This past week a brave new teacher opened his ninth grade all-boys classroom to myself and a group of other experienced teachers (the brave part is the all boys 9th grade, not necessarily the team of teachers who joined!). The veteran teachers and I split the task of observation, each taking another area of classroom life to watch as the new teacher was going about his day. A subject matter expert paid close attention to the delivery of the material, another mentor watched the students for ‘on-task’ and ‘off-task’ behavior trying to capture what happened before and after each instance, and I focused mainly on who was doing the intellectual work at any given moment in the class.
These three areas of focus were all of interest to the new teacher so we decided to divide and conquer.
After the 42 minute observation (A huge shout out to the scheduling masters in each building I work with) the veteran teachers and I sat down to debrief our observations. It took us 45 minutes to prepare a reflection for the new teacher that one of the veterans—the new teacher’s mentor—was going to deliver on our behalf.
During our debrief, the other veteran teachers and I each tried to address what we saw in the new teacher’s class. We were focused on presenting evidence, and backing up opinions with data. We had some healthy debate about the interpretations of our data, and we saw different areas of focus for the new teacher.
So you may ask, why did we spend so much time focusing on one lesson and one new teacher? What did we gain?
Well first off, I think the new teacher gained a lot from our observation. He got to see his classroom through our eyes, and understood that our observation was to help him think about growing in his practice, not about judging his classroom.
The veterans and I learned a great deal about our own teaching. We were pushed to think ‘how would I do that differently,’ ‘what do I do that he doesn’t do,’ and even ‘I never thought of doing it that way, it is so much more effective.’ (All of these are comments I thought about during my observation).
What was also incredibly valuable was the time afterwards to debrief. We really gave ourselves time to be openly reflective about what we saw in the classroom. We pushed one another to use evidence, and point to the facts. We backed one another up with anecdotes from other parts of the lesson. We were all in all colleagues.
I realize that time is truly a luxury in schools. We are all pressed for time, trying to make every second count and there truly isn’t enough time to accomplish all that we want. But I cannot say enough about the value of a splurge. These veterans and I really overindulged in this luxurious conversation in which we really took the time that was needed to learn to better our own observation practice. I recognize that we can’t do this every week, but I also know that we cannot afford to never do it again.