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Unlocking The Power of Informal Observations

Numerous founding schools launch without a strong foundational performance appraisal system in place, there by making the initial phases of performance review challenging. The multitude of considerations often makes it nearly impossible to concentrate on broad aspects as the school evolves, resulting in the development of narrow-scoped observations.

Every founding school requires a well-organized framework for its performance appraisal system. If your school does not have a standard performance appraisal framework in place, this can lead to challenges in assessing and enhancing the effectiveness of teaching methodologies, identifying areas for professional development, and ensuring consistent standards of educational quality across the teaching staff. Without a structured appraisal system, the school may struggle to provide constructive feedback, hinder faculty growth, and compromise the overall educational experience for students.

In a recent school I helped establish, the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) utilizing elements from Danielson framework of domains as a foundation for evaluating teacher performance. Danielson, Marzano, and Marshall stand out as the top three widely adopted frameworks. They establish a foundation for principals, offering a clear baseline that meets Human Resources (HR) guidelines regarding observation or evaluation reports are required. By leveraging the Danielson framework for assessment, identifying professional development requirements, strategizing Professional Learning Communities (PLC's) topics, and devising school or teacher improvement plans can also function as an initial step for instructional coaching.

Informal Observations Play A Role In Teaching and Learning

The performance appraisal procedure in startup schools plays a pivotal role in defining teaching and learning expectations. As the principal of an international school, often the rigid timelines associated with formal observations mandated by HR can sometimes feel impersonal and automated. Yet these timelines are essential for teacher performance reviews, merit pay increases, and compliance with the local ministry of education's requirements. Formal and informal observations play a crucial role in assessing a teacher's performance. Formal observations done once or twice a year can induce stress, as they involve checking off specific areas and often result in a narrow perspective of classroom dynamics. In contrast, informal observations, lasting 10–20 minutes, offer flexibility by allowing observations at any time of the day throughout the school year. Their primary focus is to identify the most effective strategies for enhancing student learning.

Simple Steps For Implementing Informal Observations.

During my tenure as an international principal, each month I visited classrooms on a daily basis. I average 1-3 classes a day depending on my schedule. Teachers were notified in advanced in housekeeping memos of the focus area I would be observing. Announcing the focus area proved to be an effective means of fostering successful student learning, comprehension, and teacher support for implementation of these informal observations.

The time spent in each class averaged no more than 15- 20 mins. During those times I engaged in student conversation. If students are unable to tell what they are learning, how are they expected to demonstrate mastery of a lesson subject or topic? These student conversations informed me about the learning styles of the student and teacher.

At the end of each week, I would aim to follow up in person or email to clarify, comment or inquire more about the teaching and learning. Personal feedback is the fertilizer of professional growth and learning.Valuable feedback fosters self-awareness, acting as the internal voice that encourages continuous contemplation and reflection on ways to enhance performance.“A great observation results in a conversation that creates a positive change in teacher performance. It is that simple.” (PJ Caposey an award-winning educator of northwest Illinois)

Once monthly at middle level leadership meetings with grade level leaders, curriculum coordinators and subject area specialist, I would share my insights gathered through these observations. This facilitated a collaborative process that led to addressing implementation of learning gaps, curriculum alignment, and more importantly help teachers understand the target. With the knowledge of these observations, middle level leaders used Professional Learning Communities (PLC) to focus on a practice needs or research so it can be acted upon. These PLC’s provided a great opportunity for feedback of teachers pedagogical practices, cultural competencies of student’s academic and emotional success.

I enjoyed doing informal observations. These observations have the potential to join all administrators, instructional coaches, and teachers to work together for the betterment of students. Informal observations allowed student connections, informed what teachers were working on in the classroom, allowed for participate in middle level meetings and PLC’s with staff. Most importantly these informal observations allowed for me as a leader to advocate what staff needed most for professional development. There is no magic formula for administrators when conducting teacher observations, it’s always humbling when administrators and teachers have a common understanding that observations lead to growth for teachers, which in turn, benefits students.

If you would like to learn more about building strong performance appraisals in your school. Feel free to send a message on our contact page.

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