A Reader Writes… (PowerWalks)

In response to the post, A Reader Asks… PowerWalks“, an LYS principal writes.

“You broadly categorized the types of observations which makes a debate difficult. But I’m game. I would break observations into two groups:

1. Coaching observations (regardless of time)

2. Assessment observations (regardless of time)

I am a firm believer in using the 3 minute or less observation to generate coaching tips. The original poster claims the 3 minute observations take far longer than 3 minutes. I will say that after thousands of formal and informal PowerWalks, I can be in and out of a class in less than a minute.

I believe that PDAS is generally misunderstood or misapplied. Most of PDAS is objective. Some of PDAS is subjective. The problem with the PDAS instrument is that it is not quick or easy. By not being quick and easy it is almost always poorly implemented. Properly implemented PDAS would lead to much lower scores than most teachers receive. Use a stop watch and count students at some point to find out.

The only area where I disagree with Cain is that I could care less about the dog and pony show. If a teacher does a great job in a formal observation but can’t deliver quality instruction on a daily basis, then I question that teacher’s commitment. Why do a great job when I am around, but slack at every other opportunity?

SC Response
I agree with the coaching / assessment breakdown. It is just our position that:

1. It must be very clear to the teacher which is occurring when the observer is in the room. “Sniping” teachers is a cowards move.

2. The data collected for coaching and assessment must be kept separate and unique. Much like constitutional rights that sometimes let criminals free, the need to protect teachers from bad leadership practices outweigh any efficiency arguments that can be made for combining the data.

I understand your 1 minute claim, but I fear most people won’t. Just last week I conducted over 300, three minute classroom observations on 12 different campuses. You are correct in stating that you can see everything you need to see in a minute. But here is the caveat, you can only see everything after you have completed 100’s of observations. Your eye takes the picture and then your mind dissects that picture. But the peripheral, yet critical details of the picture aren’t visible until you have done it enough. Schmoker says the secret to becoming on expert on instruction is to observe a lot of instruction. But now we know better, the secret to becoming an expert on instruction is to purposefully observe a lot of instruction. The difference is subtle, but critical. The coach who watches 1000’s of hours of game film has a better understanding of the game than the fan who watches lots game on TV.

I agree that PDAS, properly implemented is somewhat objective. But every time you give the teacher the benefit of the doubt, objectivity flies out the window. And I agree that for the most part PDAS is improperly scored. The personalities of the observer and observee have a greater bearing on the final score that what was observed in the classroom. Two quick examples of this:

1. Pull the PDAS results of the staff at any low performing school in the state. Less that 1% will have scored low enough to warrant a growth plan and a significant percentage of the staff will have “exceeded expectations.”

2. I was working with a principal recently that was trying to document a teacher off of his campus, not because of poor student results (which were good) but because of a poor attitude. Needless to say, I came down on the side of the teacher in this case.

Now for our point of contention. I think there is value in the dog and pony show because provides the coach with critical information. If the gap between typical behavior and exceptional behavior is small, then the focus has to be on increasing the skill level and capacity of the teacher. Technique, tools, stamina, planning and support are areas of critical need. On the other hand, if the gap between typical and exceptional behavior is great, then the focus has to be on increasing or improving tempo, urgency, planning, accountability, and instructional habits.

The accurate determination of “can’t do” or “won’t do,” dictates not only my course of action with the staff member but also the pace in which I expect to see noticeable improvement. Needless to say, the initial expectations for “Won’t do’s,” will be significantly different than those for the “Can’t do’s.” After all, the “Won’t do’s,” have demonstrated that their comfort and convenience outweighs the instructional needs of students. And that, I take personally.

So where did we disagree?

Think. Work. Achieve.

Your turn…

A Reader Writes… (Dress Code and More – Part 1)
A Reader Writes… (Dress Code and More – Part 2)

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