Classroom observations: It's all about the conversation

Yesterday I did a brief walk-through of a teacher's classroom. It was a short slice of a class, only about 5 to 10 minutes. The students were engaged, good questions posed, and the teacher did a great job of stressing the essential questions of the class. As I left the classroom I thought to myself, "That was a good class," and continued on with the rest of my day.  I closed out my day a few hours later, and when I came in to school this morning, the teacher popped into my office and said "I just wanted to connect with you about your observation yesterday."  I was so glad that the teacher wanted to connect with me, debrief, and reflect about the lesson that I observed – this is a lead learner's dream!  I was surprised, however – because I had only popped in quickly to the teacher's classroom, but the teacher was looking for some feedback and wanted to discuss some thoughts. I underestimated how important it is to have the conversation - even a quick one - even for a quick walkthrough - and to engage in conversation.  

This exchange was a great reminder about how eager educators are to discuss their craft on a regular basis. The teacher and I had a great conversation, discussing past practices, current practices, the new Massachusetts educator evaluation system, and we had a very genuine and authentic conversation about what good teaching and learning looks like.  What struck me was that the teacher really wanted clarity about what my expectations were as the lead learner in the building, and how those expectations could be met.  Different personal experiences and different evaluators lead to uncertainly about such a personal process: providing and receiving feedback.  There's so much that we don't know about each educators' path, so it is crucial to take the time to get to know one another as educators and understand why we structure our classrooms the way we do.  This is crucial to moving our schools forward, and making sure that students are always learning and growing – a d same is true for us, the educators in the building.  Providing a scaffolded and differentiated feedback experience is critical to educator growth.

Later in the day, the teacher approached me again and apologized for taking my time to discuss the brief observation from yesterday. From my perspective, I told the teacher, our conversation was the best one that I had all day. Engaging in professional conversations about learning and teaching is what it's all about! Being a reflective educator is how we hope all educators will be. Not only was there no need to apologize, I told that teacher, but I also hope that we can continue to have such important conversations about what good learning and teaching looks like, what we can do to support all of our students, and how we can maximize  learning. We ended our conversation by highlighting what it was that the teacher hoped I would be able to provide in my future observations' feedback.

Taking the time to have a face-to-face conversation with this teacher reminded me of the value of spending time in classrooms, the importance of being present in the belly of the school, and engaging in conversations about how learning and teaching happens – on a daily basis, not as a once-per-year task as part of a formal evaluation. Engaging in this conversation on a regular basis is what keeps us excited and jazzed up to be educators. I'm so thankful that the teacher in my school approached me, took the time to share questions with me and I was able to have an incredibly valuable conversation about learning and teaching.  Taking the time to speak, in person and face-to-face, allows conversations about feedback, observations and education to be meaningful and focused on student learning.

Now I just need to find the time to make this happen!

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