Trust-Based Origins

A little more of Craig’s story.

Like just about everyone else,

along the way I had principals who I liked and thought were good, principals who were horrible and principals who were okay. No matter the principal though, I never felt like the evaluation observation process was effective or useful, let alone fun. Even under the best of circumstances with principals who took evaluations seriously it just felt like there was something off or missing from the process. Then things got crazy with one principal in particular.

“How come nobody observes me?”  After a second consecutive year of being unobserved by my principal, I was feeling more than a little frustrated. I knew I wanted two things: first, someone, anyone, to observe me; second, to be observed more often than the standard twice-a-year pre-conference, observation, post-observation conference model. I craved receiving more feedback on how to improve my teaching and, truth be told, I wanted to demonstrate what I thought was good teaching.

I wasn’t alone. If you ask any teacher about their experiences with the observation process, you are likely to hear comments like these:

  • “It’s just a dog and pony show.”
  • “They only saw me one time, then told me to get better at something that is a strength for me. They just didn’t see it that day.”
  • “They observed me, but never gave me any feedback.”
  • “Can you believe they emailed me my feedback and never even talked to me?”
  • “I was never observed and at the end of the year I was asked to sign my evaluation. It was good, but…?”

There had to be a better way of conducting observations, but how?


Walkthroughs felt too short. Traditional observations felt like nothing more than high stakes evaluations. I wanted something more; I wanted observations to be about becoming a better teacher. I wanted observations to be about improved learning. Driven by this desire for something more meaningful, I began my principal certification program. It was there that I met my mentor: Warren Aller. He said the key to teacher growth was “spending an hour a day doing 20 minute observations and follow that with supportive reflective conversations the next day”.

So, beginning with what I learned from Warren and then adding from learned experiences as a principal, I developed what has become Trust-Based Observations: the most powerful tool I know to improve teaching and learning.

At first I just knew it was important to:

  • be in classes a lot,
  • ask reflective questions and listen intently as the first part of the follow-up conversation, and
  • for some reason I intuited that it was important to share the teaching strengths I noticed when observing a class.

It seemed easy to share strengths, and frankly, it was. Almost all classes have elements of teaching that are impressive to watch. When I shared observed teaching strengths, I discovered that many teachers had not felt that their teaching strengths had been acknowledged before. They were so thankful. More than a handful came to tears when I shared what I noticed. It made me feel both happy and sad. How could teachers be doing their job, trying to make a difference in the lives of kids for so long, and not feel appreciated? As a result of feeling appreciated I found that teachers really embraced the suggestions that I offered. Together these elements became the core of Trust-Based Observations: be frequently present in classes, ask reflective questions as the first part of the follow-up conversation, take time to notice and focus on teaching strengths, and then at the right time begin to work with teachers on areas of growth.

I discovered that the way I was doing observations had created an atmosphere where teachers trusted me.

 

There was some connection between being a nice guy who noticed strengths (I would now describe this as someone who used emotional intelligence in his interactions with teachers) and a willingness to take risks. I had developed a safe and trusting relationship with each teacher. As a direct result of this relationship, teachers were more open to taking risks to grow their practice. Trust-Based Observations has evolved greatly over the years, but this is the story of how it began and the core of why Trust-Based Observations still works so well.