Holly Slaughter was the first to introduce me to the name for what teachers do when they pause between the mini-lesson and work time to observe their workshops from the balcony:
Reading the room.
As teachers, “reading the room” means we peek over students’ shoulders to get a general sense of where they are in the learning process, and in the span of a few minutes, we have the information we need to engage in more intentional one-on-one conferences and small-group instruction. We take notes and look for trends to help us plan for future lessons and to monitor student progress.
As coach, I had my first whole-group “mini-lesson” with teachers at my new school last week. Since then, we’ve been been ina state of busy-ness that only the beginning of the year can bring. In two weeks, we’ll begin PLCs and establish a few coaching cycles and a different sort of work will begin.
For now, I am taking this opportunity to “read the room.” Only for me, as coach, the “room” is a building big enough for our nearly 700 students. The balcony view comes from at least one daily lap of the building, a quick greeting or “how’s it going” to gauge where, as a system, we are in the process of launching our year.
The shoulders I am peeking over do belong to students in the classrooms I have visited so far. That hasn’t changed. What is different is that the learning process I am monitoring is both theirs and their teacher’s. And just like they are doing, I’m taking advantage of these precious minutes to gain insight into how teachers are already working to meet their goals.
Take, for instance, the teacher who, yesterday, told me she was working hard to not overwhelm herself or her students with too much on the first day by relying on her carefully paced plans. Today, she shared, “We’re finding our groove.” Or the one who shared with her new para that she’ll only find herself worrying about losing a kid for another couple of days: “They learn so fast.”
Then there are the ones who have told me about the changes they’re making to their seating charts and schedules, the routines they forgot that they needed until they needed them, the plans they have for after school and the way they are juggling their personal lives.
And then there are some (thirteen so far in four days) who have already gotten a one-on-one conference of sorts through a classroom visit and more detailed feedback, all for the sake of “reading the room.” This part-to-whole view of the “room” gives me a chance to test drive feedback based on what they have told me is important to them. It gives me a chance to infer what they believe and to begin to see trends and patterns.
It’s all data. The building is bubbling over with it. And oh, what I would have missed, if I didn’t take this pause between the beginning of the year and our first facilitated small-groups and one-on-one coaching cycles to simply read the room.
Feel like you’re missing the “big picture” or looking for an opportunity to gauge, at-a-glance, where your learners are in the process of reaching their goals? Today’s parallel practice is all about reading the room:
- Every classroom by the nth day. Put each classroom on your calendar at 20-30 minute intervals and set a goal to “peek” in on everyone based on your schedule (Mine: Every classroom by the 9th day). Go on, make it public and let teachers know that your purpose is to get to know them better. The worst thing that happens: you have to update your goal, and wind up modeling how we all make adjustments based on real-time data in the process.
- Do a lap. Before or after school, during the lunch hour, whatever works for your schedule, pass by classrooms. Just like peeking over shoulders, peek into doorways. Make eye contact, exchange a well-wish, check in, and move on. The goal is breadth. From this balcony view, you are visible, and you are not looking to interrupt what they’ve got going on.
- Take notes. In addition to the kinds of notes that become more in-depth feedback after classroom visits, track the frequency with which you “check in” with teachers. The system I’ve used for years with adults and ten-year-olds alike creates a bar graph that helps me to be more intentional with my laps (see below for what this looked like on day two).
- Stay in the balcony. Remember the goal is “big picture” as much as it is planning for small-group (think PLCs) and one-on-one conferences (think coaching cycles). Look for trends that emerge and start developing hunches about next steps. You’ll have plenty of time to test these theories as the year progresses, after this productive “pause.”