A Long Look at Look-Fors
Posted by Caleb Allen on January 5, 2021 at 4:11 PM
Caleb Allen, instructional coach in Ohio, reflects on what it took to create a look-fors framework built on a shared vision of what high-quality instruction looks like within his organization—plus how he uses it with teachers to provide timely feedback.
ut of all of the levers for instructional leaders to focus on, which is most important for teaching and learning success? Is it student culture? Data informed instruction? Teacher clarity?
The lever that I've found to have the biggest impact on student learning is a shared language to align leaders and teachers on the key indicators—or look-fors—of classroom instruction.
The core idea is that using look-fors as an observational and feedback tool leads to richer, evidenced-based conversations which, in turn, impact student learning and success. Developing this shared language has given everyone in our building clarity around what successful teaching and learning looks and sounds like. Read on to learn how we developed them and how we use them in our school!
Involve all stakeholders
Building key look-fors in our instructional practices was not something that happened overnight. In fact, the process has taken us three years!
The first year, admins and teachers worked together to develop a framework of key indicators that lead to teaching and learning success. We took it a step further by matching high-leverage, research-based instructional practices to the indicators we agreed upon as a staff. As a result, we now all have a shared understanding of what high-quality instruction looks like, and we can talk about it using a common language.
Once the indicators were established, our principal and instructional coach started to conduct walkthroughs and observations together. These shared observations allow us to identify common instructional practices in classrooms that can be replicated easily across the building.
Build collective efficacy
Once we identified common instructional practices and key indicators, we realized we needed to build collective efficacy among staff.
In 2020 the belief that we can have a high impact on student learning by working together has been more important than ever. Shared confidence among staff not only encourages students to perform at a high-level, but also promotes instructional leaders to make this excitement visible to teachers.
All professional learning this year has focused around classroom practice:
- Teachers were given look-fors at the beginning of the year to create transparency and encourage conversation.
- We then used these look-fors in two ways: first, we asked teachers to share their areas of strength and areas of growth; second, we had admins share what they had seen and heard in classrooms, anonymously.
- We then asked teachers to claim their class, name the look for they addressed, and explain how their practice impacted student learning.
These professional learning conversations have built the belief among teachers that what they are doing is working. Not only that, but these conversations have provided space for educators to learn from one another and showcase what's happening in their classrooms.
So many times, after these conversations, I've seen a teacher implement a new practice that they heard from one of their colleagues. These conversations have built collective efficacy among teachers in a year where it's been harder than ever to feel like we're having a real impact on student learning.
Close the feedback loop faster
To close the feedback loop as fast as possible, our instructional leadership team has shared feedback faster in two different ways. I've taken the idea of a "Feedback Frenzy" from Adam D. Drummond’s book Instructional Change Agent: 48 Ways to be the Leader Your School Needs. Every 3 weeks, I share a document with all our staff that summarizes all the observations conducted in that time. I highlight 3 strengths and a few areas for growth based (of course) on the key indicators we've all agreed on.
Caleb and his team have made straightforward look-fors to make feedback fast!
We've also developed a post-observation checkout card. This card has the checkboxes, with the description of the look-fors. An instructional leader fills this out immediately after an observation, and shares it with the teacher right away. Doing this has resulted in richer, evidence-based conversations with staff about the observations and walkthroughs done in classrooms.
Creating and sharing key look-fors has proven valuable for instructional leaders and teachers alike. By having a shared vision of what high quality instruction looks like, we've built a culture where we all believe that we can impact student learning.
About our Guest Blogger
Caleb Allen is an instructional coach and sixth grade ELA and Social Studies teacher with seven years experience. Prior to becoming a coach three years ago, he spent his time strictly in the classroom teaching 6-8 grade Social Studies and Language Arts.
Caleb is driven by his why: to empower others to take their learning beyond the walls of the school and to spark wow moments. As a lead learner, he has a deep passion for growth and sparking curiosity in those that he serves.
Be sure to follow Caleb on Twitter @CalebCAllen!