How to Provide Meaningful Teacher Feedback by Observing the “Unobservables”

One of the ways I like to provide meaningful feedback to teachers is by observing the “unobservables” outside of the classroom. A classroom observation is just a glimmer of the real work that teachers do behind the scenes to prepare for each daily lesson. In order to obtain valuable insights into how a teacher approaches lesson planning, evaluates student performance, and collaborates with colleagues, I routinely conduct observations during professional learning team (PLT) meetings. In this environment, I am able to truly understand how a teacher plans a lesson, supports the achievement goals necessary for each student, and contributes to the school’s overall success.

During these PLT meetings, I gain insight and provide feedback for teachers on the following benchmarks that may otherwise be unobservable:

  • Plans lessons that incorporate critical thinking and problem-solving skills
  • Evaluates and documents student performance based on multiple measures to set learning goals
  • Determines the students’ current skill levels and uses that information to plan instruction
  • Initiates collaboration with colleagues to better understand and respond to student learning needs

PLT meetings highlight the concepts students are struggling with and the instructional strategies the PLT will use to help students learn. After being in the PLT, I conduct a classroom observation to see the lessons that were discussed. Consequently, my understanding of the lesson is deeper, and the feedback and observations I make are much more meaningful.

When I observe a PLT lesson, the student struggles or misconceptions identified in the preceding PLT meeting may or may not materialize. But through my “unobservables” method, I can provide valuable feedback on the instructional strategies used, lesson sequence, and student discussions that occurred that may alleviate some of these student difficulties when they do occur. I share this information with the teacher after my observation, arming him or her with insights about what worked and why for their next PLT planning session.

Teachers want and deserve a cycle of observation feedback like this. They appreciate that I know what they do to plan, and I know the challenges they are facing in supporting student learning. The conversations we have are part of true action research—what are our next steps in the learning process for our students? What do our students require so that they not only understand the concepts, but master them?

Observing PLT meetings followed by classroom observations helps me guide the success measures of the school. The feedback I provide acts as a catalyst to the teaching-learning cycle, and the teachers are able to accelerate student growth and deepen student understanding. For example, the ninth-grade math PLT has celebrated over 50 percent growth over the past two years. They have used the observation feedback to hone their planning, allowing them to get rid of unnecessary review for students and focus on what was really effective. The ninth-grade team is now able to cover the concepts needed with deep student understanding. They have direct, specific results that show that their assessment, planning, and delivery are working—the true goal of any teacher.

Feedback is effective if it contributes to the growth of your teachers and the growth of student achievement. What is your observation cycle for giving effective feedback to teachers, and how does it help them grow?

Suzanne Acheson is an assistant principal at Hinkley High School in Aurora, CO and has served in this role for six years. She has conducted training sessions for all of the PLT leaders in her building and believes that the PLT model helps teachers grow and improve professionally. She was the 2017 NASSP Colorado Assistant Principal of the Year.

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