Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Should Supervisors Intervene during Classroom Visits? More and More, Administrators Are Tempted to Jump in and Get Involved during Short Teacher Observations

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Should Supervisors Intervene during Classroom Visits? More and More, Administrators Are Tempted to Jump in and Get Involved during Short Teacher Observations

Article excerpt

As more administrators shift from traditional, full-lesson teacher evaluations to short, frequent, unannounced classroom visits, an interesting question has come up: Should supervisors get involved during a lesson if they see an opportunity to improve or affirm teaching and learning?

On-the-spot interventions rarely happen during formal evaluations, but with short observations, supervisors might be inclined to speak up at a variety of times:

* If they have an interesting idea or anecdote that will enrich the lesson;

* If they want to draw attention to something particularly praiseworthy;

* If the teacher is missing an opportunity to make an important point;

* If some students seem confused and the teacher isn't noticing;

* If the teacher makes a consequential error (for example, mixing up perimeter and area); or

* If a student's behavior is seriously disrupting instruction.

Here's an example: A middle school U.S. history teacher finishes explaining a Civil War event and asks, "Is everyone with me?" A student says, "Yes," and the teacher starts to move on, but the principal at the back of the room senses that many students lack some essential prior knowledge. He asks the teacher, "Do you mind if I ask your students a couple of questions?" The teacher nods, and, in a few minutes, the principal is able to fill in the gaps so students will understand the rest of the lesson. The teacher sees her mistake and is able to improve the remaining classes she teaches that morning.

Advocates of real-time coaching believe that there are lots of teachable moments like this and that praising or redirecting a teacher on the spot is a powerful way to bring about short- and long-term improvements. A leadership coach I know likens this to coaching in professional baseball, football, and basketball games. Real-time coaching has become the go-to supervisory model in some schools, especially charters, with principals routinely jumping in during teacher observations and sometimes taking over the class to model a more effective approach.

A district in Arizona took the idea a bit further. Three supervisors--the principal, assistant principal, and an instructional coach--visited classrooms together, observed for 5-7 minutes, and then asked the teacher to pause the lesson. The coach kept an eye on the class while the administrators took the teacher out into the corridor for immediate feedback. When they returned, the coach demonstrated with students how that lesson segment should have been taught.

Every time I discuss real-time coaching with groups of principals and teachers, I hear several concerns. Won't correcting teachers during a lesson undermine their authority and embarrass them in front of students? Aren't interruptions likely to throw teachers off stride and compromise planned lessons? Won't students be distracted from curriculum content as they tune in on interesting adult dynamics? In addition, when visitors get involved, doesn't that change what they're observing, producing less-accurate snapshots of everyday instruction? (In physics, this is called the observer effect-the instrument of measurement changes what's being measured.) Finally, isn't it possible for teachers to game the process, nimbly showcasing what they know the supervisor is looking for--check for understanding; ask higher-order questions--but not changing the way they teach day to day?

Keep 'em zipped

The overwhelming consensus I hear is that unless safety is an issue, supervisors should zip their lips and give feedback afterward. And in fact, this is the way most athletic coaches work with their players, talking privately to the pitcher or quarterback between plays. One former Alaska principal and superintendent summed up his concerns: "Improving adult practice is complex and requires lots of trust, time, and care. I fear advocates of real-time coaching are looking for a silver bullet, an easy way. …

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