Techniques to observe and evaluate teachers in the classroom continue to evolve as education professionals look to meet growing reporting needs. Software from observe4success combines the newest technology, content that is easily understood, and meaningful graphic reports help teachers and administrators study and improve the craft of teaching. SmartBlog on Education caught up with observe4success Vice President Abby Sterensis at ISTE 2012 to learn more about how technology can improve the observation and evaluation process.
When principals move from a paper-pencil model, Sterensis said a big problem is that many software models are very complicated. When a principal sees the software demonstrated in a booth, it has all these bells and whistles. And then when the principal buys it and goes back to their school and tries to use it, they have no idea what they are supposed to do with it. Or a district buys it and tells a principal to use it and the principal doesn’t like it. Sterensis said many programs, surprisingly, weren’t built-out with principals in mind, and they are the end-user. Observe4success took a step back and looked at what classroom observation software should be trying to achieve. Sterensis said it is about collecting classroom data and giving principals a user-friendly way to store, sort and disseminate that data.
“We have principals using the system now that used to take notes on a Post-It. Then they would write the same notes on a second Post-It and put that Post-It on the teacher’s door so the teacher would have notes about the walk-thru,” Sterensis explained. “I don’t know what happened if the Post-It fell off the door.”
Tremendous research exists about high-performance classrooms and high-performance teachers, but Sterensis said it needs to be put into a format and a language that makes sense to a principal.
“Principals know they are supposed to getting into the classroom and giving their teachers feedback, but they don’t know exactly what it is they are supposed to be looking for, what kind of feedback they are supposed to be giving nor how often they should be giving it.”
Observe4success tries to answer those questions by incorporating best-practice research in an easy-to-use, one-page observation form. Principals input data into the web-based software via radio buttons while the program automatically tracks things like transition time. The program then looks at the same data over time and analyzes trends.
“We encourage people to move away from written notes because they can’t be analyzed the way other data can. The analysis piece of the system makes the process worthwhile. Principals were spending time in the classroom, but they weren’t taking much away from it because you can’t analyze what you are doing when you are writing notes on Post-Its.”
The data is also centralized so it can be shared with the teacher and among administrators. Sterensis says that transparency helps principals and teachers meet the evolving demands of education public policy, whatever those demands might be.
“We wanted to create this ideal world where a principal goes into the classroom every 3 or 4 weeks with a manageable system that gives instant feedback to the teacher. It gives the principal and the teacher a common language to use to talk about what is going on in the classroom. It is more of a collaborative atmosphere where teachers and principals are working together to improve throughout the year leading up to a formal evaluation. The system can still be used as a casual observation method, regardless of what the formal evaluation passed down from the state is going to be.” Sterensis explained. “We are going to end up customizing the system to fit the needs of specific state models as they are approved and implemented.”
Sterensis added that the exhibits on display at ISTE 2012 highlight just how fast education technology is changing. “The evolution of education technology on display at the ISTE show is amazing to me. It is great to see so many new names and new companies every year.”