The Importance of Monitoring
The province of Ontario has made significant gains in education over the past decade. Internationally we have been recognized for our work in equity and excellence. We have become better at interpreting data and setting goals that genuinely address improvement in our classrooms. We have recognized that “together we are better,” and through PPM 159, Collaborative Professionalism, Ontario has identified a new way of professionally learning and doing business. Although Math remains a focus, we are better at identifying what’s working well and what still needs attention. We are not afraid to address our problems of practice. In Ontario, we strive to go deeper.
With these positives in play, there is one vital school improvement practice that we need to improve on – Monitoring. Monitoring school improvement progress remains a challenge. To keep the Ontario school improvement agenda moving forward we need to fine-tune the monitoring process we use in schools.
What is Monitoring?
Monitoring is the act of measuring educational improvement. The monitoring process forces us to reflect on our practice and tweak what we are doing to help students meet with success. Monitoring is not an evaluative process. Student learning is examined and teacher practice is reflected on in order to help the student meet with success.
Why is there a Need to Rethink Monitoring?
The traditional monitoring practices provide basic information about school improvement, however, we need to deepen our understanding of what is going on in Ontario’s classrooms. Monitoring school improvement takes time. For purposeful monitoring to occur common understandings must be shared between the teacher and school principal. As co-learners, they must enter into a learning partnership with the common goal of helping students develop. It is necessary that both parties understand and share common understandings of what will be observed and what it should look like and sound like in classrooms.
Going Deeper Requires Starting with a Monitoring Conversation
In the true spirit of collaborative professionalism, a monitoring conversation needs to take place before the classroom visit to develop shared understandings. Both parties must identify and mutually agree upon a goal for the monitoring visit. Then a monitoring conversation must take place about quality of work. Each party must share what they expect student success to look like and sound like.
If Assessment for Learning is the practice being monitored, then the teacher must engage in a conversation about the things the principal will see during the classroom visit. The teacher needs to identify the Assessment for Learning practices the principal will see and what will this look like in his/her classroom. If learning goals and success criteria are used throughout the lesson, then the teacher must explain how and what this will look like and sound like in practice. It is then time for the principal to share what he or she expects to see.
In today’s world of education, it is an assumption to expect teachers and principals to share the same look-fors in practice. Not all principals have taught every grade, and not all classrooms are created equal. Through the course of this professional dialogue common understandings need to be established to help “monitoring” become more precise and personalized. The conversation helps the process become more transparent. With this in place, the experience of monitoring becomes richer and sets the stage for authentic professional learning to take place. Together we learn. Together we are better.
The Classroom Visit
Once a monitoring conversation has taken place, the classroom visit becomes a mutual learning experience focused on reflection, not evaluation. Observations are made based on common understandings established during the monitoring conversation. With authentic collaboration between the teacher and the principal, observations will be more focused and insightful.
Students should be involved in conversations during the observation to see if common understandings have morphed into transparent, clear classroom practice. Three questions will yield rich information from students that can help triangulate the information gained from the classroom visit.
Student perspectives can be captured by asking these three questions:
- What are you doing?
- Why are you doing it?
- How do you know you are doing it right?
The information gained from students by asking these questions will deepen understanding of the practice observed.
After the Monitoring Visit
After the monitoring visit to the classroom, a shift in practice occurs. A debrief takes place after the visit and it should be a collaborative sharing of observations. Based on the clear, common understandings established prior to the classroom visit, the teacher and principal enter a reflective discussion about the effectiveness of the practice observed. They become co-learners and start to reflect on the class evidence as peers. Both listen, learn and ask questions. Here are some sample questions that can start the conversation.
- What did you see students doing?
- What did you see the teacher doing?
- What did you hear the students say?
- What did you hear the teacher say?
- What did you notice?
- What did you wonder about?
- Did the students have a clear understanding of what was expected of them?
- What practices have shown student improvement?
- What is the difference that makes the difference?
Collaborative professionalism needs to be central to our daily practice. Learning becomes deeper when we learn from one another, on behalf of one another. The practice of monitoring is considered a formalized reflection time to check in on our practice and give voice to our ideas of what’s happening in our classroom. The teacher voice and the principal voice must be present and heard.
A shift in our monitoring practice occurs, moving perceptions of the process from top down to collaborative, and from an evaluative experience to a learning opportunity. The monitoring process, when complete, should finish with two questions that establish a learning partnership between teacher and principal.
- What does the teacher need to do next?
- What does the principal need to do to support the teacher’s growth?
Collaboration, reflection, commitment and joint ownership are established when authentic monitoring conversations happen. Adding collaboration and the monitoring conversation to the process, keeps the experience real.
Educator, International Consultant, Editor of Principal Connections Magazine, Speaker, Program Developer and LSA Facilitator. Deirdre Kinsella Biss has more than 35 years of experience both leading and building teacher and principal capacity. As a former Student Achievement Officer for the Ministry of Education in Ontario and as an Instructor at Lakehead University, Deirdre offers insightful expertise in curriculum development, implementation and pedagogy. Her background as a Dufferin Peel school principal, consultant and teacher ignites her passion and strong belief in Ontario’s innovative approach to education.