This year, I implemented an initiative in my Academy called the "Ashbrook Instructional Blog" to encourage teachers to informally observe their peers and post short reflections on the blog.
The blog itself is very basic, since my instructional focus was to establish comfort posting observations and reflections for group view. My primary objective was to allow our teachers to spend time in each other's classrooms, providing opportunities for learning.
Observations and comments were categorized: Technology, Instructional Strategies, Classroom Environment, & Assessment.
Teachers were asked to spend at least 20 minutes in the classroom and to make contact with the teacher before observing. Teachers were also asked not to "force" the posting, since the activity was for professional growth, not as a "check-list" item.
In addition, we were able to connect this activity to the PDP's (Professional Development Plans for non-NC educators) of teachers in my Academy. We were able to create a SMART Goal directly aligned with the North Carolina Educator Evaluation System (NCEES):
Standard(s): Standard IV
Element(s):4C. Teachers use a variety of instructional methods.
Goals for Elements:Capitalize on instructional Best Practices from within the school through digital collaboration
Activities/Actions: Complete at least two (2) informal peer Walk-Through's and reflective posts on school blog.
Expected Outcomes and Evidence of Completion: Teacher regularly implements a variety of instructional strategies that address students' learning styles.
Resource Needed: Colleagues, access to blog
Timeline: March, 2013
I also used this initiative as one of my own PDP Goals:
Goal(s): (Cultural Leadership) Focus on Collaborative Work Environment: The principal/assistant principal understands and acts on the understanding of the positive role that a collaborative work environment can play in the school’s culture.
Key Activities/Strategies (What you need to do to accomplish the goal): I will require teachers in Academy to observe two (2) peers and utilize blogger for digital collaboration. This will also serve as a PDP goal for each teacher, keeping them accountable.
Outcomes (Measurement): The "Ashbrook Instructional Blog" will contain numerous informal observation data on various instructional strategies, use of technology, and classroom management.
Incorporating the initiative in my own PDP, as well as the teacher's PDP, kept us all accountable. Some examples of blog postings:
German teacher observing Spanish teacher
I observed [teacher]'s 2nd period Spanish II class as they worked on reflexive verbs. [She] had a bell-ringer activity posted on the Smart Board, in which students had to fill in the verb table. Many students were selected to come to the Smart Board and fill in a cell of the table.
When students participated (by filling out part of a table, answering a question correctly or positively contributing to an activity) they were rewarded with a ticket. Students are expected to collect 5 tickets throughout the week and turn them in on Fridays for a grade. This system assures students are actively learning and provides teachers a way of measuring students' participation in the classroom.
ESL/LEP teacher observing English teacher
I observed [teacher]'s 4th period class. There were 15 challenging students in the class, but Mrs. Johnson did a fantastic job of keeping them on task and engaged. The students were reading Act I of "The Doll's House". She guided comprehension by using a variety of questioning techniques and stressing important reading strategies. Students were encouraged to make predictions; make inferences; make real life connections; re-read and re-tell. She did a great job explaining historical context and societal norms (1879). A quick (but appropriate)pace and interesting/lively discussion definitely increased student engagement.
Physics/Biology teacher observing Earth/Environmental Science teacher
One of the great things about being a science teacher is the ability to turn a lesson easily into something both inquiry based and relevant to the students' everyday lives. Last week, [teacher] had his APES students working on an energy usage lab where they started looking at energy efficiency in the school and then continued it over break wherever they were. The students were forced to pay attention to their environment and what kind of footprint they were leaving. I spoke with a few of them about the lab and they were surprised by what they were finding.
I encouraged teachers to observe one teacher within their content area and one teacher outside of their content area. As a result, we had such learning opportunities as an ROTC teacher observing a Spanish teacher, a MITA-Excel/Word/Access teacher observing an Algebra teacher, and an English teacher observing a Psychology teacher, just to cite a few examples. In each "Weekly Update" Monday emails, I would recognize and thank each teacher for contributing to the blog during the previous week.
I continually stress to all teachers the fact that I learned the most applicable instructional strategies the first year I was OUT of the classroom, simply because I was given the opportunity to spend time in classrooms beyond my own. Therefore, I am a strong proponent of providing strategic methods to encourage our teachers to spend time in each other's classes.
The Ashbrook Instructional Blog initiative created a forum for our teachers to become more comfortable using a 21st Century reflection tool, while hopefully motivating them to learn and grow from their colleagues through observing instructional "Best Practices".
I consider this to be a win-win. On to next year's initiative.
Thanks for reading,
The opinions shared in this blog belong to Craig Smith and do not represent the school or district in which he works.