Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Why “Many Mini” Observations Are Catching On Among Teachers

April 04, 2016

Teachers know that timely, frequent feedback can boost students’ learning. It’s no surprise, then, that teachers also understand the impact feedback can have on their own growth as educators. For many teachers, however, they receive this type of feedback only a couple of times a year, after an evaluator formally observes a full lesson in their classroom. As a result, some teachers feel that they don’t receive enough feedback—and that the feedback is based on an incomplete picture of their practice.

This issue came up in surveys and interviews that Aspire Public Schools, a charter management organization that I co-founded, conducted with their teaching staff. Many Aspire teachers said they wanted to have shorter observations at more frequent intervals throughout the year, rather than their standard model of one hour-long formal observation plus three “mini” observations. Many teachers thought that shorter, more frequent observations would provide a more authentic representation of their teaching. 

In response to this feedback, Aspire piloted a new evaluation option—the “Many Mini Model”—during the 2014-15 school year. The Many Mini Model consists of five short (15- to 20-minute) classroom observations and one lesson plan observation over the course of the year. At least four of the observations are followed by an in-person debrief between the teacher and the observer.

Aspire teachers were introduced to the new model and given the choice to participate in the pilot. Almost half of them did, reporting that they thought the Many Mini Model would primarily provide a more accurate representation of their teaching (23 percent), be less stressful (18 percent), and lead to more effective coaching (17 percent).

The data suggest that teachers’ expectations have been met. After a year on the Many Mini Model, pilot teachers said they believe that the model provides a more accurate representation of their teaching and more growth opportunities. In the words of one teacher, “My principal is seeing exactly what I do on a day to day basis, and is giving me specific feedback that betters my teaching practice.” Many also said that their previous model of observations was significantly more time-consuming and stressful.

Administrators agreed that the new model increased the accuracy of observations and offered more support and coaching opportunities for teachers. “The Many Mini Model has been a wonderful coaching tool and professional growth opportunity for teachers,” said one administrator. However, this administrator also noted one of the drawbacks of the model: “To do it well requires a substantial time commitment on the part of principals, creating a bit of a challenge for them to attend to the many other requirements of leading a school and/or the ability to give quality, timely feedback to teachers.”

Still, nine out of ten teachers, and 88 percent of administrators who used the Many Mini Model reported that they would use it again next year. And many of them said they were likely to recommend the model to a colleague.

In addition to being satisfied with the Many Mini Model, teachers seem to flourish and grow in their practice with it. Teachers who participated in the Many Mini Model pilot were more likely to increase their overall observation score, as compared to their peers who stayed on the classic model. 

This year, Aspire is working to refine the model to address teachers’ and administrators’ feedback on the pilot, such as tracking which indicators have been observed for each teacher, and exploring the possibility of using video to support observations scheduling and coaching. In this way, just as teachers are getting more feedback to improve their practice, Aspire’s leaders are also using feedback to strengthen their system—so that teachers are supported to drive students’ learning. As Aspire’s co-founder, I believe the Many Mini Model initiative is a concrete symbol of Aspire’s long-held belief that learning is a lifelong endeavor for everyone in the organization, students and adults alike—and that a listening and responsive culture fosters the best opportunities for all.

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