Two women having a conversation across a table

“I’m teaching one of the best lessons I’ve ever taught, and none of the students are paying attention.” It’s odd that years later I still remember these words coming into my mind as I was pouring my heart into a lesson that had nearly zero attention from the students I was teaching.

As I was teaching, I was presenting the lesson to the students, and that was the problem. The lesson was all about me sharing my thoughts, and if I was going to salvage the lesson, I had to do something quickly to pull the students in.

So, I started seeking input from the students. “What do you think about this?” “Explain why you think that?” “Help me understand your thoughts better.” “Talk to the rest of your group and see if your group agrees or has other opinions.”

This simple act changed the whole lesson. The lesson went from being just a lesson of my thoughts to an exploration of everyone’s thoughts and feelings around the lesson objectives. The lesson went from a failure to a success that quickly.

You probably recognize the reason the lesson was salvaged was due to the increase of student cognitive engagement in the lesson through my seeking greater student input and through better questioning (NEE Indicator 1.2).

We can take what we know about the benefits of student cognitive engagement in the classroom and apply it to engaging teachers in their post-observation conference. When teachers are prepared and engaged, the quality of the feedback conference greatly improves.

Why Teacher Engagement Matters

No matter how well you prepare and how well you present the information, set the focus, and work toward the goal of the post-observation feedback conference, the teacher is still a passive participant if nothing more is done. Research indicates that improvements in classroom practices and student success come when the teacher has confidence that the feedback from the post-observation conference can increase their effectiveness in their classroom. 

This cannot be overstated. Merely offering feedback to a teacher alone is not likely to lead to teacher growth. The teacher must leave the conference believing in the accuracy of feedback that was given and confident about planning and implementing the next steps. 

Whether in a classroom lesson or a post-observation conference, the opportunities for success rise when everyone is cognitively engaged in working toward the goals of the activity. When evaluators decrease the appearance of judgment in a post-observation conference and increase the feeling of value in the teacher’s input, the conference is more likely to yield concrete results.

This does not mean the evaluator cedes control of the conference. Quite the opposite: The evaluator has an increased responsibility to lead the conference in a way that leads to teacher growth.

In order to make this happen, the evaluator should ensure that teachers are prepared for their post-observation conference so they can engage in the discussions and benefit from the conference.

Preparing Teachers for the Post-Observation Conference

There are several steps evaluators can take to prepare the teacher and create a collaborative atmosphere in post-observation conferences. 

Before beginning the classroom observation process, explain the format of the post-observation conference. Sometimes the hardest part of any activity is not knowing what to expect. Evaluators should establish a specific framework for their post-observation process and share this framework. Teachers should be made aware of the process before classroom observations begin and may need reminders scattered throughout the school year.

The post-observation framework includes the steps outlined in NEE’s Guide to Effective Feedback Conversations and the Four Paths to Effective Feedback. Discuss the data collected from the classroom observation, and ask guided questions to better understand of the teacher’s planning of the lesson and their perspective of what occurred in the classroom. This allows the teacher to have input in the conference and see their input is valued.

Ensure that teachers understand the post-observation conference is about growth. Classroom observations and their subsequent feedback conferences often place teachers in a vulnerable position. The evaluator needs to ensure the teacher understands that the focus of the post-observation conference is growth. The evaluator must demonstrate a growth mindset through the communication that occurs in the conference. The less the teacher views the evaluation as something done to them and more as a tool for growth, the more they can let their guard down and engage in a collaborative conversation to discuss the classroom observation and next steps. This seems to be true regardless of the quality of the lesson observed and the expertise of the teacher. By creating a safe environment for discussion, evaluators and teachers can have real conversations that lead to teacher growth.

If evaluators submit scores and comments immediately after a classroom observation, establish the expectation that teachers will review the information shared by the evaluator prior to the post-observation conference. NEE’s evaluation system allows evaluators to submit scores and comments for the observation prior to the post-observation conference. If they have the opportunity to do so, teachers should review scores and comments before meeting with the evaluator. Our goal for the conference is always to make it a back-and-forth discussion of what can help teachers grow.

It should be noted that some administrators prefer to finalize scores and comments after the post-observation conference, and if that is the case, teachers will not have an opportunity to review the scores and comments. Our next recommendation will help teachers begin to understand the focus of the conference and will help them prepare.

Email the first couple of questions you plan on asking the teacher before the conference. Emailing these questions gives the teacher advance knowledge of the focus of the conference and allows them to think more deeply about what you’re asking before the conference takes place. (Evaluators might also choose to put questions to be discussed within their comments of their classroom observation report.)

Have you ever responded to someone and later thought you wish you would have said something you thought of afterward? I do this all the time, and sometimes I realize my initial response might not have even been completely accurate after having time to consider the topic.

Emailing teachers these questions before the conference allows teachers time to carefully think about the lesson from the classroom observation and to more carefully consider their responses.

All these steps are helpful for better engaging teachers in the post-observation discussion and having them think deeply about their teaching actions and how to improve.

Completing the teacher observation process without teachers preparing for their post-observation conference would be like marching down the football field with the ball on the 1-yard line in a 1st-and-goal situation and failing to score. The classroom observation becomes a missed opportunity and will likely not yield good results.

The last thing we want to do is invest our time in classroom observations and miss the opportunity to maximize the effect of the post-observation conference by not ensuring that teachers are prepared.

Are your teachers prepared for their post-observation conference? Are you establishing an atmosphere of cognitive engagement and collaborative discussion? When teachers are prepared for their post-observation conference, it can be a game-changer in terms of teacher growth. It may just be the missing link to push your post-observation conferences to a whole new level of success.

Chuck Mayes is a NEE trainer and field support representative. He retired in 2020 after 30 years in K-12 public education where he served as a teacher, elementary principal, middle school principal, and for eight years as the Sikeston Chief Academic Officer/Assistant Superintendent working with curriculum, assessment, gifted education, and virtual learning.

The Network for Educator Effectiveness (NEE) is a simple yet powerful comprehensive system for educator evaluation that helps educators grow, students learn, and schools improve. Developed by preK-12 practitioners and experts at the University of Missouri, NEE brings together classroom observation, student feedback, teacher curriculum planning, and professional development as measures of effectiveness in a secure online portal designed to promote educator growth and development.