Dr. Page's Tech Blog


The Holistic Observation Approach

Author: Mark Page-Botelho Posted: 2015-06-06

As a teacher one of the most dreaded aspects of teaching, that has to get done every year and seems to be one of the biggest stress-inducing activities, is the dreaded clinical observation. Having been on both sides of the fence I can see the large amount of busy work that is involved. It makes me think back to a saying from Gordon Ramsay, a famous Chef, who often see kitchen workers working very hard but not efficiently. He calls it "working stupid." I've seen schools where the administrative staff believes that long hours and paper work equals hard diligent work. I call it working inefficiently. I've seen a few viewpoints that point out the negative aspects of the traditional state of observation methods, how they are not motivating, demoralizing, and are a waste of time.

According to my observations, the traditional clinical observation process followed by most schools and organizations is based on Goldhammer's model. His five-step process is designed to improve teaching performance. The desired primary purpose of this approach is to develop skilled teachers who are committed to continuous improvement, collaboration, and professional growth.

Effective clinical supervision should provide an opportunity for teachers to:
  • examine, share, and express their educational philosophies;
  • receive objective comments, advice, and guidance on their teaching;
  • explore the relationship between their predicted and actual performance during the instructional process;
  • consider the connections of their understandings and practices with theories and evidence-based practices;
  • target areas for improvement, monitor progress, and examine changes in their beliefs and practices.
Robert Goldhammer's model for clinical supervision includes five stages:
  • Pre-observation conference
  • Observation
  • Data analysis
  • Post-observation conference (supervisory conference)
  • Post-conference analysis
The teacher and supervisor work together during stages one, two, and four. The supervisor compiles and analyzes data during stages three and five.
Pre-observation Conference The purpose of this conference is to gather information related to the teacher's lesson plan, procedures, and assessments, and to develop an agreement or contract between the supervisor and teacher for expediting the plan. The Observation The purpose of the observation is to observe the lesson outlined in the pre-observation conference and to gather data and information that may be used to advance knowledge, skills, and dispositions of the teacher. Data Analysis During this stage the supervisor complies, sorts, and organizes the data collected into a usable format. Data from the observation provides a framework and content for the post-observation conference. The Post-observation Conference The post-observation conference is for the purpose of examining what occurred during the lesson, targeting areas for improvement or enrichment, and developing an action plan for continuous improvement of performance. Typically, this conference should be conducted at least a day or more, but not more than a week, after the observation. Typical Post-observation questions:
  1. Identify ways in which you think the lesson was successful and unsuccessful.
  2. What role did the students play in making you think the lesson was effective or ineffective?
  3. Highlight the evidence-based strategies you used.
  4. Compare what happened with what you anticipated would happen?
  5. Why do you think the lesson outcomes occurred?
Post-conference Analysis This stage gives the supervisor time to assess aspects of the clinical supervision process. The supervisor determines whether or not the teacher understands and agrees with the follow-up and improvement targets. The observer can also evaluate his/her own performance during the clinical conference process.
Goldhammer's model is well documented and widely used throughout organizations around the globe. However, it is not the end all to observations as there are new models emerging that promise a less intense method. These new methods, as Peterson and Irvine suggest, are less intrusive and have a long-term impact on employee performance. The problem with Goldhammer's model is that it only captures one moment in time, the data collected can be non-narrative, feedback can often include demoralizing stack ranking, and it is only from one point of view. Oftentimes traditional observations are perceived as needing a great deal of effort and energy, according to Jena McGregor in the Washington Post. The answer to the use of traditional observations is to move to a more holistic approach that is motivating and inspires employees to better themselves. The goals of observations, regardless of which model is used, should be to ensure teachers are moving towards an authentic learning environment, and that teachers are in some form or fashion trying to improve their practice. The Holistic model is conceived after the Growth model as described by Bill Peterson, and Adobe's model as described by Robert Sutton. The Holistic model is simple and is really nothing more than guiding principles. It is left intentionally simplistic so that it can be used as framework for organizations to create their own model. The most important aspect of any authentic observation model is that the community takes ownership of the model, otherwise the members will not fully participate in its undertaking. If the teachers do not buy into the program most of the effort will be lost and the participants will not gain from the experience. Just as with anything new, if you want high adoption rates, you need to entice people, not force them. This is a common tactic with students and your own kids, and should be the tactic used when getting teachers to take initiative in their own self-improvement. Angela Peery did a study that has shown that teachers are more likely to adopt new innovations if they feel that they are treated as professionals, that they are not pressured, and that they are supported. A study done by Sam, Othman, & Nordin actually showed that something as simple as making teachers feel comfortable while attending a workshop increased the effectiveness of workshops (Ncsu.edu, 2003). The guiding principles include being informal, frequent, and non-agenda-ized. The observations need to be done by a leadership team, and not just one person. The purpose of informality is that observations need to be a true clear snapshot or a frame that will later be used by the leadership team to build a clear understanding of the progress of a teacher or employee and what they can do to help. The leadership team should always try and start a conversation by using a personal touch and with a non-school or organization related topic to instill less stress and anxiety. The frequency is vital as well as there are good days and there are bad days. It is unfair and not formative to gauge a person's performance on a single event. Finally, the observation must be non-agenda-ized as there are a vast array of variables and topics that may or may not be evident in a single observation. If an observer is looking for something in particular, but that item is not relevant, then the time observing has been wasted. Once again the process is simple and is used only as guiding principles. The process is ever-ongoing and there is no singular event that signifies that an "official" observation has taken place. This is a concept that can be difficult to grasp for administrators, but is crucial. Self-improvement is not a singular event. People are always improving themselves, all the administrator is doing is facilitating the opportunities for their staff to help themselves. Administrators can help by facilitating coaching, peer coaching, helping narrow personal learning focus, suggesting reading resources, volunteering to team teach, sharing expertise, and following up. It has more to do with internally motivating the staff to improve by giving them coaching opportunities and advice, rather than evaluating them. The benefits as I've witnessed and by the data collected by Adobe include "a feeling of relief (that) has spread throughout the company because the old annual review system was 'a soul-less and soul crushing exercise.'" They also found that most Adobe managers and employees found the new system to be less cumbersome and more effective than the stack-ranking system. 78% of their employees reported that the relationship between themselves and their manager improved. There was also less turnover in employee retention as employees with difficulties had more coaching time. Finally, they found that voluntary attrition dropped 30% and those that left did so on good terms. I myself have witnessed with my professional development and integration PD(i) model (that follows the Holistic observation model) that faculty felt more at ease with technology and found it more tailored to their needs. The goal of the Holistic model is to motivate and help employees better their practice, and to create lasing change, and to not burden them with ineffective observation models.
  • Irvine, D. (2014). How to Remake the Traditional Performance Review and Reap Deep Benefits * An Adobe Case Study. RecognizeThis! Blog. Retrieved 6 June 2015, from http://www.recognizethisblog.com/2014/02/how-to-remake-the-traditional-performance-review-and-reap-deep-benefits-an-adobe-case-study/
  • Ncsu.edu,. (2003). Meridian Article: Computer Efficacy, Use and Phobia - Winter 2010. Retrieved 26 March 2014, from http://www.ncsu.edu/project/meridian/winter2010/agbatogun/index.htm
  • Peterson, B. (2015). Teacher appraisal is dead.... What Ed Said. Retrieved 6 June 2015, from https://whatedsaid.wordpress.com/2015/05/20/teacher-appraisal-is-dead

Holistic Observation Appoarch
Holistic Observation Appoarch