In response to the post “It’s all About the Conversation,” a reader writes:
“Listen to Cain on this one. I have done maybe 5,000 classroom observations over the last few years. It took me quite a few to start recognizing quality instruction. It took quite a few more to develop the level of competence needed to coach teachers towards better instruction. Along the way I made almost every mistake possible, even though I had the personal mentoring of Cain, Brown, and Brezina.
I will tell you this; keep your written feedback to yourself for a while. Also, don’t give teachers copies of the form for every visit you make to the classroom. As I said before, after a bit of practice, anyone can spot bad or good instruction. If you spot bad instruction and you can’t provide detailed solutions on how to improve the instruction, keep your mouth shut until you can. And I don’t mean vague comments to teachers like “you need to increase rigor”. No kidding. But, HOW? If you can’t give specifics on how to fix the problem, keep your mouth shut, lest you become part of the problem.
Once you have the required expertise, read the book, “Crucial Confrontations.” This book will help you address the problems you run into professionally and effectively. As Cain said, it is all about the conversation, or the purposeful confrontation.”
The reader is not exaggerating about the number of classroom observations that he has conducted. He is one of the early adopters that I reference when I present on the topic.
The process of understanding what you are seeing in a short observation is almost Zen like. First, you think you know everything. Then, you know you know nothing. And then, finally you start to know something.
We definitely have a translation issue at work. The short walk-thru pioneers and early adopters were hand crunchers. That is, we would conduct hundreds of walk-thru’s and then crunch the numbers by hand, using either legal pads or Excel worksheets. There was an organic quality to the knowledge we were gleaning. As we train new people on the process, in many ways we make it too easy. We now have field tested observation protocols and tools that instantly aggregate and disaggregate data. People have the ability to go from zero to full speed in one day. The problem this creates is that the long journey striped away your preconceived notions and ideas. On the express bus, you arrive with all of your misconceptions and baggage intact and fully functioning.
I spend a lot of time working with administrators to get past the “teachers should just know,” mode of leadership. Teachers should not “just know.” Our job is to identify what works and what does not work. Then we have to help teachers replace the “what doesn’t work” and successfully implement the “what does work.”
Right now many teachers are the equivalent of the playground sports superstar. They have lots of talent and energy, but because of the lack of a system, they “make it up” as they go along. These “playground superstars” need structure, systems and coaching to become world class. That is the responsibility of leadership.
Think. Work. Achieve.