Collaborating, learning, and supporting the coaching process in underserved districts.

How Soon Is Too Soon to Observe Teachers?

How Soon Is Too Soon to Observe Teachers?

How soon is too soon to visit classrooms? Maybe that is the wrong question. How soon is too soon to start observing teachers and providing feedback? This is my struggle.

Of course, as a coach, I want to get into classrooms as soon as possible. But I am fearful. If I push too hard, I run the risk of damaging the relationships my job requires. The start of the year is an overwhelming, busy, stressful experience and it takes time to establish a routine. Teachers are skittish and visiting too soon can seem pushy. For insecure teachers or in schools with a poor culture, it can seem like the ultimate gotcha. Then there are the schools where 1st week, five-minute visits are the only time anyone comes into classrooms. As you can see, most of us have a lot of baggage from bad experiences when it comes to classroom visits.

Even the terminology is problematic. ‘Observation’ has a connotation of formality and evaluation. And ‘walk-through’ was always a junk term. ‘Learning walk’ can be better depending on the implementation though it doesn’t really mean anything to most teachers. Like, who is learning? The walker or the teacher or the students? I try to say “visit”or pop-in”…and I am still not satisfied with those either.

If I wait too long, a whole different set of problems can arise. Teachers won't find me visible and will wonder what exactly I do all day. Share on X

Anyway, how soon is too soon? If I wait too long, a whole different set of problems can arise. Teachers won’t find me visible and will wonder what exactly I do all day. Administrators will want immediate data I won’t have yet. I run the risk of allowing questionable practices to go unchecked and allow my staff to feel complacent. Teachers are myopic. If it seems to be working from their own perspective, and I am not there to offer another, they are too busy to dig deeper to improve.

Teachers hate feeling judged. This is cultural–societal. We are everyone’s favorite scapegoat and most convenient target. We also push and punish ourselves for factors well beyond our control. The thought of another teacher being sanctioned to judge our teaching is unlikely to be eagerly anticipated.

So I keep wondering: How soon is too soon? My current compromise isn’t ideal and I hope time will help me develop more strategic ways to handle this question. For now, I simply pop-in to offer assistance and ask how things are going for each teacher. I don’t sit down or hang around unless I am asked to help. I don’t take notes or send feedback or do any of the anxiety triggering things that set teachers off.

Week three, all that must change. Two weeks is enough to get it together. The start of the year excuses centered around teaching rules and establishing routines have mostly expired. Students and teachers are easing from the first date to honeymoon and the instructional patterns set now will likely echo across the school year. Out comes the note-taking, questioning, feedback, and formal conversations. Well, for most teachers. A few will need an extra week or two, or perhaps another tactic.

I don’t know the answer, but I constantly wonder: How soon is too soon to visit classrooms?

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