Guest post by Donald Gately
Teacher peer observation is a powerful tool for professional growth and school improvement. Whether done formally or informally, peer observations help teachers enhance their knowledge base, improve classroom practices, gain new ideas for instruction, and much more. For a principal, however, it’s rare to see another principal’s work or spend time observing other schools. How can principals get feedback from their leadership peers, like teachers do, to improve their schools and grow professionally?Jennifer Gonzalez, author of the online magazine devoted to all things education, The Cult of Pedagogy, blogs about Pineapple Charts, a powerful and informal teacher peer observation method. Essentially, teachers post a pineapple sign (a symbol of hospitality) on a chart in the teacher’s workroom or a common staff area signifying that colleagues are welcome to visit their classroom on a given day to observe their lessons and give feedback. Teachers “advertise” the interesting things they are doing in their classrooms and activities they think others might want to observe. The key to the success of the program is informality. The observers are not required to take notes or conform to any protocol; they’re simply welcome to come in and learn.
Like teachers, principals need their own “Pineapple Program” so that they, too, can observe and learn from one another in an informal way. Through the Long Island Middle Level Principals Association (LIMLPA), we created a highly replicable program to facilitate school walkthroughs for principals and allow them to provide feedback based upon what they see.
To launch this Pineapple Program”for principals (or what I renamed the Middle Level Principals’ Professional Learning Network), I emailed every middle school principal on Long Island and invited them to my school:
Middle Level Principals’ Professional Learning Network:
This program is based on an initiative that teachers are using in which they post a pineapple sign (symbol of hospitality) on their classroom door signifying that colleagues are welcome to visit their classroom on a given day to observe their lessons and give feedback. Here’s a great post about the teacher program.
Here’s how our program will work:
Principal invites colleagues to visit school at a time convenient (use a Google Form or Eventbrite?). Feel free to send an assistant principal if you’re unable to make it. In the invite, highlight any particular programs that you think may be of interest to your colleagues.
Structure of visit:
- Coffee and pre-brief: Principal discusses initiatives, challenges, and accomplishments at the school (15–30 minutes).
- Learning walk: Do a walkthrough, including classroom visits (30–60 minutes). Probably a good idea to let staff and students know we’re coming.
- Debrief: Share thoughts on the walkthrough (15–30 minutes).
- Smiles, handshakes, coffee to go …
I volunteer to go first. Stay tuned. …
In just two weeks, over 20 principals or their designees had signed up through the Google Form to visit the school. Prior to the walkthroughs, I met with the participants and gave a brief overview of the school. I outlined the way the master schedule is organized, described middle school team configurations, and gave each participant a folder containing a map of the building, a copy of the master schedule, and a chart showing the teacher teams. I also discussed the various initiatives that have been taking place in the school over the past several years, such as our comprehensive program for social-emotional literacy, a bully prevention program, our Level 1 Response to Intervention strategies, and Child Study Team procedures.
Each observer wore a brightly colored lanyard that said “Jericho Middle School VIP: Welcome” and had free rein of the building. The assistant principal and I stationed ourselves at central locations on the first and the second floors. The observers walked in and out of classrooms, and we occasionally left our posts and jumped into rooms with them. Informal conversations between principals occurred in the hallways, and we answered questions about everything from classroom furniture to pedagogy for English-language learners.
After 50 minutes of walkthroughs, we reconvened in the conference room and discussed what we saw. There was a lively conversation and exchange of ideas as principals shared the challenges they face at their schools. The entire event was an hour and a half.
Participants offered additional feedback and observations through an anonymous Google Form. The survey prompts were simple: I was impressed with … I wonder about … You should think about … Other ideas/thoughts/suggestions/anything else … Most participants took the time to offer helpful feedback and observations.
The substantial turnout and enthusiasm for the Middle Level Principals’ Professional Learning Network indicates that there is a genuine need for those in leadership positions to have opportunities for feedback from colleagues based on direct observation. I look forward to being on a team that conducts walkthroughs at the next school that steps up to participate.
How do you find means for feedback from your leadership peers?
Donald Gately, EdD, serves as the principal of Jericho Middle School in Jericho, NY. He is the 2016 New York Principal of the Year. Follow him on Twitter @donald_gately.