Positive Pressure and Support – Part 2: Supervision

So, you’re waist deep in your school’s initiative. Maybe it’s improving learning by taking advantage of 1to1 tablets or laptops, or through proficiency-based learning, or with a focus on student motivation and engagement.

And you are providing teachers with training and resources. And you are working to leverage Positive Pressure and Support to drive your initiative to a high level of implementation. You’ve taken the first step and set expectations with your staff. In general, your staff are working to put those into action.

And you’re ready to move your implementation to the next level. It’s time to focus on supervision.

Most educators really do work hard at trying to do a good job in all aspects, not just for the initiative, and that means that they are busy and have lots of (sometimes contradictory) priorities they are trying to address. Knowing what school leaders are keeping an eye on can help focus their efforts. Frankly, even the best teachers are more likely to address priorities that they know are being supervised. An expectation that is simply stated is not as likely to be implemented as one that is both stated and monitored. Think of the old assessment adage, “What gets measured gets done.”

Several strategies help leaders supervise for the implementation of their initiative.

Supervise: Check With Teachers
Periodically checking in with teachers can go a long way toward increasing implementation. Check their lesson plans. Are they clearly planning to use desired strategies as often as you’d like? You don’t necessarily have to have everyone turn in their plans weekly. Random spot checks can be powerful and not a time-sink for you. You can always increase the frequency of checks with teachers who need a little extra encouragement.

Alternately, give teachers a weekly survey. In Advantage 2014, Auburn’s iPads in kindergarten initiative, they used a Google form to survey the teachers each week. They simply had to select drop down choices for each item, such as how many times this week did you use iPads in literacy centers? Or how often this week did you use iPads for individual student interventions? These survey questions came directly from their expectations for the program (see the previous post). They also included “what have been your successes?” and “what have been your challenges?” as open response questions in the survey. This was an added bonus, because it provided invaluable information on when a teacher might be a resource to others and where teachers need additional (and timely!) support.

Supervise: Talk About Implementation at Staff Meetings
Take a little time at every staff meeting (or grade level meeting, or department meeting, etc.) to talk about the initiative. Make sure there is time for teachers to share what specific things they have done and what has gone well or what has been challenging. Sometimes use information you have gotten from the surveys to either offer a tip that might be a quick fix to a challenge, or to ask a teacher who has had a success to take 5-10 minutes to describe what they did, or to model a lesson.

It doesn’t hurt to review the specific expectations and even have a conversation about any of them that teachers want to talk about. Of course, people are people, so such open conversations about expectations, expectations that some might be struggling with, takes good facilitation skills (e.g. have you collaboratively set norms with your staff for discussions in staff meetings?).

(Note: if you want to be a leader for school change, one of the biggest favors you can do for yourself is to learn effective strategies for facilitating difficult conversations. No one really enjoys conflict or when emotions are running high, but, in the end, your colleagues will appreciate your working to deal with those situations in a respectful, safe way, rather than avoiding them and brushing them under the rug – or worse! Dealing with them ineffectively will only increase conflict and make emotions higher…)

It is clear that taking the time to talk about their strategies for implementing the initiative (and meeting expectations) will reinforce the expectations. And this strategy will tell the staff that this is important and that you want to keep moving toward your  vision.

But it is also a supervisory move. Who is sharing and who isn’t? What does what each teacher shares tell you about how they are doing with the initiative? Are they just “yes ma’am”-ing you, or are they really trying strategies (even if they aren’t being entirely successful yet)? Do their comments show depth (like they’re really trying and thinking about what they are trying), or are comments kind of superficial (like they want you to think they are trying)?

Supervise: Conduct Walk-Throughs 
“Walk-throughs” can mean different things to different people, or in different contexts. Here, we mean frequent, brief classroom visits. It is helpful to use some short of checklist or form to collect a little data on observable instructional characteristics connected to your initiative and to your explicit expectations. So, in the context of Positive Pressure and Support, walk-throughs are when you quietly drop into the room, watch, make a few marks on a form, smile at the teacher, and leave.

And I especially do not mean the classroom observations that are used for evaluation. Walk-throughs work best when they are used as formative assessment (information to guide and inform your efforts to increase the level of implementation), rather than as evaluative data. Teachers will behave differently when they believe they are being evaluated, not simply observed or supported. The best walk-through data (data that will help you increase the level of implementation of your initiative) comes when teachers feel safe when being observed.

In fact, if you are the one doing teacher appraisals and evaluations, you may not be the right person to do the walk-throughs. Perhaps they could be handed off to a technology integrator or learning coach.

If you are going to do these walk-throughs, you may have to do some groundwork with your staff to help them understand the difference between this data and appraisal data, and reassure staff that this data will be used to help the school get better at the initiative, not for their evaluations. (Of course, it goes without saying that the quickest way to undermine your own initiative is to violate staff trust by using this walk through data for evaluations.)

Alternately, having teachers do walk-throughs on each other can be a powerful strategy that produces added benefits. You can free staff to take a period every couple of weeks to do drop-in walk throughs of their peers. Not only do teachers often feel safer being observed by their peers, but teachers are often isolated from each other, and seeing other teachers teach can give the visiting teacher ideas for their own practice.

Observations forms should match your initiative’s goals and your expectatons. A quick google search will help you find samples, or you can create your own. For Advantage 2014, Auburn created a walk-through form for principals, connected directly to their expectations. There is a wonderful online walk through service called iWalkThrough. It allows you to use a laptop, tablet, or smart phone to record your observable data using one of their pre-established observation forms. Other programs and initiatives have created walk-through forms, as well.

Supervise: Talk About Walk-Through and Level of Implementation Data
Clearly there is little “positive pressure” unless you use the data you have collected. How do you leverage that data, if you aren’t going to use it for evaluation? How can it be used to increase the level of implementation?

Start with tabulating data so that you can get a quick picture of where the staff is as a whole. One advantage of iWalkThrough and other online walk-through systems is that they automatically do this for you (in fact, because everyone using a particular system, such as iWalkThrough, is using the same observation forms, you can even see how your school is doing against the aggregate performance of all users that use that system). Sharing this data at a staff meeting gives you the opportunity to have the staff comment on the school’s progress (including praise, and recognizing effort and progress), and even brainstorm how they might move to the next level. This is especially helpful as data is collected over time and the school can track its progress month to month, or term to term.

Tools like iWalkThrough will even allow you to use the data in interesting ways. In one staff meeting at a school, the facilitator called up the data and created a graph mapping “level of student engagement” onto “level of Blooms.” Wasn’t that telling! You can do similar kinds of investigations if you put your own hand collected data into a spreadsheet, but that’s a little more involved.

Tabulating individual teacher data will let you know where each staff member is, and provides the opportunity to have conversations with each teacher about their own progress and about setting individual goals (but I don’t recommend this unless you have been using the school data alone for a while and are starting to see progress). Having teachers examine their own level of implementation against the school’s aggregate data can be a reality check. Sometimes, teachers who are struggling think everyone else is, too, and they believe they are doing just fine. But seeing that the school as a whole is ahead of them can lead them to ask what others are doing that they are not (if they feel safe and supported). Conversely, teachers who are way ahead of the school as a whole can shift from being frustrated that others aren’t further, to thinking about how they might support their colleagues.

 

Supervising is where you create the “positive pressure” to move your initiative to a higher level of implementation. Supervising helps provide your staff the feedback and evidence they need to continue to move toward the school’s vision. But keep in mind that it is “positive” pressure you’re looking for. Negative pressure is likely to take you in the other direction, toward a lower level of implementation. You need the pressure to help drive your initiative, but you need to be mindful of whether you are creating positive or negative pressure.

Other than the strategies described here, how else might you create positive pressure?

 

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