School Principals' Perceptions: The Use of Formal Observation of Classroom Teaching to Improve Instruction

Article excerpt

Introduction

Over the years, the role of the school principal has evolved. Today's principal is expected to be much more than a manager and to serve as the school's instructional leader. One of the most important functions of instructional leadership is the principal's responsibility to observe and evaluate classroom instruction. Understanding principals' perceptions concerning the utilization and value of the formal classroom observation process is critical in implementing this essential component of educational leadership. This study focused on what practicing school principals in three states representing different geographic areas perceived concerning the utilization and effectiveness of formal classroom observation. For the purpose of the study, formal observation was defined as an organized, systematic observation conducted by the principal or designee to evaluate teacher classroom performance.

Specific procedures related to the observation of teachers' classroom performance may differ among the wide range of public school organizations across the nation. The authors do not attempt to discuss the appropriate role of observation, but accept that it is typically expected in evaluation and instructional improvement efforts. Systematic observation of teachers, often utilizing specific instruments and protocols, is recognized as a practical method to collect data regarding teacher performance. As today's principals seek to find sufficient time to "get into the classroom" for teacher observations, they are continually reminded that this is a crucial aspect of their role as an instructional leader. This investigation addresses the question of what a sampling of school principals across the nation believe regarding the actual efficacy of the process.

Procedures

This research was descriptive in nature. In order to identify principals' utilization of formal classroom observation procedures and to determine principals' perceptions concerning the effectiveness of those activities in improving instruction in their schools, survey methodology was employed. Practicing school principals were invited to complete an instrument entitled "The Formal Classroom Observation Questionnaire." In addition to demographic data describing the respondent and school, the questionnaire collected information related to the frequency and length of formal classroom observations, data recording methodology, follow-up conferencing procedures, the existence of mandates regarding the observation process, as well as the perceived overall effectiveness of formal classroom observation in improving teaching performance.

A randomly selected sample of public school principals representing the states of Alabama, Pennsylvania, and Washington was identified. Questionnaires were mailed to 100 principals in each state. Usable instruments for inclusion in the study were returned by 148 respondents representing approximately one-half (49.3%) of the sample.

Survey responses were organized for analysis and interpretation through the use of frequency distributions. Tables were employed to summarize data and to present the findings of the investigation.

Results

Survey respondents were about equally divided among the three states with 34% representing Alabama, 34% located in Pennsylvania and 32% from Washington. Principals were fairly evenly dispersed among the urban (39%), suburban (36%), and rural (26%) school settings. About two-thirds (65%) of the principals were male and well over one-half (57%) served elementary schools while the remainder served middle/junior high schools (20%), high schools (20%), or other grade organizations (3%). Most of the administrators (*)71%) were in mid-career with 5-20 years of administrative experience, 12% were in the early career stage with less than five years experience, and 16% were in the later stages of their educational career with more than 20 years experience. Schools employing 23 to 39 teachers comprised the largest group of schools at 42%, while about one-fourth (25%) of the schools had 40 to 56 teachers assigned to them, Table 1 presents demographic data which describes the sample utilized in the research. …