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Chapter 14 William Allan Kritsonis, PhD

Banish Forever the Fear of Principal Observations


Teacher evaluations, though sometimes unpleasant, ensure that education standards remain high and children receive quality education. Unfortunately, the principal as an evaluator is often perceived as the bad guy and teachers keep a safe distance. Creating a favorable atmosphere between principal and teacher can be hard work, but having a good, sincere, and honest professional relationship will increase confidence when the principal enters the classroom, whether it be formally or informally. Evaluation can threaten teachers who do not understand its purpose. Extending an invitation for the principal to observe the class often eases the pre-observation tension. If the principal is not in the classroom for scheduled observation when class begins, do not be concerned. Chances are the preference is to enter inconspicuously during the lesson. When the principal enters, do not call undue attention to him or her. Points to remember about classroom observation and evaluation are not overwhelming. More times than not, teachers know what the principal is looking for during the observation. The principal usually observes whether children are sitting at their desks and if chairs fit children properly. Are children allowed to take responsibility for their learning? Is the classroom properly ventilated and is it kept at a reasonable temperature? Is the classroom neat and orderly? Will instructional techniques achieve meaningful goals and do they make allowances for individual differences? Most importantly, the principal will be observing whether the teacher has established reasonable goals for the children. An effective elementary teacher contributes to the improvement of student instruction by developing a wholesome teaching-learning situation in the classroom. Constant review of educational literature and professional journals keep teachers abreast of the latest trends in education. When new ideas are discovered, discuss them with colleagues to eliminate those that are not feasible. Discuss workable ideas with the principal. Teachers soon discover that most principals enjoy being approached for their advice and are eager to share their opinions on newer ideas in education. Positive
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interaction with the principal can enhance teacher effectiveness. Being available to talk to the principal at regularly scheduled times during the week allow the principal to build on professional assets while helping to eliminate weaknesses. First year teachers may expect the principal to talk with them in practical terms about lessons or classroom techniques. This does not preclude the discussion of other topics. When the classroom observation has been completed, the principal usually schedules a conference with the teacher. This must be completed as soon as possible following the observation. If too much time passes before scheduling the conference, teachers tend to reflect upon their performance negatively and doubt their abilities. When fellow faculty are having problems with evaluations, be concerned and reach out to them. Take time from busy schedules to do something nice for a teacher who is discouraged. A simple pat on the back, a friendly handshake with words of encouragement, offering to share a new teaching aid, taking a recess duty, offering a ride to or from school, a telephone call that evening, or sometimes flowers, a gift, or a card help teachers feel better after a negative observation. Classroom walkthroughs are widely used in teacher observations and have gained in popularity. Principals spend only a few minutes observing classrooms to form an impression about the quality of teaching and learning. The teacher and principal understand how walkthroughs create the snapshots that will provide the data generated for analysis. Regular discussions with the principal about walkthroughs are encouraged in order to create a comfort level that will help ease the sense of nervousness and dread many times associated with teacher observations. With the increase use of classroom walkthroughs, the elementary school teacher knows that the intent of the walkthroughs or as some refer to them as learning walks, quick visits, data walks, is for instructional improvement. Once the principal has communicated this to the teacher and the observation process is concluded, the data that has been collected from observing the teacher and classroom will be analyzed. The principal will aggregate the data, recommend an action plan, and monitor the plan's progress through continuous classroom observations. Sharing the results of the data with the teacher is a part of the coaching conversation follow-up.
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What makes the process notable and relevant is that most schools appear to be skilled at collecting and analyzing student assessment data, choosing curricula and instructional programs that will deliver the appropriate content knowledge but fail to observe the effects of the delivered programs on student learning. If walkthroughs are included as part of the principal or a designee such as the assistant principal's instructional improvement plan, the teacher being observed should ask questions such as--what is the connection of this process to instructional improvement? What specific data will be collected from the observational visits? How will the data be used? Walkthroughs may or may not be announced in advance. It is recommended and beneficial for the teacher to take a look at the instrument that will be used in the classroom observation walkthroughs. Walkthroughs are becoming so widely used in teacher observations that principals are now using handheld devices for collecting classroom walkthrough data. Technology is so advanced and widespread that even in classroom observations, software for this purpose has been designed for principals to customize and use in their schools. For example, data-collecting software on a handheld device can be collected and transmitted to show reports and graphs of the school's or the teacher's instructional activity. The device can also be customized to collect data on national or state standards in showing an alignment with local schools. A supportive and collaborative relationship with the principal will assist the teacher in helping to banish the fears that tend to be associated with classroom observation. A necessary component in the quest to provide useful information to the teacher, principal, school board, and state department of education about instructional approaches and strategies that are used to guide the mission of teacher excellence and effectiveness in the classroom denotes the purpose of classroom observations.

A Thought in Words Tis education forms the common mind: Just as the twig is bent, the trees inclined. Pope
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