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Michael Fino

EDLD 6410
November 18, 2016
Teacher Observation Cycle with Pre and Post-Conferences

For the observation cycle, I considered working with two of my math department

colleagues, both of whom are new to the staff this year at San Leandro High School. In the end,

I selected Mr. P, a seasoned mathematics teacher with more than twenty years of experience in

the field. Mr. P has worked in various settings around the Bay Area, including Oakland,

Alameda, and currently San Leandro. Mr. P and I both teach five sections of Algebra 1 to

primarily ninth graders, working through the same curriculum with similar groups of students

including sections of cluster classes, with push-in support from special educators. Though we

speak everyday and collaborate regularly, I had not yet had the opportunity to observe Mr. P in

action, and was eager to see how he structured his class and presented the material.

Prior to entering the pre-observation conference, I formulated six questions to frame the

specific class being observed, get an idea of what I would see in the session, and allow Mr. P to

select an area of instruction that he would like me to focus on:

Pre-Observation Questions:
1. Briefly describe the class that I will be observing. Are there any special situations or
circumstances that I should be aware of prior to observing?
2. Can you tell me about the lesson you will be delivering? What are the academic
objectives of the lesson?
3. What strategies will you employ throughout the lesson? What will the students be doing
throughout the lesson?
4. How will you assess student learning throughout the lesson? How will you determine if
your lesson objectives have been met by students?
5. Is there anything you have been thinking about or working on that you would like me to
focus on in the observation? What kind of feedback would be useful to you moving
forward (i.e. quantifying student behaviors, tracking teacher movement, analyzing
questions being asked, etc.)?
6. When would you like to schedule our post-observation conference?
Pre-Observation Video: https://youtu.be/3Ixz-IYpl2w

Overall, coming into the pre-observation onference I felt comfortable and at-ease. The

situation felt significantly more relaxed than the post-conference to follow, because the stakes

were still low. When I asked Mr. P if there was anything I needed to know about the class I was

going to observe, I found myself expecting a particular answer based on my previous interactions

with some of his students. I wonder if carrying assumptions like this into an observation cycle is

beneficial, or if it could be a potential detriment to the experience. By word of mouth from

students, teachers, and parents, administrators learn a great deal about their teachers beyond

classroom observations. If the ultimate goal is supporting a teacher in their professional growth

to improve student learning, I believe administrators must take advantage of all the information

at their disposal. I consider myself an agreeable, understanding professional, but I found myself

looking for (and finding) possible weaknesses and faults in Mr. Ps session. My concern was

largely centered around Mr. Ps uncertainty with regards to students meeting standards. If this

were early in a unit, I would be more sympathetic to this sort of mentality, but the lesson I was

going to observe was only a few days removed from a large assessment. While there is value in

finding faults and weaknesses to prescribe meaningful changes, what is the optimal approach that

an observer/coach should take in determining positive attributes as well? I think the nature of the

relationship between the clinical peer and individual being observed is a significant factor as well

Mr. P and I are both teachers within the math department and sympathize with one another in

many ways. If I were to do the same work as a district coach or school administrator, it would

definitely change the dynamic of the relationship.

The observation itself was an eye-opening experience. It began as Mr. P had previously

described, with students quiet and on-task with their Do Now. When instruction began, I found
myself becoming increasingly critical of Mr. Ps actions, the words that he used, and the way he

interacted with students. On multiple occasions, if students voiced confusion or frustration with

the material, Mr. P compared students to one another or made a point to say that a problem was

not that hard. As we have discussed in class, when an administrator is observing teachers for

required evaluations, giving poor feedback and low marks can do more harm than good. Another

new teacher in the math department, a young second year teacher that just recently had his first

official evaluation, confided in me that one of our administrators gave him a Does Not Meet in

a particular teaching category. He was extremely frustrated that this evaluator could make this

judgment based on a single class period, and he no longer trusted her as a result. For this reason,

I spent much of my time observing looking for positive things that I could bring back to Mr. P,

which I could then use as leverage for moving toward more difficult conversations. Honestly, it

was a challenge for me to not to think like an administrator, in that my top priority is providing

students with the kind of positive, engaging, and effective instruction that they deserve.

Considering the conversations during my principal interviews, I understand the value of a

temporary or probationary contract. It can be in the best interest of all parties, administrator,

students, and the teacher, to part ways if the arrangement is not working.

There were some questions that I planned to ask regardless of how the observation went,

including How do you feel the lesson went? and What did you find to be particularly effective

in your lesson? Is there anything you would change about your lesson? These questions give

the teacher the opportunity to reflect on their own practice, and provide the coach with

information for follow-up, prompting, and stretching. Planning for the post-observation was a

bit of a challenge, because I wanted to help Mr. P grow in a meaningful way, but did not want to
make him feel like I was attacking him or diminishing his abilities as a teacher. In the end, I

decided to focus on two areas: increased student engagement and more efficient use of time.

I was able to work through the following questions in the post-observation conference:

Post-Observation Questions:
1. How do you feel the lesson went?
2. What did you find to be particularly effective in your lesson? Is there anything you would
change about your lesson?
3. Have you always checked homework with students coming forward to you? Do you think
there might be other ways you could do this that could increase instructional time?
4. I believe we have similar traditional styles of direct instruction compared to some of the
other math teachers in our department. I often find myself thinking I need to provide
more opportunities for student discourse and discussion as a means of increasing
engagement. How might you create these opportunities for your students throughout a
lesson?
5. Was the feedback tool we used helpful to your needs?
6. How did you feel about me as an observer? Do you feel the feedback form that we used
was effective?

Post-Observation Video: https://youtu.be/wjStSgSui8Y

Before digging into my questions about areas that I thought Mr. P could improve, I am

glad that I was able to share a positive strategy that he used. I have been fortunate to have

positive experiences with evaluations these past few years, as the administrators I have worked

with were kind, supportive, and helpful. Both administrators made a concerted effort to make

me feel like an extraordinary educator, which not only increased my confidence, but encouraged

me to be more vulnerable and trusting in them as instructional leaders. Even though I am already

reflective and hard on myself as a teacher, this trust and vulnerability further opened up the

possibility for growth. Prior to diving into a discussion on the areas I felt Mr. P could improve, I

thought a lot about how I wanted to word these questions in ways that would not offend, while

opening up the discussion for reflection and new considerations. Unfortunately, I believe that I
tip-toed around the topics so much that no real, substantial, or helpful conversations were able to

develop. Looking back at the post-observation video, I see natural breaks in the conversation

where I could have asked another question, pushed Mr. P further, or simply made a suggestion

that could have created a moment of valuable learning. When we talked about Mr. Ps routines

and procedures for collecting homework, his responses were merited, but did not answer or

explore the idea I was trying to bring up: increasing instructional time. Mr. P made some good

points in our discussion of student engagement, but I would still have liked to have heard him

think about and consider specific ways he could have brought in different strategies to engage

students throughout the period.

This was an invaluable process, and I learned that while I am capable of leading the

process of an observation cycle, there are many areas I need to improve. In particular, I believe I

need to be more assertive in the conversations, guiding the teacher to consider and reflect on

ways they can improve their practice. While I say I need to be more assertive, I do not believe I

need to change my personality or become overly bearing to get the job done. In my experience, I

have worked with very quiet, introverted administrators that were excellent facilitators, guiding

me to explore new ideas and take risks in the classroom. When I think of all of the people that I

interact with at work, I know that I am liked and respected, which I should be able to leverage as

I continue to expand my role as a teacher leader. In the coming months, I am already planning to

observe another colleague within the math department. My goal is to make our pre and post-

observation discussions more open, challenging, and meaningful.