Principal Academy Data: From Research to Practice

By: Amy Williams

Over the past two weeks, I have had the exciting opportunity to turn the observation data collected by SURN Principal Academy participants into charts, graphs, and data sets that participants can use to look for trends, to engage in dialogue with others, and to identify areas of strength and continued focus for their schools.  Research-based instruction is aligned with the tenets of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and SURN Principal Academy participants are not only using research-based practices like those highlighted in John Hattie’s Visible Learning, they are also generating, analyzing, and using school-based data to inform their teaching and administrative practices at both school and classroom levels.

Principals in 49 schools used the Student Engagement Observation form in over 1,700 classroom observations in their schools in the fall semester.  Across these observations, student indicators of engagement were assessed in classrooms from English to Mathematics, from sign language (ASL) to automotive repair.  The wide array of classrooms in which observations were conducted provides a rich data set that reflects both SURN Academy participants’ commitment to using data to inform leadership and teaching practices in all academic domains, as well as demonstrating the multitude of opportunities administrators have found to engage in dialogue with teachers about what is working in their classrooms and what possible next steps may be for teachers to promote high-yield student engagement in their classrooms.

The collection and use of this data to inform teaching and learning in schools allow administrators and teachers to share a common language focused on what practices best support student engagement and learning.  By consistently collecting, analyzing, and using data, SURN Principal Academy participants and the teachers with whom they work are able to identify strengths and needs, and to revise approaches proactively to promote student engagement and achievement.

In working with the data collected from over 3 months of observations, I have observed that SURN Principal Academy participants are not only gathering data, they are using it.  Observations of high-yield student engagement indicators have increased from September to December, and administrators are eager to get ahold of their data sets to explore, analyze, and outline next steps based upon their data reports.  I am honored to play a role in this process, and I look forward to continuing to support the SURN Principal Academy participants in their efforts to use data that inform teaching and leading within their schools.


Classroom Observations: Research, Practice, and Principal Academy

For Principal Academy participants, classroom observations are emphasized as a way to support the use of high yield instructional strategies by teachers (for more on these strategies, see John Hattie’s book, Visible Learning for Teachers).  These focused observations promote conversations between administrators and teachers about teaching practices and are used as a springboard for regular communication about both teaching and student learning.  Observations in the Principal Academy are not only regularly conducted by administrators, but are also conducted by teachers as a way to encourage inter-professional dialogue focused on the use of high yield instructional strategies to promote student learning.

Principal Academy participants are not the only ones who have their eyes on this informative practice.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently funded research that led to a published paper entitled The Reliability of Classroom Observations by School Personnel.  In this paper, Ho and Kane examine the reliability between administrative and teacher observers, and examine different combinations of observations that provide reliability coefficients of .65 or greater.

The full report can be found here:

Here are some questions to consider about classroom observations.  You may want to share these questions with your staff in conjunction with the article above.  Hopefully these questions, and your answers, will inspire dialogue among professionals throughout your school!

  • What do you believe are the benefits of classroom observations?
  • What reservations do you have about using observations to inform teaching practices?
  • What benefits might there be to including teachers as observers in the process?
  • How might you encourage observations and discussions about the observations to inform teacher practice and promote student learning?