One of my jobs in supporting schools is to work with the principal and coach on what to look for when they are coaching teachers and gathering data during phase two of the coaching process (observation, demonstrating, side-by-side coaching, co-observation).  When I am teaching them how to collect the data of teaching while they’re observing, I always give the same directive: write everything down.  They nod.

We head into the first classroom.

The second I sit down in a classroom, I start writing.  I jot down what the teacher is doing, I jot down what the kids are doing, I jot down what the assignment on the board says, I jot down how long certain tasks are taking, I jot down how many open-ended questions the teacher is asking the kids, I jot down who answers which questions.  I literally jot everything down…I never stop!

It is inevitable that when I stop to take a breath during my note-taking, I look over at the coach and principal and they have, at most, two bullet points jotted down.  And they look at me and one of them will whisper, “What on earth are you writing down?”

And I say, “Everything!”

I have learned through many years of observing teachers that the more I write down, the better my debriefing will go.  More information equals a stronger debriefing.

Also, more information means that I’m likely to be able to pick up on a pattern of behaviors that I might want to address.  For example, I remember visiting a classroom once where the teacher called on a student seventeen times in ten minutes, while the other kids did not even answer once.  I was able to say, during the debriefing, “Were you aware that you called on Kevin seventeen times in the ten minutes I was in your classroom and that the other students did not answer during that time?  What effect do you think that has on their skill mastery?  How might we adjust that so that all kids have the opportunity to respond and receive feedback from you?”
Without the data that I had gathered during my observation, my debriefing might have gone like this, “You know, you called on Kevin a lot.  I’d like to talk about how you can call on other kids more often.  What do you think?”

When I fail to gather enough data through my note-taking during an observation, I end up giving very vague and oftentimes evaluative data such as, “I really liked your lesson,” or “I think you should increase the level of engagement and get kids more engaged.”  We need to make the connection that the amount of data that I collect during an observation is linked to the quality of the debriefing with that teacher.

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