Last week the faculty at Loomis Chaffee participated in Open Classroom Week, an opportunity for teachers to observe, and be observed by, their colleagues in the classroom.
Born out of the mission of the Kravis Center for Excellence in Teaching to create growth opportunities and model lifelong learning, this professional development opportunity is in its third year at Loomis, and takes place three times per year. Although many teachers invite their colleagues to observe any time, Open Classroom Week is an opportunity for teachers to break out of their silos, celebrate what is happening in classes every day, and gather for more formal feedback at the end of the week. As history teacher and The Keller Family Director of the Norton Family Center for the Common Good Eric LaForest says, “at a busy school it can be tempting to put your head down and do your thing. Open Classroom Week disrupts the routine just enough and creates space for the important metacognitive thinking that any craft requires.”
Teachers were encouraged to sign up their classes for observation and were prompted to not only explain what the lesson would be for that class period, but also on what aspect of teaching they were looking for feedback. The requested feedback included whether a teacher was creating an effective learning environment, whether a teacher provided enough individual attention in a collaborative learning environment, how to engage students who are tired at the end of the week and have just turned in a tough essay, and how to manage time effectively in the classroom, especially with a particularly chatty class.
“The reality is that teachers, like all other people, hold implicit biases, fall into most-comfortable habits that may bear stagnant routines, and can always stand to improve. A fresh set of eyes can identify those things for us and also serve as a sounding board off which to brainstorm solutions,” explained Michaela Chipman, a Penn Fellow and a member of the English Department. There were 20 opportunities throughout the week for teachers to visit classes, and many classes had multiple observers at once.
Observers and the observed shared feedback in myriad ways, including face-to-face conversations right after class, dialogues over email, and discussions during a group gathering at the end of the week. The Kravis Center provided an observation practices guide and encouraged teachers to use it to help focus their class visits. “Observation is most valuable when it is centered around a specific focus because there are thousands of choices that teachers make to build an effective learning environment, relate to students, and make learning stick,” Michaela explained. “I went into Open Classroom Week focused on teacher-student interaction, and I almost found it easier to observe this in a language course than any other because my knowledge of the content was severely limited.”
At the end of the week, the participants gathered in the Lyon’s Den in the Scanlan Campus Center to share feedback in small groups. Director of the Kravis Center Sara Deveaux said the comments are always that it is a very worthwhile professional development opportunity, and among many teachers’ favorite weeks of the school year. “This week always reminds me that complacency really has no home here [at Loomis],” she said. “The faculty are so willing to learn and engage, and really embrace the culture of lifelong learning.”