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Instructional Improvement Platform

I will never forget my first observation in the classroom. I was teaching fifth grade and a
‘master educator’ came in to observe my class thirty minutes prior to lunch. It was October, so I
was still getting my routines down and learning how to focus fifth grade excitement. I
remember towards the end of the observation feeling like I was in the middle of a tornado with
kids circling around me like a wind storm. I sent them outside waiting for the harsh feedback.
When I received the evaluation in my inbox later that day, I was surprised. I was rated on 19
teach standards and given a score in the average range. This was with the exception of two
areas that the observer asked me to reflect on in an effort to improve my instructional
practices. It was at this point that I realized instruction was not something you did well or did
not do well, but rather a constantly moving pendulum based on students, district mandates and
where the instructor is at in place and time. This observation inspired me to do better and be a
more reflective teacher because someone saw the good in what I was doing. It is with that lens
that I hope to motivate my teaching staff each year to move towards their goals. Instructional
improvement comes from three key areas: classroom observations, learning teams and goal
setting. These key areas fostering a collective sense of reflection and trust within a school
culture.

Observations are a personal way to support teachers with instructional improvement.


City, Elmore, Fiarman, & Teitel talk about the importance of taking off the glasses of judgement
and utilizing an observational technique that focuses on the granular of what is happening with
both teachers and students. (City, Elmore, Fiarman, & Teitel, 2008, p. 2,10). Additionally, they
say, “These descriptive statements are critical because they give us a common basis for our
conversation” (City et al., 2008, p. 10). Being able to record what is happening without
judgement, determine what needs to be recorded and what is not relevant is a difficult task.
However, this sets the foundation for a trusting relationship between the principal and teacher.
As a principal, my job is not to be the subject matter expert in the room with the answers, but
rather record what happens and pose questions to support the teacher in reflection and
possibly provide support if the need is there. I believe that leaving a teacher with one to two
wonderings is far more likely to create the desired change than telling the teacher what they
need to do for more success. Van Soelen discusses the importance of how we frame these
questions using conditional language. He states that, “Conditional language helps the receivers,
the teachers, to accept the feedback and deeply consider it – to really think about it.” (Van
Soelen, 2016, p. 86) Understanding that a principal cannot observe and do a post-conference
with every teacher, I will ask that all teachers write a few sentences reflecting on my questions
in an email so that the observation becomes dynamic and I can have better perspective and
provide any support they may need.

In addition to classroom observations, staff and grade level learning teams are an
important component to improving instruction. I will create a network of teachers that review
assessments, analyze data, norm samples, build a plan to affect change and reflect on the
outcomes of that work.

The data that are shared networkwide produce further opportunities to accelerate
improvement. By analyzing conditions and variations in performance across a network, a NIC
(Network Improvement Committee) taps into the law of large numbers. It allows participants to
see things that may elude even the best individual educator. (Bryk, Gomez, Grunow, &
LeMahieu, 2015, p147)

As the principal, I am a facilitator here to support teachers in determining what the


needs are through data and support their work towards instructional improvement. I will ask
for volunteers to help lead specific parts of the inquiry cycle to honor the skill sets in the room,
but also to make sure that the staff is empowered to improve their own instruction. “Without
collaborative problem solving, individual change may be possible, but school change is not”
(Murphy, 2017, p. 158). My hope is that learning teams will help the staff be reflective of the
bigger instructional needs that face the school, rather than a single classroom.

When teachers are receiving more feedback on their instructional practices through
observations and learning teams, a reflective culture starts to emerge. My goal as a principal is
to have teachers look at the work they are doing and determine what strengths they have and
where they have room to grow. Van Solen (2016) says, “Creating ‘automatic’ teachers is not the
goal of school improvement – creating more reflective practitioners is the goal” (p. 27). I will sit
down with individual teachers and or grade levels to discuss their instructional goals and how I
can support them in their efforts. I will look for evidence of these goals when doing
observations and facilitating learning teams.

As a principal, I will be set a stage for this work. I will remember that it starts small, it
starts with building trust, it starts with showing humility that I will not have all of the answers, it
starts with honoring the skills that individual teachers bring to the classroom and the staff
discussions. Once I have set the stage for instructional improvement, I will strategically work to
build a culture of reflection through observations and learning teams. Instructional
Improvement is never ending because we are working with kids, a complex educational system
and a pendulum that will always be in motion.

References

Bryk, A. S., Gomez, L. M., Grunow, A., & LeMahieu, P. G. (2015) Learning to Improve: How
America’s Schools Can Get Better at Getting Better.

City, E. A., Elmore, R. F., Fiarman, S. E., & Teitel, L. (2008) Instructional Rounds in Education: A
Network Approach to Improving Teaching and Learning.

Murphy, J. F. (2017) Professional Standards for Educational Leaders.

Van Soelen, T. M. (2016) Crafting the Feedback Teachers Need and Deserve.