Benchwarmers Don't Win the Game

This week I feel as though I began my real work: observing and coaching.  It was a great experience and I referred to it as my "play time" rather than walkthrough time.  Why?  Because in just 4 days it has become my favorite part of my day.  I was in 20 different rooms this week.  I saw different subjects, different methodologies, different grade levels.  It was so exciting!  The benefits I found this week include:

  • no "canned" lessons because I just showed up in peoples rooms rather than scheduling a formal visit
  • I would spend only about 10 minutes in each room so I was able to see so much more teaching and learning in a short period of time
  • the students were only too happy to fill me in if I had questions
  • because it was more informal, I felt as though I was really seeing the "true" nature of the teacher at work
  • I was able to provide timely feedback via email and this (and here is the truly awesome part) led to conversations between colleagues and between me and the faculty
I had no idea walkthroughs could be so much fun!

But it isn't just about getting out of the office to avoid the emails and voice mails.  There is a significant purpose to visiting classrooms: coaching.  This was what I knew I had to do, what teachers expected me to do.  However, I was completely unprepared for the faculty response to my process.  

Let me back up a minute and explain the system that has been in place since time immemorial (well, maybe not quite that long but it probably feels like it to the veteran teachers!): every year you were scheduled to be observed by one of two people: the Associate Principal or the Instructional Observer.  As the "observee", you were to review three different forms and select the area that you would like your observation to focus on.  A meeting was then set when you would sit down with the observer and you would discuss what you wanted them to focus on, schedule a time for the observation and then review the lesson you would be teaching.  The observer would come in for anywhere from 40-80 minutes (we are on a block schedule) and then after the observation, the observer would contact you when they had written up their notes, the two of you would schedule another time to meet, the observation would be reviewed, any corrections would be made and then you would receive a copy for your file.  This is an incredibly enriching process when you have something specific that you want to improve on.  However, it can turn into a very labor-intensive process, the feedback is not very timely (often a 2 week gap could exist between the observation and receiving the feedback) and you didn't always see authentic instruction and learning.

So, this new system that I have implemented this year is a rather radical departure from the tradition. However, it has been quite well received this year by veteran and new faculty alike.  They appreciate the immediate feedback and are already informing me of changes they are implementing based on my observations!  WOW!  A coach--because that is really what my function is in this capacity--can't ask for a better response.  Now, don't get me wrong, I have seen the entire spectrum of teaching in my 20 visits this week.  But I work to provide constructive feedback that is accompanied by real ideas that can be implemented.  I have also made sure to provide a selection of suggestions, not just one (no "my way or the highway" here) and also make sure I point out the good things that I see before making suggestions.

It is important to me that I get out to classrooms every day.  It is important that I hit different times of the day.  It is important to me that I provide timely feedback.  Why are these things important to me? (A professor of mine from my credentialing program would have called these three my "non-negotiables")  Here is why:
  • It is important that I am visible every day to teachers, students and staff.  I can't stay hidden behind my computer or there will be no respect for my office and I will quickly lose touch with what is happening on my campus
  • We all know that high schoolers are very different animals at 8:00 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. so I need to be sure to visit different blocks each day to get a feel for the changing mood and also better see what the teachers are dealing with from the same kids at different times of the day.  This will only help to inform my observations and allow me to provide more meaningful feedback
  • If I can give teachers feedback within 24 hours, they will still remember the lesson and what they did in that particular class.  This will then give them relevant data upon which to build and improve their practice.  It also allows them an opportunity to adjust future lessons in that unit if necessary.  The process is then meaningful, not something to check off your "to-do" list.  And, most importantly, if it is meaningful and relevant, then it is useful and will lead to improvement.

As a coach, I want to develop all of my teachers, veterans and newbies alike.  I do not want to hire benchwarmers.  That does no favors to the students or to our school community in general.  While it takes time to develop elite athletes, I fully believe that I am working with a whole building full of them.  It is my job to make sure that each teacher gets what they need to become that elite teacher.  And if I have elite teachers in every classroom at every period of the day, how can our students not win?

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  1. This has been one of the most welcome additions to this year. I love seeing you wandering the halls and classrooms. You are always welcome in my room whether the door is physically open or not (only closed if we are having too much fun and making too much noise!) You will see me on amazing days and not as amazing days, but that is authentic. I so appreciate your presence and perspective! Thank you!


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