Constructive over Critical: Informal Observations & Teacher Feedback – with Jessica Cabeen

Constructive over Critical: Informal Observations & Teacher Feedback – with Jessica Cabeen

In this episode, I’m bringing in my friend – author, speaker, middle school award winning principal Jessica Cabeen. We’re talking the ins and outs of classroom informal observations. What works, the challenges administrators and teachers face, and ways we can take these moments to the next level. If you are a teacher, this is real talk behind the scenes from too experienced principals that may give insight into how it all works. A powerful way to helps kids improve is to give meaningful feedback to their teachers! Administrators, you know how hard this is, so let’s get real on this issue. Follow, connect, and share your thoughts with me at @_andyjacks and with Jessica @JessicaCabeen &

The following tips and strategies are gathered from my conversation with Jessica in this podcast. There were so many great ideas, that it was begging to be put in writing as well. Thank you Jessica! 

Staying Connected

This summer, make sure to realize the importance of networking and connecting with other leaders to help work through stress and problems that you are facing, especially this year after dealing with the pandemic. Your self-care depends on how well you can rely on your colleagues, both locally and nationally, to help you get through all this! Consider attending your state and national conferences to do just this! Consider joining Jessica and I in our NAESP Preconference Workshop for Assistant Principals and Aspiring Leaders!

Intentional Planning

It’s critical right now to be intentional in planning for this year since last year was so unstable and unpredictable. Many of our plans went by the wayside, so now is a great opportunity to think ahead at your plan for getting back to normal or address new ways of conducing business. On of the ways you can help improve things going forward is to remember one of the most important and basic functions of the administrator role: use an effective and efficient walkthrough form and process to give constructive feedback to your teachers. 

Creating a New Walkthrough Form

Consider using comprehensive leadership team to create your walkthrough form together. This helps cultivate other leaders and built leadership capacity. Making a form is a great opportunity to focus on major aims to reinforce, reteach, or recognize practices that go along with the team’s goals.

4 Ways to Give Effective Constructive Feedback

Build consistency and visibility by creating routines that get you in rooms. Make sure to visit all areas and departments to people don’t feel unintentionally undervalued.

  1. Align your school’s instructional goals for the year with what measurements you use to monitor them, and you must not forget your walkthrough form as another tool for this measurement. What are your goals? Do others know what they are? Are they incorporated into what you do, what you monitor, and what you give feedback on?
  2. Celebrate successes that you observe that align to your school goals. Share these best practices and great strategies to others in the school on a regular basis. This can create a more positive school culture that acknowledges growth, learning, and hard work.
  3. Be timely in your feedback to teachers. As leaders we can help reduce teacher anxiety and stress that they may be feeling from an administrator visit. Try to give feedback to them as soon as possible. Consider the coaching mindset to give more continuous feedback. Help make it more natural and relaxed through ongoing positive and meaningful suggestions.
  4. Don’t avoid your best teachers when doing observations and giving feedback. All teachers deserve these coaching opportunities. New principals and assistant principals, go visit the master teachers and learn from them. Learn what they do, how they do it, and the nuance behind why their teaching is so impactful.

7 Ways to Plan for Tough Conversations

It’s not easy for either the administrator or the teacher when tough conversations need to occur. It’s emotionally challenging for all involved. Many times, school leaders avoid these tough conversations because of this, but this never helps and only makes things even more challenging down the road. We can’t go in without a plan. Check out these 7 ways that we can think ahead and be better prepared.

  1. Plan ahead for tough conversations. Consider your intentions and hopeful outcomes.
  2. Script out talking points ahead of time and practice reading through them to see how they sound.
  3. Be specific, fact-based, and unemotional with your suggestions or observation notes. Be careful with anything that might sound subjective or judgmental.
  4. Ask for feedback by role playing with other administrators. This is a great way for them to learn and reflect on their upcoming meetings, too.
  5. After the meeting, make sure to circle back around to them soon in an informal and casual manner. It’s our job to help reduce grudges or awkward feelings that may linger after these meetings. It’s very helpful for our world too, since it can also make us feel better. Win-win.
  6. Before you give your feedback, consider asking them to share their thoughts on what could be improved. So many times, they are spot on with their reflections. This can take the pressure off you when delivering the ‘bad news’ to them.

Student Behavior is Feedback on Teacher Performance

Student behavior in the class and the overall feeling of the learning environment are feedback on how the class is doing and the teachers’ skills. This doesn’t mean we should blame teachers. We can’t get caught in that trap. No shame, no blame….but it is our jog to ensure we are all responsible for improving the situation. That means we should acknowledge where things are and what needs to improve. In some cases, that’s a reality check for many people once they have to look more in the mirror on their own performance.

No Guilt, but Grace

Don’t be too tough on yourself if you have a plan to get all these observations done, get in rooms and be actively involved, but the other responsibilities come up that get in the way. It happens. Expect it. Give yourself grace and understanding.

More regular feedback reduces the pressure on each piece of feedback we give. Getting in to rooms more often helps form relationships as well. Consider the continuum of observations and feedback. Not everything has to be a written-out formal process.

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