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The Center for Educational Improvement
Classroom Observation - Your Next Teaching Tool  

Free Administrator Workshop:

STEPS to the Common Core 

Washington, DC

May 11, 2011
**RSVP by April 26**
Contact: Dr. Mason
[email protected] for further information

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CEI is available to offer administrator planning workshops
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In This Issue
Evaluating for Improvement
Our Approach to Observations, Walk-Throughs, and Teacher Coaching
Quick Links
Contact Information

Contact our Executive Director, Dr. Christine Mason.

 Email:[email protected]

(571) 213-3192


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A Short List of Do's and Don'ts for Effective Coaching


  • Find time to listen to the teacher
  • Provide resources, do research, help teachers connect with others in their buildings
  • Find a few things to set as goals - and set goals with teachers
  • Ask teachers to self-reflect
  • When possible, get lesson plans ahead of time - critique plans and provide written feedback
  • Provide written feedback after every session
  • Focus on communication 
  • Consider videotaping



  • Bombard the teacher with too many recommendations
  • Expect that the teacher will change overnight
  • Be too late with your feedback. If necessary schedule phone conferencing for follow-up
  • Contradict other administrators in your building. Consistency is important
  • Focus solely on behavior or academics - look at the bigger picture
  • Forget to begin and end with aspects that are going well 


Curriculum Pacing and

the Common Core

CEI is now offering "curriculum pacing" workshops to assist educators with preparing for the common core standards. Working with Dr. David Silverberg of Ashland University in Cleveland, and Kathy Ward Cameron of the Early Literacy Institute, CEI is available to provide technical assistance to administrators and summer workshops for teachers. 

Details, schedules, and more information will be available soon!

Contact us at [email protected] 


From the desk of Christine Mason...


The Quality of Expectations
 and Supports


Teacher accountability is the buzz. Performance contracts. Students who achieve. Yet, if we filter through the regulations, trends, and expectations, what is really important -- for schools, for students, for tomorrow? What is enduring? And what new expectations are truly important?


More and more we hear that teaching and learning are greater than a standardized test score. With the focus on the Common Core Standards comes a desire on the part of many to revamp education. For many, revamping means taking away the superfluous and building in the knowledge and skills that are most critical for students as they leave the k-12 safety net and venture out to colleges and the world of work. What truly matters? It could be the quality of the expectation that makes the difference. 


Some have said that life is a journey and that the value is not primarily in "reaching the goal" but rather in the quality of the journey along the way.
We have focused on end results for the past decade. If the journey is important, certainly the quality of teacher-pupil interactions and the "stuff" that happens in classrooms is important in and of itself. Interactions can make or break situations. Encouragement can be just what one student needs, while another may flourish with a different type of support - perhaps the second student needs more guidance from the teacher, or a multi-media approach, or some freedom to be creative.  How can teachers work with, collaborate with, plan and implement with, students so that they have a first-class trip - so that their journey is a truly remarkable experience?  


Feedback to teachers - conferencing with teachers - can make a difference. Not every teacher is an overnight success. Mentoring, coaching, observing, prompting, modeling skills, and even co-teaching with teachers can be effective tools.  However, more often than not, this coaching is also a journey rather than what might be billed as "one session with the guru."  Sometimes the little things - smiling, voice tone, using a word from the student's native language, make a world of difference.  Systematic observation, feedback, and coaching can help teachers reflect on their  progress and can help teachers build skills to become more effective. With this issue of Wow! we provide some info about what truly makes a difference when it comes to coaching, including a list of the do's and don'ts for effective coaching.



Effective Evaluation
Evaluating for Improvement

by Sharlen Smith, CEI Intern 

Stu Tables


With America's low educational scores, many schools and districts are looking for ways to improve teacher effectiveness, student engagement, and the overall school experience for parents, teachers, administrators, and students. The U.S. Department of Education and Learning Point Associates released an article (Oliva et al., 2009) explaining the positive implications of teacher evaluations and observations.


Teacher observation and coaching are different from formal teacher performance evaluations. Observation/coaching sessions are designed to facilitate teacher growth by sharing strategies and reflecting together on successes as strategies for improvement.  However, these observation/ coaching sessions need to be done frequently and adequately to gain real results.

  1. It is important to give feedback to both new and experienced teachers.
  2. It is not just about checking off a teacher as "satisfactory," it's about providing the teachers with useful information about their performance, both negative and positive.
  3. Teachers need necessary trainings outside the classroom to continue working on their skills.


The Regional Educational Laboratory of the Midwest conducted a research study on what makes effective evaluation successful and why effective evaluations are needed. In order to be productive, multiple evaluators are needed. Principals and administrators are good but including outside teacher mentors is even better. While the RELM focused on evaluation, their points hold true for the informal observation/coaching systems as well.  


In fact, peers or outside consultants often are selected to facilitate observation/coaching. Observations often focus on an array of teaching skills, with an eye toward student responses. Observers look for teachers' understanding of "curriculum, content, and instruction" as well as knowledge of student behavior.  


Both tenured and untenured teachers should be observed. All teachers benefit from observation and feedback sessions.  


The informal observation/ coaching sessions must be conducted within the context of the larger "teacher evaluation" system including the school administrators' 2-3 formal evaluations each year. Many teachers also gain new skills more quickly when less formal observations are also made four or five times a year. Research has shown that video recording is a very effective way for teachers to understand where their strengths and weaknesses are.


For outside evaluators/observers to be effective, communication with teachers and administrators is critical. Building trusting relationships is important to the evaluation process so that teachers appreciate the results and feel the evaluations are reliable.  


To improve trust and build a cooperative working relationship, teachers need to be informed early in the year of administrator and school expectations. In many schools teacher-leaders participate in designing those expectations. Teachers also need one-on-one conferences to know what to improve and how they can do it.  In fact, schools where administrators "walk through" classes on a daily basis are schools where teachers report more administrator support.  


Observation/coaching is an essential part of the evaluation/growth process for teachers. With the best systems, teachers have the opportunity to set their own goals and to use the information from observers to create bases for their strengths and weaknesses. When teachers feel included, they are more likely to listen, feel ownership, and make the effort that is needed for improvement.


Based on an article by Michelle Oliva, Carrie Mathers, and Sabrina Laine. Principal Leadership. March 2009. 

Our Approach to Observation, Walk-Throughs, and Teacher Coaching

        by Dr. Christine Mason

The CEI team uses the CEI Observation Rubric (a four point rating scale) to observe teachers and provide feedback and coaching to them. The rubric consists of a few different analytical points such as student-teacher behavior, student engagement, and questioning skills that we use to evaluate the effectiveness of the teacher's style. Each CEI team member has an iPad that is loaded with the eCove observation system( . This system allows us to provide feedback soon after classroom observations and also to compile data to analyze trends. Some of the areas measured by the CEI rubric include: posting of standards and essential questions, use of interactive word walls, levels of questioning, student engagement, teacher-pupil interactions, lesson plans, and lesson delivery. There are also optional places to score evidence of modifications/differentiation, self-determination, career/transitional services, strategies for English Language Learners, and use of research-based strategies.

We combine observation with coaching and conferencing. Teachers and administrators receive a follow-up email with the CEI eCove notes. These notes include a summary of "teacher strengths" and "recommendations." CEI also has a battery of strategies that we commonly use to strengthen teaching. These include such things as assisting schools with student motivation (see the Wow! factor below), work with incentives, teacher organization and planning, classroom management, assessment and data- driven instruction, and "deep learning" or conceptual knowledge. As CEI consultants work with teachers they build on teacher strengths and comfort levels, modeling strategies and providing on-site teaching demonstrations.  



To facilitate this work we sometimes interview students, offer training to groups or teams of teachers, and consider whether to work through co-teaching: training teams of teachers, and how to fit our recommendations into a school's professional development schedule, paying attention to the uniqueness of the culture and mission of the individual school.

During the teacher intervention phase, key staff meet periodically with administrators, ensuring that we are coordinating efforts and assessing and planning the next steps. Sometimes teachers send lesson plans to CEI ahead of time for review and recommendations prior to implementation. Sometimes teachers are asked to provide a weekly self-reflection. CEI also produces the Wow! Ed newsletter and the Wow! Ed archive available to facilitate learning, but also the CEI Briefs. These one page briefs provide quick, easy to read, overviews of such teaching strategies as "Using Exit Slips," "Time Chunking" and "Motivating Students through Multicultural Sensitivity." Each of these strategies is key to increasing the impact of our work at an individual school.

Embracing Observation as a Teaching Tool

by Carolyn Lieberg



Most of us prefer to dodge classroom observations in the same way that many people postpone joining the gym or going to the dentist. That fear of the unknown and the possibility of bad news brings out apprehensions. Of course our wiser selves know that there may be good news as well as some opportunities to learn more about ourselves and even take steps toward change and improvement. Because teaching involves so much of our total selves, we naturally feel more threatened than if we were being assessed, for example, on the way we hold a bowling ball. But those doubts are a hump worth getting over.


Fortunately, continuing research shows the positive effect of regular observations. In the Assess to Learn Project in New Zealand, (Poskitt & Taylor, 2008), the teachers reported on the improvement in uses of formative assessment practice, such as Exit Slips, through clarifying learning for students. These improvements were linked to regular observations and working with observers on planning and goal-setting. Prior to scheduled observations, CEI observers have customarily done "walk-throughs" as part of the needs assessment, after which they speak with the teacher about concerns that each has.     


One excellent reason to embrace observations is because in fact teachers have only one pair of eyes. That "back of the head" idea was fun, but we know there is a lot going on in a classroom that eludes a busy teacher. An observer can help gather information about student attention and reactions, and that is invaluable to teachers as they modify the ways they work with students, individually, in groups, or en masse.


When a teacher has been putting energy and thought into improving how she asks questions, with a particular focus on follow-up as a way to improve students' critical thinking, observations over time that pay attention to that behavior and interaction will reveal helpful details about how well things are going. Such feedback can be invaluable.


Approaching an observation as a potential teaching tool can reshape or shrink some of our initial doubts. When we think about our teaching as an ongoing process of learning - and what more suitable model could there be for students and parents and administrators - the observations can become our periodic check-ins. Schedule one soon!


Poskitt, J and Taylor, K. (2008) National education findings of Assess to Learn (AtoL) report. Education Counts. New Zealand  


Teacher observation and coaching go hand in glove with teacher self-reflection and progress. As teachers jot down notes on their successes they are reinforcing themselves. As teachers write down their thoughts about "what I will do next time" they are applying the cycle of learning, reflecting, and trying again -- an age old approach to steady progress. 

CEI encourages all schools to include teacher observation and coaching as a vital part of their approach to school improvement and professional development. Teacher observation/coaching are integral to student achievement and success.



Christine Mason, Ph.D.
Executive Director

Center for Educational Improvement

This newsletter has been provided to you by the Center for Educational Improvement as per our mailing list.
Please contact Carolyn Lieberg with corrections or comments at [email protected] 


Free session for administrators on May 11! Registrations must be received my April 26. Check out the information above, in the left column!