Observation is an important piece of the coaching process. You can’t coach what you don’t see. I like to begin by doing an overall observation in order to get a general feel of the classroom. In this observation my goal is to learn how the teaching team works together, what the daily schedule looks like, teaching style, and to introduce myself to the students. I do not bring in any coaching materials or notebooks at this time. I simply interact with the teachers and students as if I am part of the classroom. This is part of the relationship building process that is critical for collaboration.
Focused observation on the other hand is very specific, and based on the goals set by the teacher or coachee. In this type of observation, I might have a notebook and pen, or a video camera and concentrate specifically on the skill the teacher is practicing, or an area of concern. For example, in a planning session the teacher identifies circle time as an area of concern. She explains that she has been having trouble keeping the students’ attention. The teachers are having to give constant reminders to the students to sit quietly, raise their hands, keep their hands to themselves, and to watch the teacher. My first observation around this issue would be to go into the classroom and simply observe the behaviors of both the teachers and the students to try and identify practices that can be improved. For example, I would be looking to see if the teacher set the expectations of behavior before or at the beginning of circle time. Do the students know what is expected of them? Do the assistant teachers seem to understand what the expectations of the students are during circle time? Are circle time rules clear, and do they include visual reminders? Is the lesson and/or literature choice developmentally appropriate for that age group? Does the teacher have strategies for grabbing the students’ attention such as finger plays, songs, or chants? Do the students seem bored or tired?
Once the problems are identified through reflective conversation, and possible solutions are agreed upon, my next observation would be to watch the teacher using the identified solutions. For the previous scenario the teacher and I have identified that carpet rules were never discussed with the students or the assistant teachers, so we have decided to introduce carpet rules or expectations using visuals. The teacher would then create a visual chart of the expectations for circle time and introduce them to the students at the next opportunity. I would focus my observation on how the teacher introduces the rules, uses the visual to give reminders throughout circle time, and gives positive descriptive feedback to those that follow the rules. This observation could be accompanied by note-taking or actually videoing the teacher to watch at a later date. Either way, it should be followed up with reflective conversation.
Observations can be time consuming, especially when you are coaching more than one teacher. However, you MUST find the time to observe. Collecting data is an important piece to the puzzle and observations are the easiest and most accurate way to collect data. While it may be uncomfortable for some teachers at the beginning, once you have built the relationship with them and they can see the value and how it actually makes their job easier, they will welcome you with open arms!