Two women sitting across from each other at a table by a window

The smell of a freshly waxed gym, the crisp look of new bulletin boards, the supply closet brimming with new stock. These are all typical signs that a new school year is here, even if this year back-to-school looks more like new virtual backgrounds on teacher computer screens and phones ringing relentlessly with technology questions.

The new school year is a time to begin again with a fresh start for everything, including your first feedback conversations with teachers for the year. You have an opportunity to reset as you begin this year’s post-observation conferences. As with almost everything in this profession, it is all about establishing relationships with teachers that will encourage learning and growth.

So how do you do that? Here are a few suggestions.

Establish a positive physical environment

  • Consider hosting the conference in the teacher’s classroom.
  • If you do conduct the conference in your office, don’t sit behind your desk, which is the ultimate power move. This stance is reserved for times when you need to use your authority, not the first conference of the year. Pull your chair to the corner of your desk, or seat the two of you in a couple of comfy chairs turned in to promote conversation.
  • Offer a cup of coffee or a soda. This immediately says this is going to be a conversation, not an inquiry.
  • Let the front office person know you are not to be interrupted and to hold your phone calls. Allowing interruptions communicates that the conference is not all that important to you.

Connect

  • Begin the conference by asking the teacher a personal question that shows you know him or her outside of the school setting. Who wants to have an honest conversation with someone who doesn’t know you?  “How was that beach vacation?” “Did you get all of those tomatoes canned?”  “How did little Suzy do at dance tryouts?”  Can’t think of a question? Examine your relationship.
  • Set an encouraging tone by using relaxed conversational speech over more formal vernacular.
  • Acknowledge that teaching is difficult. Don’t only focus on what went wrong in the lesson, but celebrate what went right as there is much to learn from success no matter how small.
  • Remember that this conversation is personal to the teacher, and the exchange of ideas should be tailored to his or her needs. Teachers know if a post-observation conference is cookie-cutter ready.

Who owns the conference?

  • First-of-the-year conferences are all about encouraging teachers to set goals for the year.
  • Ask questions that help teachers to discover their challenges and to guide them to resolve these challenges themselves. “Where did your students grow the most last year? Why?”  “Where did you spend your teaching energy last year? How did that work?”  “What teaching behaviors grew the most for you last year? Is that securely in your tool belt now?” If you’re in a remote or hybrid learning setting, ask about the teacher’s comfort level with technology: “What is more difficult for you: manipulating the technology itself or mastering the nuances of teaching online?”
  • Asking these reflective questions is useless if you don’t be quiet, listen, and allow the teacher time to process and respond.   

Respect the teacher

  • Don’t wait for things to settle down before getting into those classrooms and conducting post-observation conferences.  Classroom observations and feedback that happen right out of the gate pronounces that teaching and learning are a priority in this school.
  • Be prepared for the conference. Review the NEE Guide to Effective Feedback Conversations, also available on the Help and Resources menu of the NEE Data Tool.
  • Be timely with your feedback and the length of conference. NEE’s standard recommendation is that feedback occurs within 24 hours of a classroom observation.
  • Add the outcomes of the conference to the comment box in the classroom observation report in the NEE Data Tool. This shows the teacher that you value the conversation and will be able to hold them accountable for action.
  • Deliver on what you promise during the conference.  Did you say you would be observing again, providing resources, giving additional feedback, etc.?

You always have time for what is important. What could be more important in your role than growing your No. 1 resource for student achievement?

If you need additional ideas or support, contact NEE at nee@missouri.edu or 844-793-4357.

“Let us make a special effort to stop communicating with each other, so we can have some conversation.”

– Mark Twain

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.