On a monthly basis, someone will ask me to critique their homemade (campus or district made) walk-thru form and system.  And in terms of quality, the count is now 0 for each one I have looked at. 

This is not a function of smarts or good intentions.  The people who try to come up with their own tools are plenty smart and have great intentions.  This issue is that they are amateurs trying to play a pro game.  The learning curve is too steep and the stakes are too high for that person to learn from their mistakes.

So, what are the common mistakes? They come in five major categories.

Mistake #1: The “look for’s” aren’t important, in terms of effective instruction and/or student performance. For example: Is the teacher sitting or standing?  Who cares? Show me where sitting or standing has a measureable effect on teacher / student / class performance.  It doesn’t. So why track it?

Mistake #2: The “looks for’s” are subjective instead of objective. For example: Students are engaged / excited / compliant / reflective.  No matter what you think, the observer can’t get inside the student’s head to measure relative engagement.  Do enough classroom observations and you realize there is no value in trying to track a guess.

Mistake #3: The “look for’s” aren’t truly observable in a three to five-minute observation. For example: The teacher planned for instruction.  Walk into a classroom at a random time and you have no idea if what is occurring is planned or not. You can tell if the class is in control or not.  And that may be correlated to planning or the lack thereof.  But repeat after me… Correlation is not causation.

Mistake #4: The observations of multiple observers cannot be aggregated, either at all or not easily.  This is a big problem that gets bigger with each additional walk-thru. 

Mistake #5: The collected walk-thru data cannot be disaggregated.  Congratulations, this is what it was like to be a principal before 2002.

Mistakes 1, 2 and 3 can either be fixed with on-going failure and experience. A slow and painful process. Or by bootlegging (a polite way to say stealing) components of existing observation protocols. Sadly, this is a common practice.  If you do this, we know who you are and shame on you.

Mistakes 4 and 5 can be corrected with a staff of programmers and a data base management system that makes NASA jealous.  If you don’t have those resources on hand, you don’t have anything close to a winning hand. 

All of this to say, don’t be penny wise and pound foolish.  Buy a right tool for the job and then spend your time and energy on using the tool to greater effect.

Think. Work. Achieve.

Your turn…

  • Call Jo at (832) 477-LEAD to order your campus set of “The Fundamental 5: The Formula for Quality Instruction.” Individual copies available on Amazon.com!  http://tinyurl.com/Fundamental5 
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