Thursday, 7 September 2017

Being observed in the classroom is a professional expectation but it can also be instrumental in a coaching conversation.

If we want to create a coaching culture where we build the capacity of our colleagues, we need to approach classroom observations with no judgment. Peer observations have been used in education for many years but it can push some educators out of their comfort zone. Therefore, it is imperative to have a partnership approach based on trust and respect. Classroom observations can also be onerous, costly and time consuming. This blogpost will provide some suggestions and options when conducting classroom observations. It is important to identify that these classroom observations are not implemented for performance management but with the intention of teacher professional growth.

When I began my teaching career in California, I asked my daughter to record my lessons, my students and my classroom. Our children did not attend my school, so when our school holidays varied, it was an opportunity for my children to help out in my classroom.  My Grade One students enjoyed having older children in the classroom and it was great for them to meet my children. 
Flip Camera used in 2007.

Back then, we used a Flip Camera, as it was simple and affordable. On one occasion, my daughter recorded an English lesson that consisted of me reading a mentor text to my students. While reading, I implemented think aloud’ to demonstrate various comprehension strategies. The purpose of recording the lesson was for me to look at myself from the student’s perspective and take ownership of my dialogue and actions. From the review of my recording, I noticed it was more of a monologue, than a dialogue.

As an early career teacher I acknowledged I had a lot to learn. Knowing this was liberating, as I had nothing to lose and everything to gain from learning from others. It is accepted that new teachers should absorb all they can from observations, other educators and resources. With the goal of improving, I originally made the videos for personal use. After viewing myself on numerous recordings, I believe I was more comfortable being observed by my supervisor. This was a requirement of Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment when seeking accreditation in California. 

'The greatest effects on student learning occur when the teachers become learners of their own teaching’ (Hattie, 2009, p.12).

A great way to become familiar with using video for reflection, is to record yourself. If you don’t have access to various independent recording devices,  ask a colleague or student to record a section of your lesson. Asking others to record or observe a one hour lesson is quite onerous, but recording small components makes observing less demanding. I have found recording segments of lessons aligns very well with incremental coaching.

As a professional learning coach, I really value the use of recording teaching lessons. It provides me with the opportunity to sit alongside the teacher to observe their lesson. Recording a lesson has many benefits-

     * Provides the coachee with the option to approve the viewing of the lesson prior.
      * Provides the coachee ownership
      * Provides a point of reference for a collaborative discussion
      * Allows one to pause the recording to discuss various aspects of the lessons
      * Provides a more objective approach to the observation
      * Can easily rewind if anything is missed or needs reviewing
      *A snapshot of one’s teaching to determine growth and improvement
      * Students see the teacher as a learner

I have recorded teachers’ lessons using an iPad and I have also used Swivl. A coaching session may happen before or after the coachee’s lesson is recorded. This decision is determined by the coachee and their goal. Using our school observation proforma, a coachee can determine an area of focus before the observation. At times, it has been sufficient and effective to record only a 10-minute segment. Watching the video together, using the observation proforma creates rich discussion and opportunities for further coaching conversations.

Coaching generally is defined as a process where the coach facilitates self-directed learning to enhance teacher development, by questioning, active listening and creating a supportive environment (van Nieuwerburgh, 2012).

Being observed can be viewed by some as a ‘tick the box’ process. However, if provided with the opportunity to own the process, observations can generate rich conversations between a coach and a coachee. If a teacher records their own lessons consistently and at incremental periods, self-reflection and self-awareness is likely to increase. Utilised prior or after an observation coaching is not about telling teachers they need to improve or how to improve. A coach, through questioning, actively listening and challenging the coachee in a supportive and encouraging environment, facilitates self directed learning of the teacher (van Nieuwerburgh, 2012). Coaching allows teachers to take responsibility for their choices and provides teachers with agency or autonomy in their educational context.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning. London: Routledge.
van Nieuwerburgh, C. (2012). An Introduction to Coaching Skills: A Practical Guide. London: Sage.