According to Michael Fullan (2002), “A principal’s chief responsibility is doing everything possible to support and optimize the growth of teaching and learning, just like a teacher’s job is to do everything possible to maximize student learning and development.”
This is aligned with leadership guru, Ken Blanchard’s concept of Servant Leadership. Blanchard argues that the work of the Principal (and all leaders in the school) is to provide the support required for the best possible learning experiences in the classroom. As well as managing budgets, purchasing the best resources, maintaining the facilities, organising the perfect timetable, having back-up behaviour management strategies in place, providing great professional development and a simplified curriculum, leaders also need to grow and develop their staff to be the best that they can be. Often that involves providing feedback to teachers with the aim of helping them improve their practice.
There are two major causes of teacher frustration with the teacher feedback process. The first is the infrequent nature of observations. This makes the ‘event’ of someone coming to observe a lesson, a bigger deal than it needs to be. This is exacerbated by the use of evaluative judgements based on this one off observation. The infrequency of visits makes meaningful conversations about progress and next steps difficult.
The second frustration for teachers is their feeling of not being supported. In his book, “Trust-Based Observations”, author Craig Randall reports that between one-third and two-thirds of teachers perceived their Principal to not have been supportive during observations.
- They reported the following behaviours.
- Teachers alienated by Principals conveying a message that they know how to do it.
- Forgetting how difficult being a teacher is and showing no empathy for their challenges.
- Making permanent snap judgements about teachers based on a single observation.
- Not using emotional intelligence to interact with their teachers in constructive ways.
- Forcing “their way” to teach as the only way to be effective.
In the book, Randall advocates for frequent, unannounced lesson observations of teachers by Principals (or other leaders). In the Trust-Based Observation (TBO) model the observations are unannounced and for 20 minutes. Each observation is followed up with a one-on-one conversation within 24 hours. In Randall’s process, Principals should schedule 12 observations each and every week.
Squeezing such a huge commitment of time (one hour on Mondays and Fridays and two hours on Tuesdays to Thursdays) into an already overloaded diary will be the challenge. I have no doubt that if it can be achieved then the trust relationships that are established through a shared focus on teaching and learning will lead to improved classroom practices, better relationships and improved student learning outcomes.