As with any assessment activity you do, the goal is to use the information you collect to improve outcomes for the children in your care. The same goes for classroom visits. Feedback to staff should focus on instruction and classroom practices. The information collected during classroom visits should be used to provide quality feedback to the instructional staff as part of your school’s ongoing efforts to achieve the targeted literacy goals of the TSLP.
In focusing on targeted literacy goals, observers should look for how well teachers implement the following:
- Instruction and programming that meet the expectations of your data-informed plan for improving language and pre-literacy instruction
- Programming and services that meet the needs of diverse learners (English learners, dual language learners, children with advanced skills, children identified with delays or disabilities)
- Connections to home and collaboration with families
- Use of assessment data (i.e., information from developmental checklists, observations of children, pre-literacy screeners) to plan care and instruction
This Action Step is closely aligned with those in the Leadership component, particularly Action Step L4. Lesson L4—Instructional leadership is focused on your role as an instructional leader and provides guidance in observing and providing feedback to staff. You and your team may also read or review Lesson E2—Rich environment for further guidance in creating tools for your classroom visits that are designed to measure staff’s implementation of effective classroom instruction. Also, the “Literacy Walkthrough Template for Early Learning Classrooms,” from the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), is one available resource that can serve as a guide as you create or refine the tools you use for your classroom visits at the prekindergarten level.
In the NAESP guide, administrators can focus on one of three areas (learning, teaching, and classroom environment) and its related indicators during each of their visits. Any checklists that you adopt or create can be broken down with a focus on just certain practices to observe during a single walk-through. This may help the observer and teacher feel less overwhelmed by the classroom visit process. Further resources are available in the To Learn More section.
Once visits are conducted, you and your team will need to establish a system of providing feedback to staff and communicate this system clearly. You may develop a system for debriefing with staff after observations, focusing both on areas of strength and needed development.
The feedback that leaders give to teachers after a classroom observation can include discussion about
- how effectively children are learning;
- how engaging the language and pre-literacy lessons are and whether they are implemented consistently each day;
- how well prepared teachers are;
- how effectively materials are being used; and/or
- how regularly teachers consult data to help them plan instruction.
During debriefings (or conferences) after visiting classrooms, you will want to ensure that the teachers have an opportunity to communicate what they feel their successes and challenges are, as well as ways they would like to be supported in meeting their goals. When communicating your observations to staff, you want to be prepared to offer clear suggestions and a plan of support for improving in areas of need. Some key strategies for debriefing include (1) recognizing both strengths and needs, (2) validating teachers’ efforts in trying new practices, and (3) deciding together which next steps to take.
How and what feedback is provided has great potential for supporting growth in your staff. Providing feedback effectively may be one of a school leader’s most important skills. This handout provides a summary of Grant Wiggins’ “Seven Keys to Effective Feedback” for you and your team to review. There is a link to the full article on the handout and in the To Learn More section below.
As school leaders, you will analyze and use information collected from classroom visits to continually assess your school’s progress toward targeted goals and provide support where needed. Classroom visits are a key practice in identifying staff’s strengths and needs, and you can use this information to build on their efforts to achieve learning goals. This information can inform your plan for professional development throughout the year, as well as direct you in identifying and providing resources to staff that support them in their efforts to provide the best care and instruction possible.
Likewise, regular and systematic classroom visits allow you to identify effective teachers and build site capacity by empowering them to take on leadership roles.
Finally, you will want to include teacher input as you evaluate and revise your plan for improving language and pre-literacy instruction based on the information you collect from your classroom visits.
Setting a clear purpose for formal classroom visits, communicating that purpose, and providing teachers with quality feedback on their instruction are the key practices of effective teacher observations. As an important aspect of instructional leadership, classroom visits encourage a school climate of collaboration, teamwork, and support for both your teachers and the children under your care.
TO LEARN MORE: Use the following resources to learn more about classroom visits to support teachers and children.
“Using Classroom Walkthroughs to Improve Instruction,” available on the National Association for Elementary School Principals (NAESP) website, describes key ways that classroom visits can improve instruction and create a campus climate of collaboration and improvement. Although the article is written for elementary principals, much of the information can be helpful to you in establishing the purpose and goals of your system.
The “Texas School Ready! Language and Literacy Checklist,” from the Texas State Center for Early Childhood Development, is a tool available from the Children’s Learning Institute. You may decide to focus on part of this checklist during certain classroom visits. You can use this checklist as a guide to create developmentally appropriate checklists for use in observations of classes with infants and toddlers.
As with any Action Step that focuses on measuring care and instruction for children age 0 to school entry (SE), it can be helpful to review the various state guidelines and use them as you establish what to look for during classroom observations. These include the Texas Infant, Toddler, and Three-Year-Old Early Learning Guidelines and the Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines (Updated 2015)
“Seven Keys to Effective Feedback,” published in Educational Leadership, provides more information about the points mentioned on the lesson handout.
NEXT STEPS: Depending on your progress in establishing your system for classroom visits, you might consider the following next steps:
- Meet with your leadership team to establish or solidify expectations about formal classroom visits.
- Create a schedule for conducting classroom visits and conferencing or debriefing with staff.
- Create a classroom observation tool for use in documenting implementation of practices, strategies, and approaches targeted in your site’s data-informed plan for improving language and pre-literacy instruction.
- Plan a time to meet with staff and outline goals, expectations, and schedules for formal classroom visits