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Avoid the Dog & Pony Show Observations

Avoid the Dog & Pony Show Observations

In this blog post I share a personal experience with observations as a teacher and how that impacted avoiding them as a dog and pony show as a leader, along with 4 steps to take to avoid the show.

Educational observations can play a crucial role in the professional growth of educators and the overall improvement of teaching and learning environments. However, the process of evaluation can sometimes take on the characteristics of a "dog and pony show," where educators may feel pressured to put on a performance rather than showcase their authentic teaching practices. Let’s explore the importance of maintaining genuine evaluative observations and provide insights for educators and educational leaders on creating an environment that fosters authentic professional growth.

Story Time

I can remember around 2012 a shift in my evaluation system and the immense pressure I began to feel around observations and the new Danielson model trends in my part of the world. The anxiety that would set in and the show I felt I had to put on. Looking back now I can remember the first time I was going to be evaluated like this, how I sat with my principal for my pre-conference and she knit-picked my 16 page lesson plan and “coached” me on every little thing to change to fit the model and what she wanted to see. I remember going back to my classroom and teaching the lesson I was going to teach and “coaching” my students on how it was going to go. Then came the observation. The lesson went exactly as we rehearsed the show and she sat at the back of the room typing her notes and reading the walls but never really engaging with the lesson, seeing or hearing what was really going on in the room, or even picking up this staged show. I filled out a template after “reflecting” on the lesson and then met with her for my Post Conference where we went over rubric scores and comments with some scripted Wows and Wonders (maybe?). What a learning experience that was…

Fast forward a few years and I was now a Principal with a responsibility to observe, evaluate and coach teachers. I had a decision to make, was I going to “coach” like I had been “coached” in 2012 or was I going to pull the curtain and get rid of the show? 

The Pitfalls of the Dog and Pony Show:

The term "dog and pony show" refers to a performance or display that is designed to

impress or entertain rather than to provide genuine insight or understanding. In the context of educational observations, this can manifest when teachers feel compelled to showcase their most impressive lessons, neglecting the day-to-day reality of their teaching methods. What I felt in 2012. The consequences of this approach are significant:

Superficial Evaluation:

When observations become more about showmanship than authentic teaching, evaluators may only see a carefully curated version of a teacher's abilities. This can lead to superficial evaluations that fail to capture the true strengths and areas for improvement.

Limited Professional Growth:

Teachers may miss out on valuable opportunities for professional development if they focus solely on creating a polished performance. The real benefits of observations lie in constructive feedback and meaningful reflection, which are essential for continuous improvement.

Misalignment with Classroom Realities:

Administrators and educational leaders may end up with a skewed perception of the teaching practices within their schools. This can hinder efforts to address specific challenges and implement effective support mechanisms.

Creating an Environment of Authenticity:

I was absolutely never going to be the leader who wanted to watch a dog and pony show, to have my teachers put one on, nor did I ever want them to feel they needed to. I don’t want fancy lesson plans turned into me beforehand that were anything more than the regular plans they would normally make. I don’t need to see teaching strategies they never use unless I am in the room. I don’t want to see forced and fake relationships that don’t normally exist on any other day. But each of the four schools I have led and the dozens I have coached leaders in I have run into the same thing: a need for a paradigm shift on exactly this. 

4 Proactive Steps To Take:

To shift away from the dog and pony show mentality, both educators and educational leaders can take proactive steps:

  1. Establish Trust: Cultivate a culture of trust between educators and evaluators. When teachers feel confident that the evaluation process is designed to support their growth rather than judge them, they are more likely to embrace authenticity. This is a process that has to be developed well over time, being visible in classrooms, walking your talk with your systems and feedback regularly, and being human and relationship centered every single time.

  2. Encourage Reflection: Promote a reflective approach to teaching. Encourage educators to reflect on their teaching practices regularly, not just during formal observations. This habit fosters continuous improvement and a genuine commitment to professional growth.

  3. Focus on Growth, Not Performance: Shift the narrative surrounding evaluations from performance reviews to opportunities for growth. Make it clear that the goal is to identify areas for improvement and provide support, rather than seeking perfection during observations. This is going to be a paradigm shift in itself for you as a leader in how you offer feedback. (Let me coach you up on that if you need help or ideas!)

  4. Provide Ongoing Support: Offer ongoing support and professional development opportunities based on the feedback received during evaluations. This ensures that educators have the resources and guidance needed to address specific areas for improvement. You know how students don’t need the same enrichment or interventions? Neither do teachers! Differentiation is a thing for ALL learners - regardless of age.  (Let me coach you up on that if you need help or ideas!)

Educational observations can be a powerful tool for enhancing teaching practices and fostering professional growth. By steering clear of the dog and pony show mentality, educators and educational leaders can create an environment where authenticity and continuous improvement are valued. Embracing a culture of trust, reflection, and genuine support will contribute to a more meaningful and effective evaluation process that benefits everyone involved in the pursuit of educational excellence. As a leader are you directing a curtain call or championing those you serve?

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