Using Classroom Observation to Create a Learner-Centric Culture

Using Classroom Observation to Create a Learner-Centric Culture

Superintendents nationwide are seeking better ways to ensure that classrooms help all students engage with rigorous content and take a more active role in their own learning. This is particularly important now as districts implement college- and career-ready standards, which require that students demonstrate deep conceptual knowledge and problem-solving skills that they truly “own.”

Districts that are serious about creating learner-centered classrooms need quality information about how well their classrooms are at encouraging active learning, using individual monitoring and feedback, and employing technology to encourage more hands-on, student-directed activities in their classrooms. Teachers need to understand through direct observation of their work the extent to which their classroom environments are equitable, set high expectations, address student needs, and manage learning. Also,instructional leaders need to use this real picture of the classroom environment as a vehicle to establish a more learner-centric culture in every building.

Athens City Schools used AdvancED’s new Effective Learning Environments Observation Tool™ (eleot™) to do just that.

The app is a low-cost classroom observation instrument that enables instructional leaders and staff to examine classroom environments for their effectiveness across seven domains of student engagement that research say makes a difference in learning.

To introduce our state’s new college - and career-ready standards - our school district redesigned our curriculum, sought to provide professional learning in conceptual mathematics, and restructured classroom instruction. We saw the potential to use eleot to ensure we remained focused on student-centered learning and to demonstrate progress on our promise to introduce a student-centered/ standards focused instruction in every classroom. We used the data from eleot in instructional retreats, professional learning, as part of instructional retreats and in the district’s strategy to rely on data for continuous improvement.

One of the first challenges we faced was how to promote conversation and collaboration around the pedagogy of student-centered instruction necessary for student mastery of the standards. A few members of our staff had experience with eleot as a result of participating with AdvancED External Review teams. We looked at the tool and highlighted key areas that directly aligned with the curriculum goals in the district’s strategic plan.

We took a practical approach. Our goal was to do a few things well and then expand. The district curriculum team initially introduced eleot to building administrators with guidance to share back with their teachers, and in spring 2014, we launched eleot as a tool to take the temperature of the classroom environment to see if they were really conducive to student-centered learning. Our conversation as a district was focused on growth. The motto we approached this process with was, “We can only grow from where we really are.” 

Outcomes from our administrators and curriculum developers using eleot had a far wider reach that that of the numerical information we had previously gathered. Leveraging the student-centered design of eleot resulted in conversations that were not only student focused, but rich and full of implications for further examination. As opposed to other forms of observation, this tool supported productive conversations regarding practices that transformed instruction, thus leading to student learning.

The conversations between district curriculum team members and school administrators, teachers and district curriculum team members, as well as teachers and school administrators, became more focused and productive. Professional learning implications were bountiful, but the insight for teachers regarding their changing role in the classroom was most powerful. Keeping our focus on students was transformative.

Upon reflection, we determined that we would move forward using eleot consistently throughout school year 2014-15. Both the school administrators and district curriculum team would visit each classroom in our system and while there are frequency expectations, there is currently no schedule.

We used the eleot form electronically which allows us to not only gather, but also evaluate and share data regarding observations.

In 2014-15, as part of our quarterly district data meetings that are held at schools, we reviewed the eleot rubric and visited classrooms together in each of our schools. These District Data Observations are followed by a debrief session and general feedback notes for the host school. As part of the data meeting, results from the quarterly eleot results are shared in grade level, schools, or content area groups at our data meetings. This has proven to benefit our consistency in student observations as well as accountability to each other for getting into the classrooms.

The student focus of eleot has supported the change in pedagogy. Our Alabama College and Career Ready Standards relate primarily to what students will learn and because the standards emphasize reasoning and problem-solving skills as well as developing deep conceptual understanding the implications for instruction are transformative. The eleot structures, conversations, and practices have supported the change in pedagogy at all levels of our organization. Administrators have a better idea of the changing role of teachers, teachers understand more deeply the engagement and dialogue necessary for student mastery of standards and this is reflected in the results of student learning. 

Mr. Trey Holladay

W.L. "Trey" Holladay, III is a twenty-nine year veteran public school educator with twenty-four years spent in administration.  He holds an undergraduate degree from Athens State University in social science, a master’s degree from The University of West Alabama in educational leadership, a specialist degree from Lincoln Memorial University in educational leadership and receives his Doctorate in Educational Leadership and Strategic Change from Lipscomb University this July. He is completing his second year as superintendent of the Athens City Schools system.  His previous experience includes central office administration, high school principal, elementary principal, assistant principal, athletic director, classroom teacher, and head football coach in the state of Alabama.

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