One of the mandates for high school principals in the School District of Philadelphia is to give more frequent written feedback to teachers based on the teaching and learning we see on a daily basis on our walk-throughs. It is one of those mandates that is pretty much indefensible in theory, but the devil, as always, is in the details. For me, the trick is to create a way to give teachers feedback that is useful, as observational and non-judgemental as possible, easy to manage, both for teachers and me, and something that can be more than just sheets of paper that are put into a binder and then forgotten about.
So I am going to be using my iPad and a GoogleForm (and Spreadsheet) to get feedback to teachers quickly and (hopefully) wisely and well.
The first thing I did was sketch out some ideas about the way I wanted to give feedback to teachers in a way that was productive, useful, manageable, and as non-judgemental as possible. This is meant for 10 minute quick visits not full observations, so for me, it is as much about simple observations and the questions that come up from those observations as it is about drawing any conclusions about what I see. This is much more of a formative tool than a summative one.
Then I sought out feedback from a bunch of SLA teachers about the rough draft of the form… at that point, I tested out for a day before presenting it to the whole faculty for feedback. We’re only a few days into using it, but so far, I find it to be a pretty useful thing, and the teachers have liked it as well.
Here is the form:
Some important pedagogical things:
- It was important for me to use the core values on the observation form – for me, that goes to the “Show me where it lives” idea that I’m pretty passionate about. If I want teachers and students to really embody those values, it should be part of the way I give feedback.
- I think there is value in many kinds of student groupings and instruction, and each grouping has plusses and minuses. I thought it’d be useful to remind teachers what part of the lesson I saw by the grouping, and I also thought it’d be useful to think about the groupings when considering the whole of the feedback.
- The “I noticed, I wonder, what if” protocol is one we use all the time with each other and in our classes. It’s a great way to get people to give meaningful feedback without falling back on “I liked” or “I didn’t like.”
- One teacher has started playing with answering the questions I ask in an extra column of the spreadsheet, which is a neat way to make this process more interactive. Other teachers have stopped by the office later for conversations about what I saw, and it’s been a very cool way to increase the conversations about teaching and learning.
- A downside is that this is time consuming, and I have noticed that doing this has made it harder for me to get into every class every day. My usual routine is shorter visits / more visits. I’m going to have to figure out what I think about that over the long term, and I also worry a lot about trying to do this method of feedback as I start to do more formal, period long, observations as well.
The technical side of things:
- Each teacher has their own spreadsheet that is shared only with me.
- I asked every teacher to set the notifications on the spreadsheet so that they get an email every time a new entry is added.
- I created a GoogleSites page for myself with links to all the teachers at SLA so I can get to the forms easily and quickly.
- I can do it without my bluetooth keyboard, although it’s faster with the keyboard. The problem with the keyboard is that carrying the iPad and the keyboard is definitely clunkier.
So, overall, I like how it works so far. I don’t think it’s perfect. The lack of real integration of GoogleDocs on the iPad has been a pain, and while the form ameliorates that somewhat, it still is a bummer not to be able to easily pull up the actual spreadsheet after filling out the form. I think it creates a more authentic tool that teachers can look back on over time and get feedback. I think it lets me give frequent feedback without having to stuff mailboxes with forms that then have to be put into a three-ring binder. I think it provides a great opportunity to enrich the already really wonderful conversations about teaching and learning at SLA – in fact, I think teachers could use the tool for peer observations as well. I do wonder what I will have to take off of my plate if I am doing this for an hour or two every day, but it is my hope that it does provide me with an opportunity to enrich the conversations that I have with teachers about teaching and learning.
I’ll keep you posted.