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Jean Madden-Cazares

Jean Madden-Cazares

When it comes to promoting teacher effectiveness, classroom observations of teachers are critically important, but sadly they have become rote, and the opportunity to provide teachers serious feedback and next-level growth is underutilized. Too often we hear teachers and administrators complain about outdated observation methods where an administrator schedules only one time a year to watch a lesson, checks a list and reports on the teacher’s performance.

Think about it: As educators and support professionals,  how often do we hear our teachers report that their administrator is often in their classroom, and really knows them and their students?

Not often enough. Teachers in general are skeptical that occasional and cursory observations mean that their supervisors are knowledgeable about their skills as an instructor and understands the needs of students as learners. 

That’s where “targeted feedback” comes in. Developed by the Center for Educational Leadership (CEL) at the University of Washington, it’s a powerful approach to teacher feedback that aims to enhance formal observations with ongoing, meaningful feedback that has the potential to improve teacher performance and student learning.

For the first time, educators from around California will have the chance to learn about this method in a series of two-day workshops, hosted by the San Diego County Office of Education.

The Center for Educational Leadership created the workshops after school leaders from several district partnerships around the country asked how best to provide effective feedback to teachers.  The center responded by developing the Targeted Feedback Institute, a training program based on research related to collaborative models and providing strengths-based feedback.

Here’s what targeted feedback looks like in practice:

When beginning a feedback cycle, the teacher and principal have an open dialogue and examine student data and classroom patterns before the classroom observation. Working together, the teacher identifies a specific learning goal or area of focus, which is aligned with the district’s and school’s area of focus. This conversation allows the teacher to define a targeted area of growth and also assists the principal in delivering meaningful feedback.

For example, a teacher could choose to focus on giving students greater ownership of their learning and more opportunities to work in partnership. The teacher would ask the principal to observe the interactions between students, gather evidence on how well the students understand the content, and point out any missed opportunities for group or partner work.

This series of short classroom observations over a three- to six-week period would zero in on the teacher’s goals, with attention both to student response and teacher improvement. The principal would provide brief feedback based on each observation, such as pointing out an overlooked student comment or missed learning opportunity, and then follow up with plans for the teacher’s next goal or area of focus.

At the conclusion, the principal would summarize the teacher’s work, assess the teacher’s growth and identify student progress based on an increase in rigor or learning independence, not necessarily on test scores.

This cycle of observation and feedback is a true partnership between the teacher and observer. It builds with each repetition, and motivates teachers to be successful by consistently celebrating and nurturing their strengths. And most importantly, it leads to a greater positive impact on student learning.

At Sweetwater High School in south San Diego County, one of the first schools in the state to adopt targeted feedback, the results so far have been positive. Two months into a gradual implementation, Principal Maribel Gavin says she sees a difference in more collaborative relationships with the participating teachers.

Starting in January, the Targeted Feedback Institute will offer an opportunity for California administrators, teachers, instructional coaches and central office staff to participate as a team. Participants will learn how to build close, open working relationships and healthy work environments. They will practice classroom lesson observation where observers can learn to identify personal biases and how to gather evidence that is objective, descriptive and specific.

Our teachers have a powerful impact on our students’ success, so it critical that we maximize their strengths. Effective educators are especially important in ensuring that all students, regardless of their ZIP code or family circumstance, receive a high-quality education. But teachers can’t achieve classroom success alone. By working together in a targeted way, school administrators and teachers can take a significant step toward accelerating student learning and keeping the learning needs of our children front and center.

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Jean Madden-Cazares is Assistant Superintendent at the San Diego County Office of Education where she heads the Learning and Leadership Services Division and oversees the office’s instructional and assessment teams.    Click here for dates and locations of workshops referred to in this commentary. 

The opinions expressed in this commentary represent those of the author. EdSource welcomes commentaries representing diverse points of view. If you would like to submit a commentary, please review our guidelines and contact us.


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  1. Zwannah Kimber 9 months ago9 months ago

    I found it very interesting and educative.What I gathered is that principals need to create a culture where classroom observation will not be perceived as a threat to the teacher.

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