If You Thought I Was Perfect, You Weren’t Paying Attention

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Did you know that great teachers feel slightly disappointed and somewhat unappreciated with a perfect evaluation? Take a look at the following quotes.

“I want to be better. Telling me how great the lesson was does not help me to grow. I want student and teacher growth.” – Janice Cizek

“I never got any constructive criticism except to make my plan book easier to read. I begged for real feedback.” -Larry Fliegelman

“During my first year, I had two perfect evals… sort of wanted something on there to improve on.” – Phillip Whitelaw

“I need to know a weakness. No feedback = lack of attention, if you ask me.” – Brian Bennett

“I want honest feedback. I want to be given extra ideas and ways to take it further, angles I haven’t thought of myself.” – Pernille Ripp

“If you thought I was perfect, you weren’t paying attention.” -Elizabeth Nelson

Did you know what’s happening in the classroom differs between a good principal and a great principal? A good principal spends time at the back of the room focusing on teaching. A great principal spends valuable time in the center of the learning focusing on students. Take a look at the following chart. Review each principal’s notes taken during the same classroom observation.

Principal Mia Deoker‘s Notes                                 Principal Ed Fektuv’s Notes                                          

The teacher’s lesson plans are complete and meet the districts expectations. Teacher plans for low, medium and high level students. Student work/outcomes much look the same regardless of student ability level.
The teacher moves about the room and seems to have a great rapport with the students. Although the teacher is moving about the room, I have recorded 4 students who have worked 3 of the first 5 problems incorrectly.
The students are well behaved and seem to be engaged in the content. Students are working independently. Two students have put their unfinished work away and are reading a novel. One student is doodling on his notebook.   The teacher provides low-level feedback… Great job… You’re working hard….
The learning goal is located in front of the class. After randomly asking 8 students to explain/demonstrate the learning goal, only two students could recall the learning goal while one student could demonstrate the learning goal with mastery.
Students are answering questions correctly and seem to have mastered the learning goal. The teacher asked 7 questions throughout the instructional delivery and the same 3 students answered all 7 questions correctly.

Which principal do you believe is focused on learning? Which notes were grounded in facts? Which notes will more likely translate into meaningful data to assist the teacher in improving his/her pedagogy?

It’s important to create the conditions so that teachers become more skillful in teaching because great teaching and high levels of learning go hand in hand. I believe the key to creating these conditions and transforming a teacher’s thinking and perspective, is asking the right questions.  After reviewing Principal Ed Fektuv’s observation notes, I would pose the following questions during a post-observation.

  • When you were moving around the room, what did you hear your student’s say or do that demonstrated understanding of the learning goal?  Which students?
  • What artifact can you provide that demonstrates differentiation of instruction?
  • What were you looking for specifically when you provided feedback to the students?
  • What were you thinking when only 3 students raised their hands?
  • After asking your question, what If you were to allow students to discuss for 30 seconds collaboratively with their peers before calling on a student?  What do you predict would happen?

These type of open-ended questions require a teacher to think cognitively and deeply about his/her own practice and if presented thoughtfully, can lead to collegial conversations.  I would like to pose one last question.  When you conduct observations, are you effective (Ed Fektuv) or mediocre (Mia Deoker)?

Something to think about.

Stay connected, Shawn


  1. Richard Rampolla said:

    Thanks for sharing this, Shawn. It is a perfect time to reflect on how we can better assist our teachers through the observation process. I especially liked the questions as they require meaningful teacher reflection on their practice for that lesson.

    July 28, 2014
    • sblankenship said:

      Thank you Richard for taking the time to comment. Thoughtful, intentional questions can cause teachers to reflect and to think critically about their own art of teaching. The goal of such questioning is to assist and train teachers to learn to self-assess/reflect on their own practice on a regular basis. For me, it takes practice designing the right questions to spark teacher’s minds, but it gets easier with more experience. Happy evaluating! Shawn

      July 30, 2014
  2. Kim Hampton said:

    This narrative was very interesting! The only way principals are going to know what questions to ask is if they do spend more time in the classroom. One has to have a feel for student needs, and they must be very aware of what students are processing. Yes, it it a challenging task to meet the needs of 30 students sitting in front of you on a daily basis. I have done it, and what made the difference for me was having a deep concern for each individual student and not wanting any of the students to fall behind. A truly caring, patient, knowledgable and compassionate person makes all the difference in the world when it comes to teaching all students, so that no child gets left behind. Asking the right questions will also help guide understanding. Great little narrative! Thought provoking!!!!

    July 28, 2014
    • sblankenship said:

      I can’t agree with you more Kim. I believe as principals, we must spend time building our instructional credibility within our teachers. To do this, we must spend much time in classrooms and providing meaningful feedback. We must embrace our opportunity to lead. Act in ways that inspire teachers to learn more, do more, and become more.
      We must recognize what our teachers want to learn, as well as, what they need to learn. Then, make an effort to spark their curiosity. We must keep teachers in their uncomforted zone by asking the right questions and wanting to hear their answers. “How” and “why” and “what if” questions will stretch the boundaries of the teacher’s minds. Most important, we must urge teachers to take the time to practice what they learn. Reflection without initiative does not translate into results.

      Thank you Kim for commenting. Stay connected, Shawn

      July 30, 2014
  3. R.J. said:

    Many administrators look at doing an observation with as much enthusiasm as going a 6 year old going to the dentist. They want to get it over and done with and use the trite phrases as learning objective was located and students were engaged. Before slamming a teacher, a good principal or VP will come in do a pre-observation focus the teacher on what needs improvement. After years of the canned phrases e.g.: students completed page X with 2 errors, tell the teacher exactly what administration NOW EXPECTS & WANTS.
    Don’t downgrade teachers for years of administration’s laziness. Administrators walk around the building be visible and supportive all year not a twice a year guest in your teachers’ rooms.

    July 28, 2014
    • sblankenship said:

      Thank you R.J. for commenting. I believe we all know an administrator that dreads visiting classrooms and puts very little effort into an evaluation. As you state, a pre-conference is crucial to gathering the right data during the observation. Questions such as the following can provide insight and lead to a better understanding of lesson development.

      -Invite the teacher to elaborate on the lesson’s learning goals and to describe how he or she will determine, during the lesson, whether students are learning.

      -The teacher is asked to explain how the assignment challenges different ability levels.

      -The teacher is asked to describe his or her instructional strategies for reaching these outcomes.

      -What will you see students doing or hear them saying that will indicate to you that your lesson is successful?

      -The teacher and principal determine together what formative data you both will collect during the lesson to shed light on students’ learning.

      Notice how the questions are focused on learning rather than teaching.

      Thanks for commenting. I believe ineffective people do not resist change nearly as much as they resist improvement. I also believe that quantitative feedback is much more meaningful and genuine when compared to qualitative feedback. I believe to cause change, we must articulate a true snapshot of what took place during the lesson and then discuss (together) next steps for improvement. Remember, all teachers crave meaningful feedback. Even highly effective teachers desperately want to become distinguished teachers.

      July 30, 2014
  4. Tejech Mehta said:

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    July 29, 2014
  5. Patrice said:

    So glad you are highlighting this important issue for both teachers and administrators. Having recently read a great deal about teacher evaluation, particularly white papers on VAM’s, I was struck by what little attention has been given to the topic of quality observation and feedback from the evaluator. While many administrators work hard to comply with timelines, hasten observations through drive-by walkthroughs, and collect binders of artifacts they spend precious little time doing the work teaches so desperately want and need: quality feedback with actionable suggestions and opportunity for deep professional discourse. Teachers would certainly welcome feedback that is grounded in artful and insightful observation that zeroes in on teacher practice, student engagement, and careful analysis of student-teacher interaction. Many of the teachers I work with generally think their teacher evaluations offer little in the way of quality constructive feedback and some go as far as to say their evaluations border on useless and almost insulting. Your examples of quality feedback that promotes reflection, stimulates further action, generates cognitive reflection and engages both parties in professional discourse are quite useful and should serve as models for what administrators should offer and what teachers should expect. Thanks for sharing

    August 4, 2014
  6. sblankenship said:

    Thank you Patrice for the outstanding comment. Your words express exactly what I was trying to convey in the post. Evaluations are a significant part of a principal’s role and I believe the most critical piece to improving student achievement….. if done correctly. Thanks again for taking the time to comment. Shawn

    August 4, 2014
  7. Phil said:

    Thanks for introducing me to Mia and Ed! I really appreciate being able to see their notes from the lesson observation and I wondered if either of them would share their notes with the teacher prior to the post-observation meeting?

    September 18, 2014
    • sblankenship said:

      Thank you for the comment. As you may know, Mia and Ed are fictional characters that I created, as well as the observation notes included within the post. My goal was to prove that when we focus on learning, our observation notes look very different than a checklist. However, I have observed firsthand many observation notes that look very similar to Mia Deoker’s.

      To answer your question, I do believe that providing the observation notes prior to a post observation can be a good idea only if you take the time to explain your notes. Be sure to provide some insight as to the main take aways from your observation and what you plan to discuss deeper during the post-observation. This way the teacher has time to plan and reflect and can be prepared during the post-observation. Remember, observations are about improving and assisting the teacher in growing his/her pedagogy.

      September 29, 2014
  8. Annette Schweifler said:

    I find the set up of this blog a perfect example of what I would like to look for in the teaching of others and have looked at in my own teaching- the blog provides immediate input from the reader(student) and lets the teacher know if the main idea has been accessed and internalized.

    The more transparent we are in our observation notes as supervisors/coaches, the more evidence we can provide, the more readily everyone can reflect honestly and look toward focused improvement.

    We can ask for reactions to the evidence, plans to improve or continue what was evident, and a conversation begins since everything is on the table to be discussed.

    September 18, 2014
    • sblankenship said:

      Thank you Annette for the comment. This is exactly what I was hoping the readers would take away from this post. It is important to be transparent, honest, and accurate during observations and post-observations. Great teachers not only deserve but desire this type of feedback. Specific and accurate evidence along with the right questions can spark great conversations. These conversations just may result in a change or adjustment in instructional practice. Ultimately, honest and accurate feedback is a principal’s best tool in impacting student learning. Stay connected, Shawn

      September 29, 2014
  9. Patricia Handly said:

    Thank you for reiterating the importance of examining the link between teaching and the results of teaching. Using data (documented unbiased examples of student responses) as evidence of what resulted from the teaching offers an honest picture of the learning. The data provides a structure and some security to jumpstart the teacher’s reflection. Using open-ended questions, as you suggest, offer opportunities for the teacher to go beyond surface thinking. What I would add to the process is to ask teachers what action(s) they will take as a result of their reflection. Teachers leave the conference armed with a next step and a feeling of gratitude for the experience.

    September 18, 2014
    • sblankenship said:

      Thank you Patricia for pointing out the most important piece of all…. a plan for implementation! Talking about great ideas and actually putting ideas into action are two very different things. Many times, good principals passionately share their perspectives and points of view with a reluctant teacher, hoping this teacher will jump on board. It’s important to develop a strong growth plan which includes strategies for achieving the desired outcome, contains indicators and measures of achievement, and a completion time. Just as important as assisting a teacher in a plan for implementation…. is follow-up. As a principal, we must continually follow-up with the teacher after a post observation to provide support and even uncomfortableness at times.

      September 29, 2014

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