As a lead teacher in Mallard Creek High School’s art department, Beth Lasure is not one to miss a teachable moment.
Take, for example, one day in January when she asked one of the three beginning teachers she mentors and coaches a very simple question: “How’s it going?”
The newcomer proceeded to talk about a student who was disruptive in class. In describing the problem and how she handled it, Lasure says, the teacher was able to sort out her own mistakes and come up with a solution.
“What my goal has been in trying to be a better mentor and a better coach,” Lasure says, “is to listen carefully and to let them recognize why it’s happening by just talking it out on their own..”
To that end, Lasure relies heavily on the district’s new teacher observation tool to guide the kind of feedback she gives to teachers when she conducts peer observations. She uses it to conduct informal observations in the classroom, and it serves as a backdrop for more casual conversations she has with her colleagues on a day-to-day basis. She says that in her nearly two decades in the classroom, she’s never seen an observation tool as effective as the one she’s using now.
Like the rest of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg public school district in North Carolina, Mallard Creek is in the midst of adopting a new teacher evaluation system. Last year, it implemented a key piece of the puzzle: formal and informal classroom observations based on a rubric developed by the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning, or McREL, consulting group. The level of detail in the framework, she says, makes it an excellent tool for providing teachers with professional development specifically tailored to their needs.
“I try to keep that framework in mind when I’m talking to them about content as well as pacing, rigor, and leadership,” she says, “so they can see how all of these things are really connected.”
Pacing, for example, can be a challenge for new teachers, who are required to review information, make sure students understand it, hold them accountable, and introduce new information––all in one period. One of the department’s new teachers, she says, would move forward with new information before making sure her students understood what they learned the day before, so Lasure suggested she incorporate quick and easy assessments at the beginning and end of class.
Known as warm-ups and exit tasks, they pose very simple questions. For example: What was the point of today’s lesson? What is the difference between tracing, drawing, and print-making paper? “They are a great tool for classroom management,” Lasure says. “They solve a lot of problems. They give us information that we need, they do it quickly, and they keep students on task.”
Lasure, who attended the foundation’s Teaching is Learning conference as a member of her district’s implementation team, says the experience gave her newfound optimism about the direction of its evaluation system. “I’m on the receiving end of it. Normally I’m sitting in a faculty meeting being told what’s going to happen,” she says. “Being able to listen and think more deeply about how other people have thought about it really made me more confident in the whole process.”