The Danielson Framework for Teaching as tool for professional reflection and conversation

2013 Danielson Framework for Teaching Evaluation Instrument cover

2013 Danielson Framework for Teaching Evaluation Instrument cover

The Framework for Teaching is a research-based set of components of instruction, aligned to the INTASC standards, and grounded in a constructivist view of learning and teaching. The complex activity of teaching is divided into 22 components (and 76 smaller elements) clustered into four domains of teaching responsibility. ~ Danielson Group website

I have spent a lot of time blogging about the coaching part of my school’s coaching model and some outlining the specifics of the model and the ways we use lesson data. I’ve spent less time talking about why and how we use Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching as a tool for professional reflection and conversation. In this post, I’ll illuminate some of the reasons for adopting the Framework and the ways in which we use it at my Australian school.

Danielson’s Framework—explained in the most detail in Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Teaching (Danielson, 2008)—provides a map of what excellence in teaching might look like, providing a set of shared, explicit descriptors. Grounded in research, it is a thorough, multi-layered definition of good teaching which identifies a comprehensive range of teacher responsibilities. The Framework is intended to be part of transparent, active processes such as teacher reflection, professional inquiry, classroom observations, mentoring, coaching, and Human Resources processes such as recruitment, evaluation of teacher performance and appraisal. The use of such a framework depersonalises conversations about teaching, focusing discussion on specific elements of practice, rather than on the individual. It provides a shared, explicit set of descriptors.

The Framework clusters its twenty two components of teaching into four domains of teacher responsibility:

    • Domain 1: Planning and Preparation
    • Domain 2: The Classroom Environment
    • Domain 3: Instruction
    • Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities

The components are intended to be applicable to diverse settings and independent of any particular teaching methodology. Whilst these components are separated for the purpose of the Framework, they are acknowledged as interrelated parts of a complex holistic endeavour. In action, the Framework is more web-like than grid-like. This is reflected in the choice of cover artwork for The Framework for Teaching Evaluation Instrument (Danielson, 2013) which shows the four domains as an intersecting Venn diagram.

The Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching project studied 23,000 lessons of 3,000 teacher volunteers in six USA urban school districts in order to investigate how teacher practice affects student achievement. It found that the Framework:

  • was positively associated with student achievement gains;
  • focused observers’ attention on specific aspects of teaching practice;
  • established common evidentiary standards for each level of practice; and
  • created a common vocabulary for pursuing a shared vision of effective instruction.

The project also concluded that, when implementing an instrument for teacher  evaluation (or, in our case, reflection and growth):

  • clear standards and multiple observations are required when evaluating a teacher’s practice;
  • evaluation systems should include multiple measures;
  • combining observation scores with evidence of student achievement gains and student feedback improved predictive power and reliability and identified teachers with larger gains on state tests; and
  • the true promise of classroom observations is the potential to identify strengths and address specific weaknesses in teachers’ practice.

It was our reading—of Kane and Staiger’s (2012) Measures of Effective Teaching research paper and Sartain, Stoelinga and Brown’s (2011) report on Chicago’s implementation of the Danielson Framework, as part of its Excellence in Teaching Pilot—which influenced the design of our observation model in which each teacher has four 20 minute observations per annual cycle of coaching.

For us, using Danielson is about each teacher looking at specific lesson data at a particular moment in time, and interrogating where the evidence places that data against Danielson’s framework. In any one observation, teachers’ data might be rated (by themselves, or as calibrated with a coach or manager) across three different levels. Of course with knowledge and increasing familiarity of Danielson’s framework, teachers can work with an understanding of the way it frames ‘distinguished’ teaching, aiming for that, but all teachers, no matter their expertise, will have lessons which fall across components and across bands.

Dylan Wiliam's book on my desk; just a few Post-its

Dylan Wiliam’s new book on my desk; just a few Post-its

Imagine my delight (yes, serious nerd delight) when I discovered that Dylan Wiliam’s just-released book Leadership for Teacher Learning spends seven pages (pp.45-51) outlining the research findings around the Danielson Framework. While he cautions that the Framework is limited, especially in its ability to differentiate variation among teachers, he describes it as “rigorously researched” and “the best we can do in relating student progress to classroom observations.” Wiliam cites research on which my school’s decision to use Danielson was based. He points out that it has been shown that students taught by teachers who are rated highly on the Framework make more progress. In fact, students taught by a teacher rated as ‘distinguished’ make almost 30% more progress than those rated as ‘unsatisfactory’.

For my school, the Danielson Framework for Teaching instrument—congruent with our performance review, professional development and coaching processes—helps us to develop a precise and shared language of practice. It isn’t used as a scorecard for external evaluation, something which I strongly advocate against. We instead use it in the following ways.

  • Coaches and managers are trained by a Danielson consultant in generating lesson data and using the Framework in professional conversations (which aligns with out Cognitive Coaching model for coaching conversations).
  • Teachers complete an annual online self-reflection against the Framework, in order to surface reflections about their teaching, help them set goals, and guide their thinking as they plan for the year ahead;
  • During coaching conversations, coaches help teachers to consider their lesson data against the Danielson Framework, looking closely at the descriptors and facilitating reflection against the rubrics.
  • The Danielson Framework sits alongside the Australian National Professional Standards for Teachers as a tool for deepening reflection and conversation about practice, allowing teachers to more specifically envisage, articulate and enact excellence in teaching practice.

This use of the Danielson Framework fits with our philosophical position that everyone is coachable, that all teachers have the will and skill to improve, that coaching should develop internal capacities, and that the coach is always in the service of the coachee.

Reflections on the conference experience: Hawker Brownlow Melbourne 2015

Human interaction remains the key component of changing education. ~ Eric Sheninger

Yarra River, Melbourne

Yarra River, Melbourne

I have spent the last four days at the Hawker Brownlow Education Conference in Melbourne, an annual conference which brings big name educational thinkers together from around the world to present immersive sessions on educational issues of the moment. What follows is my reflection on the conference experience and the value of the conference model for learning.

I selected my conference sessions based on my particular areas of current interest. While Dylan Wiliam opened the conference by using William Schmidt’s warning against teaching an inflexible curriculum which is ‘a mile wide and an inch thick,’ my recent work in professional learning and effective school change has been an inch wide and a mile deep. The sessions I chose were therefore along this same vein and were intended to take me even deeper.

Many of the speakers’ points resonated with what I already know and affirmed my own thinking and practices. These added some layers of complexity to my existing understandings and acted as springboards for conversations around education.

Dylan Wiliam and Bruce Wellman pointed out that we learn when we are uncomfortable. Wiliam said, ‘we learn more when we’re wrong,’ while Wellman talked about the discomfort that comes with working towards understanding. He pointed out that teams and individuals need to be willing to squirm and grapple with challenging questions. A comfortable team is not a learning team.

Caulfield Racecourse view from the HBE conference

Caulfield Racecourse view from the HBE conference

Learning communities were a thread which appeared in the sessions I attended. Wellman, co-author of The Adaptive School, discussed how skilful high-performing groups share intellectual and emotional space, which includes being comfortable with pauses in discussion. Silence is not the enemy of learning and collaboration, but an ally.

Wellman pointed out that being in the same room together does not make a group a community of learners. Anthony Muhammad added that a professional learning community is not a collaborative team which meets regularly, but a systemic contextually-embedded paradigm which raises collective knowledge through collective inquiry. Much like the Adaptive School material, which advocates ‘graceful disagreement’ as a norm of effective teams, Muhammad maintains that constructive, professional disagreement is the foundation of innovation.

Muhammad’s work at Levey Middle School reflects that of my own school in that it emerged out of the specific context of that school and where its community and practices were at. While our context is vastly different, we too have built our teacher growth model out of our school’s mission, vision, values, existing work and knowledge of our students, teachers and leaders.

Part of our model is based around how feedback and conversation might be deliberately harnessed in order to build teacher capacity and amplify the learning culture of the school. Wellman says that feedback is ‘in the moment, about the past, to affect the future.’ He points out that advice has very little impact on the advisee, and instead advocates for using clear, shared standards and a focus on learning, within an environment of trust. The focus on learning is about meeting the person where they are. ‘Wherever I meet you in your practice,’ he says, ‘we’re going to grow from there.’ He adds that, ‘We are starving our master teachers of rich conversations; they are hungry to talk about the whys of what they are doing.’

As outlined in Lipton and Wellman’s Learning-Focused Supervision, Wellman sees standards as rallying points for important conversations which set aspirations for goal setting and growth. My Australian school similarly uses Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching as a tool for developing shared understandings about teaching; and for reflection and data-based conversation around teaching practice. Our approach also gels with Wellman’s assertion that feedback should be customised and appropriate for the individual; one size does not fit all. Our model of teacher growth incorporates differentiation in terms of what sort of data teachers collect from their lessons and the ways in which coaches approach each conversation. As with the metaphor of the stage coach, our coaching model is about helping the coachee get to their desired destination.

Melbourne autumn

Melbourne autumn

One of Wellman’s points about data analysis was that, when looking at data, we should focus on analysing reasons for successes, rather than failure. What are the successful students or teachers doing? What knowledge and strategies do they have? How can we develop those in others? (He also has a great strategy for teams looking at student achievement data in which he employs prediction to engage people in their assumptions about what the data might hold, before revealing the data.)

At the end of the conference I met up with Eric Sheninger who had just landed in Melbourne for his first time working with Australian educators, districts and conferences (he will be keynoting at the EduTECH conference in Brisbane next week). I had tweeted a pile of books from the conference two days earlier, including Eric’s, with no idea that he was en route to Melbourne. Ours was an impromptu meeting which arose out of a morning Twitter conversation. We met up and chatted about our work, global educational thinkers, the world of connected educators and DIY professional learning. During our conversation, Eric pointed me towards some great apps which will be useful collaborative tools for my work with student and teacher learners, such as Verso, Tozzl and Padlet.

In addition, my first night in Melbourne had me meeting with some of my Twitter PLN – Greg Curran, Chris Munro and Jo Prestia – to discuss coaching in school settings, research journeys and approaches to school intervention implementation.

Both in and out of the conference I fielded questions about what my PhD is about. This was a great opportunity to hone my ideas about what is most important about my research and communicating that in effective ways.

So there were affirming moments in, and out, of the conference, which added nuanced layers to my thinking. Yet on reflection, I realise that much of what a conference can bring for the delegate are conversations with others, unexpected moments of collaboration, and the space and time to process and reflect. Although I was surprised at the lack of a backchannel at a national conference, by both presenters and delegates, – Where was the Tweetstream? – I found valuable connections with my own colleagues, other educators, presenters and connected educators who weren’t affiliated with the conference but were open to connecting in person.

Federation Square, Melbourne

Federation Square, Melbourne

On teacher evaluation & the New York APPR reforms: a view from Down Under

There are no such things as limits to growth, because there are no limits to the human capacity for intelligence, imagination, and wonder. ~ Ronald Reagan

NYC skyline, by @debsnet

As part of the Education Transformation Act of 2015, New York State is reforming its Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) and Teacher Effectiveness rating system.

Grant Wiggins in his open letter to Governor Cuomo calls the APPR reforms a “step backward” which disempowers teachers.

NY Middle School Principal Lisa Meade voiced her concerns here and put out the call out to New York educators to respond to the proposed teacher evaluation reforms. Educator Christina Luce added to the conversation in her post, asserting that, while she supports an annual professional reflection and review, the proposed reforms are narrow, punitive and make “an already horrendous evaluation system even worse”.

While I am not a New York educator, I felt compelled to offer a perspective from a different system. My visits with schools and educators last October helped me to learn about how teacher evaluation is approached in New York. While some of the challenges faced were global, shared with Australian schools, some were surprising to me. I wrote various posts documenting my reflections in New York including:

  • My visit to a school in Westchester which opened my eyes to the constraints on New York schools in teacher evaluation;
  • My visit to a school on the Upper East side which reminded me about the need for schools to find teacher evaluation and growth processes appropriate to their context;
  • Meeting Ellie Drago-Serverson at Columbia University to discuss the best environments and practices to facilitate adult learning;
  • Meeting with Charlotte Danielson and Cindy Tocci around effective applications of the Framework for Teaching for teacher growth and evaluation; and
  • Meeting with New York City professional development provider Teaching Matters, an organisation which bases its work in a belief about the capacity of teachers to be leaders and for schools to be vibrant places of distributed leadership.

slice of harlem, by @debsnet

The proposed APPR reforms seem to make an already limited system of scoring even narrower, based on data that I imagine does little to reflect a holistic picture of a teacher, their teaching, and their students’ learning. While the use of these kinds of data for measuring teacher effectiveness have been questioned (see for instance this post and this post by Grant Wiggins), I have instead focused on how these reforms sit with my own beliefs about teacher learning.

Costa and Garmston in this paper talk about safety, but not comfort, being a prerequisite for learning, pointing out that the brain works in such a way that if we do not feel safe, we cannot think and learn. They note that sensory signals entering the brain travel first to the thalamus, then to the amygdala or threat detector, and then to the neocortex where thinking happens. “If threat, fear, pain even in the most minute portions are perceived, neurological and chemical processes occur which prepare the system for survival, not reflection.” While learning often happens in a space of what they call ‘disequilibrium’, or what I call the discomfort zone, there needs to be safety and trust for thinking, reflection and growth to occur. The New York teacher effectiveness system does not seem to allow for a safe environment of learning and growth, but rather opens up the potential for fear and a fight-or-flight response.

This notion of safety-but-disequilibrium is supported by Ellie Drago-Severson’s concept of high-support high-challenge ‘holding environments’ as the optimal environments for adult learning. By Dan Pink’s work on motivation which he notes is extinguished by punitive approaches. By David Rock’s work which shows that carrot-and-stick approaches result in resistance. In reflections by Robert Evans that teachers resist externally imposed change. By the Adaptive Schools foundational concepts of trust and of honouring both the individual and the system.

Upper East Side, NYC, by @debsnet

In light of how the brain works and how thinking and motivation are ignited, the New York teacher evaluation system, current and proposed, doesn’t make sense to me. It is a punitive deficit model which assumes that teachers are underperforming, unprofessional and in need of external measures to bring them up to scratch. In a recent paper, Dylan Wiliam points out that “each teacher has a better idea of what will improve the learning of their students, in their classroom, in the context of what they are teaching them, than anyone else.” Teachers should be trusted to be professionals and given the support, and challenge, to grown on their professional journeys.

My school’s teacher growth model is based on a belief in the capacity of teachers. It is based in a belief that everyone is coachable. That is, that teachers want the best for their students and that they are fully capable, with support, of setting goals, analysing data and improving their practice in ways which most benefit their students.

Wiggins is right when he says these reforms disempower teachers. Surely if we want teachers to get better, it isn’t scoring them we should be primarily concerned with, but growing them. Teachers should receive ongoing support to refine their practice and focus on becoming increasingly better at serving their students’ pastoral and learning needs. I absolutely agree with regular performance check-ins and goal setting work, but I also believe in teachers.

My hope for any school system would be that teachers are given opportunities for growth born out of a belief in their capacities and in their important work with our children, rather than public scorecards based on questionable measures.

New York, I’m thinking of you, your teachers, your school leaders and your students.

NYC, by @debsnet

Research and education: a match made in the conference room? #rEDSyd

Luna Park, Opera House, Harbour Bridge

 If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. African Proverb

I have just returned from presenting at the researchED conference in Sydney. As explained on its website, researchED, founded by Glaswegian Tom Bennett (you can read his reflection on the day here), is a “grass-roots, teacher-led organisation aimed at improving research literacy in the educational communities, dismantling myths in education, getting the best research where it is needed most, and providing a platform for educators, academics, and all other parties to meet and discuss what does and doesn’t work in the great project of raising our children.”

It is the first time this conference has come to Australia and I was pleased to, through attending and presenting, be part of a movement to close the gap between educational research and practice, between academic theorising and school reality.

view from Sydney Harbour Bridge

view from Sydney Harbour Bridge

As a hybrid teacher-leader-researcher I believe in consuming, curating and creating research in order to influence theory and shape practice. At the researchED Sydney conference, I presented with a colleague on our school’s emerging-from-research teacher-professional-learning-and-growth model. It was a current example of how a school might utilise research and a scientific-but-also-people-driven process to develop a strategically aligned, evidence-based, context-appropriate initiative.

Opera House

Opera House

Some of our key presentation messages about school change were:

  • Go slow to go fast. School change is an evolution not a revolution.
  • Start with context and vision. Align initiatives and interventions with it.
  • Believe in the capacity of all individuals to solve their own problems, do their own thinking and drive their own learning.

This next image reflects those things we hoped our model would achieve. We have data measures planned to measure, as much as we can and in a variety of ways, the impact of this model.

'Take one' (or take all!) for your school

‘Take one’ (or take all!) for your school

The researchED conference (or is it a movement?) was one example of a forum for real life, cross-continental, global sharing of research-influenced education practice. You can read some other blog reflections here and here. We need frames and contexts which facilitate conversations between school and academic worlds, in order to facilitate more considered and systematic approaches to education.

Luna Park

Luna Park

Developing reflective practitioners: a conversation with Charlotte Danielson & Cindy Tocci

As our understanding of teaching expands and deepens, we need a vocabulary that is correspondingly rich, one that reflects the realities of a classroom where students are engaged in learning important content. Such a framework is valuable for veterans as well as novices as they all strive to enhance their skills in this complex work. ~ Charlotte Danielson, 2007

fall colours

fall colours

Brilliant fire-coloured fall foliage frames Princeton’s historic Nassau Inn, where I sat in a booth with Charlotte Danielson, creator of the Framework for Teaching, and Cindy Tocci, executive director of the research arm of Educational Testing Service. Somewhere in the wooden table is Albert Einstein’s name, where he carved it when he was a visiting professor at Princeton. After explaining my school’s journey with our teacher growth model, we talked about coaching, the Framework for Teaching and the challenges of maintaining a reflective transformative professional culture.

What is a coach?

One question raised was about the level of expertise of the coach: was conversation expertise enough, or was it more useful to also have content expertise? Our team of teacher coaches will often work with those outside their own area of expertise; this builds connections across school boundaries and allows the focus to be on pedagogy and the teacher’s own reflection, rather than on content. Another related question was raised about the potential space between a feedback-based (judgement given) approach to coaching and a reflection-cognition-based approach (no judgement given).

Charlotte challenged that “the opposite of judgement is not ‘do nothing’.” A collaborative approach was suggested as an alternative, in which teachers work together in a conversation to solve problems of practice or generate ideas for improvement, in which both teacher and coach are participating in the conversation as reflective educators. This speaks to some feedback we have had from teachers about their coaches not being ‘in’ the conversation and feeling that being Cognitively Coached was a one-sided unbalanced experience. In a coach-as-collaborator conversation there would need to be clarity around how much of the coach’s self it is appropriate to insert into the conversation, and how much content expertise the coach would need to meaningfully contribute to the discussion. There would still need to be restraint in resisting the urge to solve another’s problem for them and in the tendency to advise someone to teach using your own teaching preferences.

For us, I think the default position for the coach still needs to be the facilitator-of-another’s-thinking role, but there may be room for collaborative approaches to the parts of the conversation. Is collaboration appropriate for us in this context? Or perhaps peer collaboration in which teachers really work together in this way is an appropriate strategy for our teachers to pursue for their growth outside the official coaching conversations?

Princeton leaves

Princeton leaves

How to apply the Framework for Teaching?

Charlotte and Cindy both noted that, while it is important to strive for accuracy when using the FFT, it is important that teachers, coaches and managers not get too caught up in the micro-analysis of detail, or looking for all the dot points. In fact, Charlotte has been developing a more holistic, less broken-down ‘clusters’ model which encourages teachers to look at the big ideas of the Framework, as an alternative to the original document. This alternative might be a way for our teachers to focus on the big things happening in their classrooms, rather than minute details of lessons.

How to develop understanding of the Framework for Teaching?

Master Coding of teaching videos was explained as a difficult but powerful exercise in developing an attuned, precise understanding of the Framework for Teaching and forging shared understandings of its language. Videos of classroom practice are useful for teachers in showing how the Framework components translate into practice, and for coaches in developing a common understanding of the Framework and what particular levels of performance look like in practice. Collecting video footage of lessons involves:

  • Choosing a range of short lesson snippets (e.g. 10 mins) which relate to particular Framework components;
  • Ensuring audio, as well as visual, quality is good, especially if students are doing group work (how do you capture what students are saying? How do you decide which groups to listen to?)

Videos should be watched and independently scored, followed by conversations around the reasons for those individual scores, in order to reconcile individual perspectives into a group agreement.

Videos of coaching conversations also have a place in helping coaches to deepen and develop their coaching practice.

These kinds of rigorous processes take time. Charlotte and Cindy both highlighted the importance of a slow implementation process in which groups develop their understandings together.

We also talked about using the Framework for Teaching for teacher self-reflection purposes and also for student reflection on the sorts of learning and environment of their classroom. My school has been experimenting with different teacher self-evaluation tool possibilities, as well as perception surveys, but hasn’t developed a concrete approach to asking students how their classrooms rate against the Framework for Teaching.

How to encourage regular reflection between formalised processes?

Another challenge raised was that of developing the learned skill of reflection in teachers in between these formalised reflective processes. How do we know teachers are reflecting regularly on their practice in order to grow their practice? How can we make sure teachers are asking themselves:

  • What did my students learn today?
  • What did I learn about my students today?

Any model of teacher growth has this challenge: outside of the formalised process, how do we encourage and ensure meaningful reflection and growth on an ongoing basis?

IMAGINE

IMAGINE

Teaching Matters: the challenges of putting theory into school practice

The personal is linked irrevocably to practice. It is as if the teacher is his or her practice. Teacher practice is the maximum point of vulnerability. Classroom teaching is the arena of greatest anxiety and insecurity. ~ Goodson, 1991

Teaching Matters

Teaching Matters

It’s amazing how flying across the world can result in familiar conversations! In my meeting with New York City professional development provider Teaching Matters, the same challenges and tensions came up for both our contexts in terms of professional learning, supporting teachers and developing distributed leadership: time and buy-in. That is, finding appropriate time for teachers to thoughtfully engage in meaningful work, and providing the philosophy and conditions which allow teachers to buy in to that work.

Teaching Matters is an independent provider of customised professional development to teachers and leaders of New York City public schools. Their aim is, by partnering with and training teachers and school leaders, to increase teacher effectiveness, raise teacher performance and positively influence student learning. Their organisation is built on a philosophy of sustainable change; that is, to build capacity in the schools with which they work, in order to help each school to build its own effective teams and teachers. They base their work in a belief about the capacity of teachers to be leaders and for schools to be vibrant places of distributed leadership. Their job, as they see it, is to help schools develop their own cultures and skill sets to ensure effective leading and teaching.

Understanding the busyness of being a teacher and the need for workable, applicable solutions for teachers, Teaching Matters balances its work between building schools as professional communities, and providing accessible protocols, tools and techniques for use in teaching, assessing, improving instruction, establishing PLCs, coaching and leading. Teacher buy-in, for them, is linked to teachers’ perceptions about change being something which will be manageable as well as useful. They are therefore highly aware of the need to support teachers professionally while also saving them time and work. The problem of innovation fatigue – “another additional thing” constantly being added to teachers’ workloads – seems an international phenomenon which needs to be considered when designing anything new to be implemented in schools.

My work on professional learning and growth is within my own school and with my own community, whereas Teaching Matters needs to “synergise” with the diverse school cultures and people with which they work. Much of their work is based on that of Daniel Venables, author of A Guide to Effective Teacher Teams (2011) and How Teachers Can Turn Data into Action (2014) and founder of the Center for Authentic PLCs. Venables focuses on the development of high-functioning professional learning communities to facilitate positive school change.

We discussed the challenge and opportunity of leveraging data to monitor and inform change, such as teacher self-reflections against the Danielson Framework to, for instance, allow the identification of community professional development needs.

A question that came up in our meeting was around the use of the Danielson Framework. My school is using it for teacher growth, through cycles of observation and coaching, but to what extent might it also inform teacher planning or the work of teaching teams?

I heart NY

I heart NY

One of the Teaching Matters foci – data-driven collaborative inquiry as a way to improve student outcomes – sits snugly with my school’s work on developing a data-supported coaching cycle of teacher reflection and growth. Interestingly, one of their documents suggests that the best teams of teachers are those who teach the same content and share the same learning goals.

The Teaching Matters approach to peer observation involves the following steps of a teacher being observed by one or more members of their teaching team:

  • A pre-observation conversation in which the teacher outlines the lesson context and the teacher and observer/s discuss the time and focus of the observation (20 mins).
  • A classroom observation (or video) in which the observer/s takes notes on what the teacher is doing, what the students are doing and what practices are being used by teacher which relate to goals for student learning (30-45 mins).
  • A post-observation conversation in which the observer/s share observations, questions, constructive suggestions and future steps/strategies (45 mins; protocols are based on ‘Conversations: Turning Points Transforming Middle Schools,’ Teachers working together to improve instruction (4, 2) 2004)

Our model differs to this one in:

  • its length of lesson observation (ours are 2 x 20 minutes, rather than 1 x 30-45 minutes);
  • the type of data taken (our observers take all non-inferential data – just what happens rather than impressions about what is happening); and
  • its approach to post-observation conversation (ours is a Cognitive Coaching approach which does not involve ‘constructive feedback’ or lesson advice; our teacher coaches are there to guide the teacher’s own thinking about their lesson rather than provide comments about it themselves).

While our coaches do find that seeing others’ lessons influences their own teaching, this is not a formalised part of the conversation for us; the conversation is focused on the teacher being observed. I can see the Teaching Matters model as very useful collaborative work: peers in the same team observing each other’s lessons and using that as a basis for team discussion of pedagogy. Perhaps this might be something we can add to suggestions for strategies that teams can use to collaboratively develop pedagogy?

While working in content-similar or year-level-similar teams allows for collaboration on and experimentation with similar approaches, my school has also found value in teaming teachers from disparate parts of the school to broaden perspectives while also connecting teachers around those aspects of teaching which are common across year levels and subject areas.

Like Teaching Matters, what we want to provide for our teachers and leaders is both a philosophical foundation and a useful toolbox of processes and strategies, to help teams and individuals self-direct their growth.

HOPE at 7th & 53rd

HOPE at 7th & 53rd

Context is king in teacher growth: connecting with the Upper East Side

It is not down in any map; true places never are.  ~ Herman Melville

school on the Upper East Side

school on the Upper East Side

Today I visited a school on the Upper East Side of NYC which is in many ways similar to my Australian school. While they have vertical campuses and we have horizontal ones, both schools have some similar structures, similar values, a focus on the whole child, similar expectations of teachers and a similar desire to build a context-appropriate model for teacher growth, collaboration and professional culture.

Like us, they have been grappling with how best to design a model which fits their school context and their teachers’ needs. Their challenges are similar to ours: finding a model which is school-appropriate, and time for managers and teachers to enact it in a meaningful way (rather than as a tokenistic ‘tick a box’ process to be gotten through).

In speaking with administrators and teachers, this school’s model for teacher growth has a similar goal to ours: to facilitate meaningful, evidence-enriched conversations around teaching practice which encourage teacher reflection, collaboration and growth. It is being piloted with middle managers this year and its components include:

  • A supervisory model in which the line manager is the observer who leads the pre- and post- observation professional conversations;
  • A set of school-customised descriptors which emerge from fitting the school’s expectations of their teachers within some elements of the Danielson Framework for Teaching;
  • The teacher receiving a score from the line manager based on how the line-manager rates the teacher against those school-customised descriptors, on a four point scale;
  • The teacher receiving clear specific feedback from the line manager about areas of strength and weakness; and
  • Use of Folio Collaborative to manage the lodging and monitoring of the process. One thing I particularly liked about Folio Collaborative was its ‘spotlight’ function in which staff are able to ‘shine a spotlight’ on a colleague’s practice by adding moments of celebration or excellence they have seen.
class windowscape

class windowscape

I can see the value of, as this school has, developing a customised series of descriptors of ‘what teaching looks like at this school.’ It allows staff to see clearly the alignment with the school’s core values, allows the school to own the language, and provides a more streamlined document than the hefty-feeling Framework for Teaching which can seem daunting. This streamlining may be seen to dilute the complexity of the Framework for Teaching and the precision of its rubrics which allow teachers to easily find a place to fit their lesson evidence, based on clear research-supported descriptors at each level of performance.

Where this school’s context is different to ours is in their history of performance review processes. While my school has a series of well-worn processes for recruitment, permanency/tenure and appraisal/review/evaluation, this school does not have existing processes and is looking to put them in place in a way which is beneficial to its teachers. They are looking to develop a feedback system which stems mainly from managers, while we are looking to move towards a less manager-driven and more teacher-driven model in which teachers are self-managing and self-directed in their growth, relying less on external influence to judge and grow their practice.

music corridor

music corridor

Our use of Cognitive Coaching is the cornerstone of our conversations, placing our emphasis heavily on the coach (that is, a peer-teacher for 2 years, and then a line manager in the 3rd year) as non-threatening facilitator of teacher thinking, rather than feedback-giver and scorer.

The one thing this visit certainly affirmed for me is that context is king. It is important for each school to work with its own mission, values, plan, teachers and managers to grapple with what the most context-appropriate design is for their particular situation.

Many of us seem to have the same goal. We each need to find the path that works best for us, our teachers and ultimately our students.

the world is our neighbourhood

the world is our neighbourhood