Does feedback look different for
remote teaching?


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You're listening to the school leadership reimagined podcast episode 77. 

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Hey Builders, 

Welcome to another episode of the school leadership reimagined podcast. I'm your host, Robin Jackson. And today, we're going to talk about something that I don't I don't want to call it a controversy. But it's an issue that's kind of bubbled up, especially in a lot of discussions that we're having around remote learning and the impact that that has on what the administrators role is, especially when it comes to feedback. So I'll tell you how it started. A couple of months ago, I got an email from an evaluation company, which will remain nameless, and they said hold off on evaluating teachers we are working really hard to create a new list of standards or look for is that you can use in a remote learning context. And that got me so hot, because if your evaluation instrument is not crisis proof, if your evaluation instrument has to come up with new look for is every time we have a new learning context, then how good is it anyway.

I wanted to make the bigger argument that good teaching is good teaching. 

It's not dependent upon whether we are remote learning, or whether we are teaching face to face, there isn't a difference between good teaching face to face and remote learning at its heart. sure you're using different tools and different things. But there's no difference. good teaching is good teaching. And your evaluation instrument should not be taking off teaching behaviors, it should be getting to the heart of what good teaching is. Anyway, I did the rant. And then a lot of people came at me and said, Oh, no, you're wrong. Because evaluating remote learning classrooms has to look different. And there are a lot of reasons why. And they gave me those reasons why. And so I shut up and I said, Well, maybe I am wrong. And so I spent some time going into remote classrooms with some of the principles I was coaching. And looking at those classrooms, I looked at both synchronous classrooms and asynchronous classrooms. And I use the micro slicing technique that we teach here at mind steps. And I looked at how we could still give teachers one thing feedback. And turns out good teaching is good teaching. It turns out that when you use the right feedback and evaluation process, it really doesn't matter whether you are looking at a remote learning context, whether you're looking at something face to face, whether you're looking at something that's synchronous, or asynchronous, it still works.

I probably should stop in the podcast right here and say, Nope, that's wrong. good teaching is good teaching. And it doesn't change just because you're in a remote learning environment, or you're face to face. But I don't want to just do a mic drop and walk away. I want to talk to you about why. And if you're struggling with this right now, as an administrator, I want to talk to you about why you may be struggling. And it may mean that we're going to have to unlearn some of the baggage that we learned when we were taught how to evaluate classrooms. So we're gonna do that in this episode. But before we dive in, I have a couple of announcements to share with you first. So the first announcement is that by the time you listen to this podcast, I will have completed all the edits for the new book. And so I'm so happy to give it off my plate. editing the book is probably my least favorite part about the book. You know, once I write it, I'm done. When it comes back for editing, my editor has all these questions and queries and there's some rewrites I have to do. And that part is hard. For me. It's hard for me to get back into book writing mode once the book is completed. But we did it. My editor has it now the book has its title and the new title of the book is stopped leading start building, how to turn your school into a success story with the people and resources you already have.

Can I tell you that I'm so excited about this book? 

This has been a labor of love, and it's probably the hardest book I've ever written. But I think it's probably The most comprehensive book I've ever written, it lays out builder ship, start to finish and takes you through the entire builder ship model step by step. So I'm so excited for you to get this book into your hands in February 2021. And I'm even more excited to say that we are done with the editing part. From here, it's just about proofreading and making sure the cover looks great. And I'll start sharing some more of that with you. If you want to follow along with the book writing journey with me a little bit, then go ahead and send me a friend request on Facebook. Now you have to make sure that I know you're an educator. So if you send me a friend request, and it's not obvious with your Facebook profile, that you're an educator, then please just kind of send me a note and say, Hey, it's me, I'm really an educator, I'm not a bot or anything like that. And then you can follow along with the book writing journey on Facebook, I'm also going to start sharing some of that journey with you inside of the school leadership reimagined podcast Facebook group.

So one of the things I wanted to do this year with school leadership reimagined is I want it to be more of a two way conversation. So we started a school leadership reimagined Facebook group, where we can kind of have some after the show conversations, but it's also a place where you can suggest other challenges that you'd love to see us tackle here on the podcast, and to just kind of have some ongoing informal conversations with the listeners. So if you'd like to be a part of that conversation, go ahead and go to Facebook and find the school leadership reimagined podcast group, and you'll be able to join and we can have continue the conversation inside of that Facebook group. All right, last announcement is that builder's lab is happening again. So one of the reasons that I am so exhausted right now is because in addition to working on the book, we're also doing a lot of private builders labs this fall. And by private builders lab, what I mean is that sometimes when a district has a lot of people that they want to send to builders lab, we will off often offer them the opportunity to have a private builder's lab just with that district. And what that allows us to do is it really allows us to customize the material in builders lab, specifically for that district. So we've been doing several of them this fall, in fact, in private builders labs, just about every day of the week for the next four weeks. And that's just for starters. But we also have public builders labs. So if your district is not doing a private builders lab, but you still want to be a part of it. Our next one is happening January 25, through 27 2021. And Tickets are available now. So all you need to do is go to mind step slash builders dash lab to get your ticket to our next builders lab. But if you're listening to this, sometime in the future, just go to that link slash builders dash lab so that you can figure out when the next public builders lab is happening and get your ticket. Okay, I think that's it for the announcements.

Let's dive in to this issue around giving teachers feedback in a remote learning context. 

So I want to start by saying that there is a distinct difference between the way leaders give teachers feedback, and the way builders give teachers feedback. And at the heart of this controversy around whether or not feedback looks the same or different in remote learning contexts, is really the difference between leaders and builders and how we approach feedback. So the way leaders approach feedback is the way that we were trained to approach feedback. So we're given a rubric, maybe we're giving given look for or ask about, we have domains and sub domains and sub sub domains. And we have an evaluation tool. And we have a schedule that's provided by our district about how many times we need to go into a classroom to give teachers feedback. Not only that, let's say we're not even doing a formal observation, even our informal observations are templated to death, or they have checklists, or were expected to go in and look for certain things. And so as leaders, we are really slaves to the feedback system in which we are operating. We are slaves to that instrument. And so what we do when we go into give teachers feedback is we follow a particular protocol, we look at certain things we note certain things, we check off certain things. And, quite frankly, that protocol falls apart the moment you take it out of the context in which it was created.

It's a lot harder to do things like walk the walls or you know, check for certain teaching behaviors or look to see if the learning intention has been posted. When you're in a remote environment or you're in an asynchronous environment. Some of those things don't translate as well. And by the way, some of those things aren't that important to begin with. Now, before you all slave Here's what I mean by that those things in and of themselves. Just because I see a learning target written on the board does not mean that that lesson is being taught with intention. I don't really care if the learning target is posted. What I do care about is whether or not the learning target is clear. based on what's happening in the classroom. I've been in too many classrooms where they have the learning target posted. So yay, you get a check off on your evaluation instrument for having the learning target posted. But the lessons incoherent, it's not clear what students are how the activities in the lesson are going to help students learn. So while they have a learning target posted, it really is doing nothing to improve the quality of that lesson.

I've been in classrooms where the learning target wasn't posted. 

Yet it was obvious and clear both to me and to all of the students what they were supposed to be learning and why they were supposed to be learning that day. So do I ding the teacher by saying your learning target wasn't posted when the whole point of posting the learning target is to make the learning intention clear for students. So what happens with a leadership approach to feedback and evaluation is that we are looking for different teaching behaviors without understanding or remembering why we're looking for those teaching behaviors. we're so busy trying to check things off of our checklist or find these look forwards or find these ask about and we're told those are the most important things, I could have all of those things happening in the classroom, and the lessons still be a mess, it's still not reached students. So what I'm interested in as a builder is not checking off particular teaching behaviors, what I'm interested in is as a builder, is how do all of those teaching behaviors work together to create a meaningful learning experience for students? So one of the big reasons why I think so many people are stressing out over observing remote lessons is that they are too reliant on the instrument and the protocols and the way that they've been trained to observe lessons that they've lost track of the whole point of observation to begin with, which is to figure out is that learning experience meaningful for students? And if it is not, then what does a teacher need to do differently to improve?

Now builders look at observation and feedback differently. Builders use something called one thing feedback, what we're doing when we go observe a class, whether it's for five minutes and a walkthrough, or whether it's for 45 minutes for formal observation, we go in and we are trying to understand a is this lesson working for students. And in order to determine that it's not about my gut, it's not about whether or not the teacher ticks all the boxes on my, you know, evaluation instrument. The only way that I can know that is first of all, I have to figure out what was the learning target? What was the objective for that portion of the lesson I observed? Was that worthy of students? Meaning was it rigorous enough? Was it on grade level? Was it pitch to where students were? And then did students achieve that objective? Or were they on track to achieving that objective for the time that I was in the classroom? That's the only way I know whether it's effective, was there a target that was clear and worthy of students, and were students making sufficient progress towards achieving that target? That's it. It's not about whether or not you've written in three different colored chalks or whether or not you moved around or not, I've seen teachers who move around the entire classroom, because they're told to do that. And they still aren't connecting with students. I've seen some teachers stand right in the front of the classroom, and they have the ability from that position to connect with every student in the classroom. So I'm not looking for an arbitrary list of behaviors, I'm looking to find out whether or not that combination of behaviors is actually creating a meaningful learning experience for students, and helping students learn.

That's all I'm interested in. So as a builder, I don't rely on an instrument. 

Now, that doesn't mean I throw the instrument away. One of the things that we spend a lot of time doing as builders is we really interrogate the instrument to understand what the instrument is defining as good teaching, and making sure that we can detect that as our one thing in the classroom. But I'm not going to sit there and have a 20 minute conversation with the teacher about whether or not they moved around or whether or not they use an ICANN statement. Because let's say they have been in too many classrooms where they did use an I CAN statement, and it was still incoherent. I've been in other classes where they don't use it, and it's fine. What I want to know is, do you know what the students were supposed to learn that day? Do the students know what they're supposed to learn that day? Did you create an experience that helped them learn it in a meaningful way? And did they actually do that? That's all I care about. So as a builder, I look at my instrument, I understand my instrument probably more deeply than the leaders do. So I'm spending time understanding that instrument, but here's why I'm understanding the instrument. I'm understanding it not just so that I can tick off the boxes, but so that I can understand what combination of teaching behaviors is leading to the success or failure of that teacher in the classroom. And then what support and follow up, can I give that teacher to help them move one level in one domain, and one year or less.

Now I'll do another whole show about that concept of moving every single teacher one level, and one domain, and one year or less. But I will say this now, if your feedback is not designed to help teachers improve your feedback, it's a waste of everybody's time. I want to be clear about that. Because a lot of us are doing feedback because it's required, but not because we believe our feedback will actually grow better teachers. And if your feedback is not designed to help every teacher be better, as a result of that conversation, you are wasting everybody's time. And it doesn't matter whether that feedback is remote, or whether that feedback is face to face, it's an effective. So a lot of us are relying on feedback models and an understanding of feedback that is ineffective. And all remote teaching and learning is showing us it's showing us just how ineffective it is, we can cover for a lot of that when we're face to face. And now that we're having to do it in a remote context. It's just showing us that that wasn't a great system to begin with. If you have to rewrite your look for us. And you're asked about because we are now in a remote learning context, then how good were they? So that's all that's revealing. So I want to kind of shift the conversation now and deal with some of the objections that I've heard, especially when I express this opinion to other people, I get some kind of objections that that I think are rooted in a leadership view of feedback. And I get it because that's the way we were trained. So I don't even blame people for having this this view. Because that's what we were told good feedback is. And as we make the transition from being leaders, to being builders, we have to shed a lot of the baggage that we carry about what we've been told good feedback looks like. So a lot of the objections are rooted in that.  

I want to acknowledge we were taught this way.

So if you believe this yourself, then it's really a function of what you were taught about feedback. And so it may mean that we have to kind of interrogate the way that we were taught about feedback and our understanding about feedback, to come up with a feedback system that actually serves us, our teachers and our students better. So here's the first objection that I get. I often hear from people that you can't give teachers feedback in a remote learning context, because it's all new to them, you don't want to upset them. I get it. I mean, people are really stressed out. But if you don't get into remote learning classrooms, while teachers are learning and give them feedback, how are you going to help those teachers, you know, overcome that learning curve and get better at delivering instruction? This is not a gotcha situation. And if the only time you go into a classroom is because you want to evaluate a teacher or write them up, or it feels like a gotcha situation, then you're right, you don't need to be anywhere near their classrooms. But if you've established a culture where feedback is not about gotcha, it's not about just evaluation, it's also about helping every teacher grow one level and one domain and one year or less, then you absolutely must be in the classrooms. And the earlier, the better. Because if you can intervene early, if you can give teachers feedback that helps them get better. They don't have to spend so much time bungling through remote learning and figuring it out on their own and said your feedback actually supports them and helps them improve so that they can be excellent, faster. So you absolutely should be in those remote learning classrooms early. And often. Because your teachers need your feedback. It's what will help them get better.

Forget that garbage about, well, let's wait till they get established and then give them feedback. Because that's like saying, I don't want to give students a quiz or some sort of formative assessment, because they're still learning. No, the formative assessment gives you and the students valuable information that helps them prepare for the summative. If the only time you go into a classroom is for some sort of summative observation or evaluation process, where it's written down in a file and follows a teacher for the rest of their lives, then you're not even modeling what we say good teaching is. So you need to be in the classrooms early. You need to establish a culture where we you show up in the classrooms, teachers aren't stressed out, because they know it's not a gotcha. And they know that the feedback you give them actually is going to be useful and not this garbage feedback that we often give away. A lot of teachers where we tell them well, you know, maybe you need to use a green screen because your background is distracting. Are you serious? Is that the best you can do? Or you go and try to take your checklist that the makers of that checklist have already acknowledged don't translate? Well, you try to make that checklist work.

Are you serious? No wonder your teachers don't want you in our classrooms. 

But if you walk in, and you come from a space of one thing, feedback designed to help every teacher grow one level in one domain in one year or less, then the feedback becomes useful, valuable, and it's something teachers welcome. The second objection that I get a lot is that this is hard, because I can't see the students a lot of times, and I can't do things like walk the walls. I mean, yeah, if you're looking at an asynchronous lesson, you can't see the students. But you should still be able to tell based on that lesson, whether or not that lesson is going to land with students, I mean, good teaching is good teaching. So while the students can give you some information, you still have enough information by watching what the teacher is doing to be able to give that teacher good feedback. One of the things that we do in builders lab is I'm actually showing as part of our micro slicing exercises, some remote lessons. And we're able to have very rich conversations around these remote lessons, even though they are designed to be a synchronous lessons. And we're talking about the impact on the kids. Once you get away from this idea of I've got to check this checklist of I got to see this, this, this, this and the other, and you really give yourself over to looking for root causes, and you really practice one thing feedback, then you are able to see what you need to see even if you can't see the students actual reactions.

Let's not discount, the fact that students engagement with the material is very important. So while you can't watch students faces inside the lesson, you can ask the teacher to look at the assignments that the students completed during the lesson and have really rich and meaningful conversations about whether the students got it or they didn't get it. So you still have that opportunity. You just have to be creative. If you're not so stuck on an instrument, you can figure out other ways to tell how students interacted with the lesson, you can look at the online forum, you can look at the student work, you can interview three of the students in the classroom to see how they engaged in the learning.

There's so many different options for you if you're willing to approach feedback like a builder.

Rather than approaching it like a leader, who's stuck and tied to a particular instrument. So that's the first objection. The second? Well, actually, that's the second objection, I'm on the third one. The third objection is that a lot of times people will say that remote learning limits the feedback that you can give, because you're only seeing one thing we've been doing micro slicing for years. So when we do micro slicing for a lot of our training, we're not in actual classrooms, we're looking at videos of the classrooms, you can't see everything, but you see enough, if you're the kind of administrator who likes to walk the walls, and you're looking for different things posted, there are other artifacts that you can see in a remote learning context. And in fact, those artifacts can give you a bigger, wider, better picture of the learning context, you can look at and take a guided tour somebody's Google Classroom. In fact, some of the administrators we're working with actually asked teachers to walk them through their classroom setup, to walk them through the remote learning resources that they've posted. And as they're talking through, the administrator has a really good opportunity to give teachers feedback, not just about an individual lesson, but about an entire learning plan and approach that they're taking with students. You can also look at other artifacts, you can look at letters that the teachers are sending home, you can look at how the assignments are being posted, you can look at interactions, one on one interactions that teachers have with students during office hours, you can even observe teachers during office hours, you can there's a whole list, one of the things that we've been doing for a lot of our clients is we've compiled an entire list of artifacts that you can use to round out the observations that you're having for the classrooms, you just have to be creative.

Here's another feedback opportunity that remote learning offers us that is not as available. When we're looking at learning face to face learning. You could actually have the teacher record a lesson that they're teaching with students in real time. And then you and the teacher can later on get together, watch the recording of the lesson. And then you can stop it and talk and have conversations about what's going on lesson in real time. So rather than you going in observing the teacher and then leaving and having to talk to the teacher later on, you can go in record a lesson or have the teacher record the lesson. You don't even be there. And then you and the teacher can watch the recording together so that you're not both functioning on your recall. But you're looking at what's happening in the classroom. You're seeing things together. You can collaborate on the feedback so that the feedback isn't just this one way feedback. Instead, you're really getting to the root cause of a teacher's practice. And you're looking at that classroom together.

So no more of this talk about how the evaluation process or the feedback process has to look different. 

Instead, this is your opportunity to get creative if you're not stuck in tied to a feedback system. If you're not stuck and tied to a leadership approach to feedback. If you can embrace the builder ship approach to feedback, then you can have more feedback opportunities, you can give teachers more meaningful feedback, you can see teachers implement your feedback right away. And you can see more growth in your teachers every single year. Because instead of relying on those traditional feedback approaches, you've allowed yourself to get creative and find new ways to support teachers and give teachers feedback, like a builder.

Alright, that's it for this time. Please join me again next time, same time, same place where we're going to tackle some other issues around this and if you have other questions, or Yes, buts. And I know one yes, buts gonna come up. What about the union? We don't have enough time to talk about in the podcast. But I'd love to talk to you about it in our school leadership, reimagined Facebook group. So go ahead and go to Facebook, join the group, raise your objections there, go ahead, feel free to beat me up. And let's talk about it. Because at the end of the day, what I want for you is for you to have systems that grow master teachers so that you can achieve your vision, mission and core values for your school. And you can do it with the people and resources you have right now.

So let's talk about it more, and I'll see you next time.

Hey, if you're ready to get started being a builder right away, then I want to invite you to join us at builder ship University. It's our exclusive online community for builders just like you where you'll be able to get the exact training that you need to turn your school into a success story right now with the people and resources you already have. Inside you'll find our best online courses, live trainings with me tons of resources, templates and exemplars and monthly live offers. office hours with me where you can ask me anything and get my help on whatever challenge you're facing right now. If you're tired of hitting obstacle after obstacle and you're sick of tiny little incremental gains each year, if you're ready to make a dramatic difference in your school right now, then you need to join Buildership University. Just go to and get started writing your school success story today.

I'll see you then!

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