as I’m in the classroom, clean them up in my office, and email a copy to the teacher I observed to use as a conversation piece when we debrief.

Next Steps

Like most, this school year seems to be flying by. Here I am in December, wishing that I would have done more in September, October, and November. The good news is that there is still 7 months left in the school year and lots of time to move forward.

The biggest next step for me is to continue to learn by doing. Getting into classrooms is easily one of the best part of the administrators jobs. But like most I could make an effort to be in classrooms more. Increased classroom hours alone isn’t the answer either. The quality of the visits need to be increased as well. I need to continue to be purposeful when visiting classrooms to use the language of instruction and pedagogy outlined in Marzano’s work. Provide consistent communication both with my vice principal and with my teachers.

Secondly, I’m aware that old habits and traditions die hard. I have an amazing staff that truly welcomes outside eyes into their classroom. With that said, there are still some traditional perceptions and connotations that the primary purpose of a classroom visit, especially by someone wielding a clipboard (or iPad), is for the purposes of evaluation.

I’m blessed to be part of a learning community where the above is by far the exception, but change takes time and we need to be respectful of that. The fact that the willingness to openly share practice is becoming the norm is great news for adult and student learning. We’re not there yet, there is still work to be done, but I sure like where we’re going.

That’s about it for my growth plan check in. Comments and feedback are always welcome.

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