Vary your Observations

As Instructional Coaches and Leaders, we have busy schedules that keep us on our toes and watching the clock. Because we are so busy, sometimes we forget we should be doing different types of “observations” for our teachers and each one has its own purpose. 

First, let’s discuss the difference between a walkthrough and an informal observation. Both a Walkthrough or an Informal Observation can be general or specific.

I say the major difference between the two is time and focus.

If you are doing a Walkthrough, you should only be in the room about 3 to 5 minutes. You maybe looking for things of compliance, or to see if the teacher has implemented the strategy that you guys have been working on. The walkthrough is very focused laser eyed if you will. Even if the walkthrough is general, the focus is to get a feel for the culture. Normally when you do a walk-through you should have a focused walkthrough form. This way, you know exactly what to look for and collect evidence to provide to the teacher for their review.

If you are doing a full Informal Observation, you should be there for 7 to 15 minutes. When spending 7 to 15 minutes in a classroom you are getting more that a quick snapshot of what’s happening. Usually, these walkthroughs are for collecting data to really work with a teacher. These are not “I Got Ya” walkthroughs but they are to collect enough data to have a very detailed conversation about what’s happening during instruction or transition. When you do an informal observation, you need to choose an observation form that meets the need of your observation.  

Now that you know the difference, you need to set a purpose for going into the room. In order to set a purpose, complete the following steps: 

  • Step 1: Ask yourself, “Have I met with this teacher and do we have a coaching cycle already?

    • If the answer is “Yes,” make sure you know what the teacher’s goal is before going into the room. If not, ask yourself, “What am I going to observe?” and look up his/her goals.

    • Make sure you are going in with a clear purpose. When we go in with a clear purpose, we can give cleaner feedback to the teacher.

  • Step 2: Decide whether you are completing a Walkthrough or an Observation.

    • In order to make a decision, look back at Step 1 and decide which of the latter would be the most appropriate for what you want to observe.

    • If you are going to observe something big like student productivity, you might want to make sure you have time for an Observation especially if the teacher is still giving a lesson. On the other hand, if you are just looking in to see something positive, a Walkthrough might be appropriate it.

    • All of this will depend on knowing your time schedule as well as your teachers.

  • Step 3: Create a follow-up plan.

    • Whether you are doing a Walkthrough or an Observation, it’s always important for you to provide your teacher with feedback. This not only helps them understand why you were there, but it tells them what else they can work on. In addition, it helps build or keep good rapport. No one likes to be looked in on and not know the results.

  • Step 4: Match an observation form to that goal.

    • Using an observation form will allow you to take detailed notes, collect specific evidence and stay focused. There will be tons of things happening the classroom that you will want to address. But staying focused on the goals, and the purpose is a must!

Once you have completed all the steps, you are ready to complete your Walkthrough or Observation.

Now let’s talk about the difference between the different types of observations you will complete as an Instructional Coach. 

Usually first few observations can be general, after your baseline Walkthrough or Observation, the rest should be specific.

The first observation is a Baseline Observation. The Baseline Observation is completed once a quarter and is meant to help you gather information in several areas. These areas include: 

  • Instructional Execution: In this baseline observation, you would talk about how they are tackling their instruction and making sure it is suited for their student group.

  • Learning Environment: Here you will discuss the makeup of their classrooms from where students are seated to the tools they have around the room to help students.

  • Classroom Management: This is a big one for teachers as we have all (or will) end up with a trying class or two in our time as a teacher. Helping teachers manage a rather unruly class or just help them with general classroom management can be essential to a healthy learning environment.

  • Student Engagement/Academic Behavior: When you decide to tackle this goal, you want to set clear expectations. What percentage of students do you expect to be working at a time? Of course, we would say 100% in a perfect world but we need to be realistic and set goals our teachers can meet.

  • Learning Targets: This one is HUGE. Sitting down and discussing where your teachers want their students to be and where you want their students to be is a big goal that will work on the entire year. Having clear learning targets is vital to success in every classroom.

  • Check for Understanding: Often times teachers (at no fault of their own) can get all caught up with hitting standards and benchmarks they forget about checking for understanding as they go. Encourage teachers to use an “exit slip” or another form of a CFU daily for their students.

These goals can be done in any order. You need to identify an area of need and go from there. You can also work on more than one goal at a time when appropriate. Remember these Baseline Observations are important to do once a quarter.

The second type of observation is a Positive Feedback Walkthrough. These types of observations are done once a month BUT they are not connected to any goal. Positive Feedback Walkthroughs are done simply to document something good that is going on in the classroom or that the teacher is doing. There are times or situations where these types of observations may be difficult to do. This makes them all the more important! Just like we all have one of “those” classes in our teaching career, we will have one of “those” teachers in our coaching career. It is vital to maintain a good working relationship to give positive feedback to all of the teachers we work with. No matter what, there is always something we can say that is positive about what a teacher is doing in their classroom. 

The third type of observation we can do is a Specific Focused observation. This observation can be a Walkthrough or an Observation. These observations are done when you have had a Baseline Observation and identified a specific goal or goals you and your teacher are working to complete. When you do a Specific Focused observation, you need to have a clear goal for your observation before you walk into the room. When you go into the room, you could be looking for evidence of student engagement, guided reading, guided math, block instructional execution in any classroom, the use of specific instructional strategies such as close reading, learning groups, etc. You may also be looking for co-teaching models, classroom management, and behavior management. 

No matter what you are looking for, make sure your purpose and feedback are clear.  

No matter how busy instructional coaching can become, it’s important that we are giving our all to all our teachers. In turn, they will give their all to their students which is what education is all about. 

What types of observations or walkthroughs do you do?


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2 thoughts on “Vary your Observations”

  1. So I’ve done a positive feedback walkthrough and a compliance walkthrough not knowing these had a name. Lol! This is my first year as an Instructional Coach. This week I will be doing a specific focused observation as part of a coaching cycle. Thanks for sharing Nicole.


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