As a principal who has taught high school classes, how do I offer credible feedback to a primary grade level teacher?

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JNewblom 9 months 1 Answer 139 views 0

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  1. It isn’t unusual for a secondary-trained principal to find himself/herself leading an elementary staff or a school configuration that includes elementary grades. Elementary teachers may wonder if the evaluator who never taught young children can fairly observe and credibly offer them feedback about their work. The principal may also wonder if he/she really knows what to look for in, for instance, a kindergarten community circle or primary grade learning centers or how to assess whether an elementary science lesson is appropriately rigorous. Several things can lead to success:

    1. The principal can acknowledge that the work of elementary teachers is different from his/her own secondary experiences in some ways and similar in others. Certain things like clear expectations, engagement, differentiation, quality formative feedback, etc. are important for students of all ages to succeed. Other practices like guided reading groups or phonemic work for young readers might be unfamiliar to a principal who taught secondary math. Recognizing and voicing these things gives more credibility to the evaluator especially if he/she shows an openness to learning more about elementary best practices that are new to him/her.

    2. The principal can work some teacher leaders or instructional coaches or can seek out other elementary-trained colleagues to gain understanding of strong practices that he/she should be seeing in elementary classroom observations. This can include getting some texts by recognized experts in early literacy, mathematics, classroom culture/management. It can include examining research on developmentally appropriate practices (DAP) for different age levels. It should definitely include some reading/discussion about key instructional initiatives the staff has engaged in prior to the principal’s arrival and some understanding of the professional development they’ve engaged in together.

    3. A secondary-trained principal might do several instructional rounds with an elementary-trained expertness (teacher leader, instructional coach, local university education professor, professional developer, curriculum director, fellow principal) so that they can watch the same performance and then discuss together the strengths they saw in the performance and suggestions for improvement. Doing this several times a year can help the principal keep growing as an observer and strengthen his/her ability to give feedback that is not only appropriate but helpful.

    4. The principal might gather a small group of teacher leaders to give some feedback about his/her evaluation skills. Where is he/she missing things that teachers would like examined? Are there developmentally-appropriate expectations? Is the observation/feedback offering teachers true opportunities to grow or is it too narrowly focused on “familiar” things the principal feels comfortable observing such as student behavior or types of questions? When the principal asks for feedback (and, in fact, does so using specific questions like these) he/she models what growth mindset can look like to teachers the principal leads. I know a principal who surveyed the staff and asked “What are three titles/articles you believe I should read in order to be more knowledgeable about the work we are doing with students and better able to give you strong feedback when I observe?” The principal shared the list of suggestions with all staff and gave monthly updates on “here’s what I’m reading.” This showed teachers a true commitment to building a knowledge base to serve them well AND had the added benefit of giving teachers a solid list of professional resources for their own growth.

    5. Secondary-trained principals may really benefit from the creation of short walkthrough checklists for various facets of elementary classroom instruction. For example, if a principal observes during literacy time, what are ten things he/she could be looking for? What about during small group reading instruction? Circle time? Examining the classroom organization and structure? Math groups? Writing workshop? Well-designed and supervised indoor recess? Getting help to put these together may provide some great guidance about “what to look for” in observations or may allow for walkthroughs that are targeted on some of these specifics.

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