I recently videotaped a post-observation conference with a teacher whom I had observed in a Language Arts classroom as part of an assignment for my JHUISTE course in "Supervision and Professional Development." The full-cycle observation also included a pre-conference in which the teacher identified specific areas where she needed some help. Here's what I learned about myself in the process:
• What strengths and/or improvement areas did you notice about the environment and tone of the post-observation?
I met Miss Mills, a third year middle school Language Arts teacher, in her classroom for the post-observation conference; we sat across from each other at one of the student tables. This arrangement seemed to be appropriate for our work. She was in her comfort zone, i.e., her classroom, where she spends a good part of her day. It also made it possible for both of us to motion toward different areas of the room when taking about particular things that happened or pointing out specifics about particular students whose names I didn’t know.
The tone of the post-observation was mostly positive. Miss Mills seemed a bit nervous, but this may have been due in part to the fact that I was videotaping the exchange. I also knew going in that Miss Mills was somewhat embarrassed about her performance as a teacher with this particular class, with whom she struggles with behavior and discipline on a regular basis. However, she was very open and honest about this in the pre-conference, and this made it possible for us to focus my observation on an area that she named as her weakness and one where she needed “another pair of eyes.” She was very open and receptive to my feedback and determined to apply new strategies to positively impact her students’ learning.
One thing I fumbled with was the papers that I brought to the conference. I had the notes I had taken during the observation, plus two versions of a feedback form, as well as another tool that I was going to share with Miss Mills. In spite of preparing beforehand, when it came time to share documents, I was not on top of my game. Perhaps applying sticky notes to the various documents would make things more clear for on-the-spot delivery purposes. While I felt a bit disorganized at that moment, Miss Mills remained calm and patient, and very eager to receive the documentation that I brought to the table.
• What strengths and/or improvement areas did you notice in the conference about strategies to improve instruction?
The success of the observation and post-observation was due in large part to the data collection tool that I employed. Miss Mills requested that I focus my observation on student behavior, or more aptly, misbehavior. We were both convinced that she was very comfortable and competent in her delivery of course content. When I presented this scenario to my instructor, she recommended an “ABC Chart,” i.e. Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence Chart. This made it very easy for me during the class period to focus on what prompted specific behaviors and how the teacher did or did not respond.
In reviewing a series of these ABCs after one class observation, the teacher and I were able to identify definite trends and behavior patterns that were supporting the misbehaviors. For example, one of the behaviors that were troublesome was that some students were calling out the answers. But the observation showed that Miss Mills often accepted answers that students shouted out. She even affirmed their correctness! When she saw this on paper time after time, she realized that what she did not want them to do, she was in fact supporting by her own behavior. An easy fix! This data was far easier to share in this format than it would have been had I completed a narrative observation form in which I documented everything that was said and done in that classroom.
One of the things I was most proud of in the outcome of the observation was that in looking at her performance in the classroom and reflecting on it together, Miss Mills was able to answer the very questions that she presented to me in the pre-conference. This was significant because Miss Mills realized that she had it within herself to address her issues; the solutions were not things imposed from an outsider.
• In the conference, which behavior did you seem to predominantly use? Do you think this was an appropriate approach given the developmental level of the teacher? Briefly explain.
In looking back at my post-observation conference with Miss Mills, I predominantly used a reflection approach. By sharing the data that I had collected, I reflected back to Miss Mills exactly what I had seen and heard in her classroom. Removed from the actual teaching scenario, she could look at the exchanges between herself and her students with a more critical eye and see patterns of behavior that could be worked on and changed to bring about the desired result. I also felt like I was in the posture of a coach. I didn’t tell Miss Mills what to do to correct the behavior problems in her classroom. I simply shared the data, pure and simple, and in seeing it and talking through it, Miss Mills came up with strategies for how she would go about addressing the problems she presented when we commenced with this observation cycle. It was a relief to know that I was not responsible for providing all the answers or solutions!