Watch and Win!

As usual, a recent Twitter chat motivated me to write this post.  It definitely fits into my differentiation theme, and I wanted to explain this school initiative, but our recent #efachat prompted me to pick up the tempo on sharing the idea.

Several years ago, we received staff development "credit" for observing two teachers' classrooms. Earlier this year, I heard, "Hey, do you remember when we were required to watch other classrooms? That was great! I wish we could do that again.  I would love to see Mr. W's class or Mrs. N's class."  The department chair replied,  "Why don't you just ask if you can watch their classes? It doesn't need to be a requirement for you to watch and learn."

A few weeks later, the department chair and I (with admin approval) decided to create an opportunity for teachers to feel more comfortable about visiting other classrooms.  We called the initiative "Watch and Win!" and we created this brief reflection form for teachers.  We knew brief was important, and we definitely didn't want the visit to feel like an evaluation, thus happy face clip art and cute font.  (The fun font is KG Seven Sixteen.) 

Our principal first promoted the initiative, and we sent follow-up emails that encouraged teachers to simply watch any other classroom and win teaching strategies, lesson plans, and classroom set-up ideas.  We emphasized the observations did not need to take the whole class period--visit any portion of any classroom. We also reminded teachers to ask permission before visiting.  We did not require teachers to return the reflection form, but our principal was kind enough to provide a prize as an incentive for visiting and reflecting. 

For the upcoming school year, the district is now encouraging (requiring) teachers to visit other classrooms, but schools will have the option to choose to what extent.  We are so happy that we can expand our Watch and Win initiative and slowly work on changing the culture of our school.  (One option from the district was to participate in Japanese Lesson studies, but we are not ready for that kind of intense observation/reflection!)

We will begin the school year with version 2.0 of Watch and Win.  We will first encourage teachers to open their classroom doors as often as possible.  Using scrap wood, our construction class made door stops for all rooms, and our Girls Service League's summer project was to paint all of the door stops.  We are also printing and laminating these signs for teachers' doors, so when a teacher is up for visitors, he/she hangs the sign on the door.  We hope that as teachers walk down the hall and see green signs, they'll be motivated to drop by and visit the classrooms.  (I created my very first iMovie as a somewhat staged "commercial" for this school plan, so if you're dying to see my amateur video of some of our teachers and classes, I can send you the link.)

KG Only Hope font
We are also going to encourage teachers to share (via departmental or mass email) invitations to observe particular parts of a lesson.  "Hey, I'm using the Socrative exit ticket app today, so if you would like to see a demo, please feel free to stop by B112 during the last 10 minutes of 1st, 2nd, or 5th periods."

We hope teachers win a lot of ideas from these observations, but we also believe visiting classrooms will help build our school community of teacher-learners.  We hope teachers will more frequently say things like, "I just saw this cool idea in Mr. G's room, and I thought it would be great if our class tried it, too!"  (a la "I just read about this great idea on another blog," or "My twitter friends were talking about this lesson.")

Once teachers realize the observations are not evaluations, our next step will be to facilitate how observations can be used for learning.  We realize that not all teachers are there yet, but we hope Watch and Win is a step in the right direction.

  • I'm trying to improve my questioning techniques.  Will you please visit my classroom and record my types of questions?
  • I would love some help with keeping my 6th period students engaged.  Would you please watch that class and provide feedback about your observations?

Another Twitter reminder--Krissy Venosdale shares her lovely, free posters on this amazing site!
If you are not (yet) in the position to create a school-wide initiative, what about convincing others in your subject-team or department to observe each other?  Or ask your lunch friends to commit to observing other classrooms?  Observing other teachers is one of the favorite parts of my job, and I learn something new every time I visit another classroom.

Is visiting other classrooms encouraged in your school?  How can we convince others that classroom observations are positive learning experiences and not a waste of time?

To be continued...

Growing List of Summer Educational Reads:
5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions, Margaret S. Smith & Mary Kay Stein
Embedded Formative Assessment, Dylan Wiliam
Engaging Teachers in Classroom Walkthroughs, Donald S. Kachur et al
Essential Questions, Jay McTighe & Grant Wiggins
How to Assess Higher-Order Thinking Skills In Your Classroom, Susan M. Brookhart
Leadership for Differentiating Schools and Classrooms, Carol Ann Tomlinson & Susan D. Allan
More Good Questions, Marian Small & Amy Lin
Teach Like a Pirate, Dave Burgess