Everyone Needs to Join the #ObserveMe Movement
By Meghan Ables, 2016 Arkansas Teacher of the Year
As teachers, we are often asked to reflect back on our first year of teaching. Initially, we think about all of the things we should have done differently, but it is equally important to remember that initial passion we had about teaching… our commitment to ensuring that each and every student would succeed … our desire to soak up new, exciting teaching practices … our excitement when given the opportunity to implement them in the classroom. Looking back, we were completely submerged in professional growth.
As we continue to reflect, it is important to be honest with ourselves. Has our passion for professional growth diminished over the years? As we complete our Professional Growth Plan (PGP) each year, do we submit it out of compliance instead of a passion for teaching? No matter how many years we have invested in education, we must always be hungry to grow with an urgency our students deserve.
As a first year teacher 14 years ago, and a non-traditional teacher at that, I was conscientious of the weaknesses I needed to overcome, but I worked daily to improve in those areas. I am a firm believer that strong mentoring can transform new teachers, and my mentor was no exception. She made it easy to focus on my professional growth by coming into my classroom at least twice a month and leaving me a sheet filled with important feedback. (The best mentor in the world, Carolyn Rhodes, pictured below.)
I remember sitting down and reading her comments over and over again. Her words filled me with pride, hope, inspiration and most importantly, ideas. Her little tips on how I could improve my lessons were the best part, and these ideas inspired me to look at my lesson plans differently. The growth I had in that year was exponential. I am ready to be back in that state of mind, back in a place where professional growth consumed my decision-making process. I believe the #ObserveMe movement can bring me back to that state of urgency.
It All Started with a Sign
One simple, authentic sign started the #ObserveMe movement. In December 2015 Heather Kohn posted a picture on Twitter of a sign she saw at St. Mark’s school. This tweet sparked a conversation that inspired Robert Kaplinsky, a math teacher from California, (@robertkaplinsky), to create a sign for his classroom door. His sign encouraged passers-by to observe him and provide critical feedback on how he was doing as a teacher. Kaplinsky began to promote the movement through social media, encouraging teachers to open their doors and welcome feedback. “It starts with us leading by example and checking our insecurities at the door,” he said. “We should welcome others’ constructive feedback and practice giving it as well.”
It wasn’t long before signs were popping up all around the world and teachers were receiving important feedback to help them grow as educators. This movement also has sparked networking opportunities among educators, who now feel more comfortable sharing best practices with each other.
It is important to know that this is a teacher-led initiative that can be incorporated to fit each individual teacher’s needs. There are no rules, no requirements and no timelines. Teachers across the nation are creating their own unique signs, rubrics, reflection forms and social media posts to promote the movement. Administrators, professional development providers and business leaders have even joined the movement, seeking feedback for improvement. This is a movement that encourages individual growth through observation, simply put.
How Do You Join the Movement?
Start by visiting robertkaplinsky.com/observeme and then researching #ObserveMe on Twitter and Facebook. Read about what other schools across the nation are doing. Think about how you could develop this to fit your personal needs and time schedule. As you develop your Professional Growth Plan for next year, decide if you can grow in those areas by observing your colleagues. Ask yourself how you could benefit from direct feedback from your colleagues. Start alone or pick a group of teachers to start the movement with you. Once you know where you want to grow and who is ready to grow with you, it is time to make your sign.
Your sign is just that – your sign. Some options for your sign and feedback forms include the following:
- A list of things you want your observers to look for while in your classroom. You can seek feedback in different areas each week.
- A QR code that loads a Google form with reflection questions.
- A sign that asks the observer to take a rubric from an envelope to fill out during the observation.
- A simple sign that asks the observer to grab a “grow and glow” sheet to fill out and leave for you.
- A sign that includes your PGP goals for the year and asks the observer to help you reach them.
- A sign that asks observers to send you an email of tips regarding how to improve your lesson.
**Check out http://robertkaplinsky.com/troubleshooting-observeme/ for other tips on creating your sign!
#ObserveMe in Arkansas
The #ObserveMe movement is sweeping the nation, including here in Arkansas. Several schools in Arkansas have accepted the challenge and are creating teams of teachers to grow together. For example, at Washington Middle School in El Dorado, what started out as a math department movement has since expanded to include literacy teachers and the library media specialist. Teachers are observing their peers across contents and across grade levels to find better ways of delivering instruction, using class procedures and incorporating technology.
(Stay tuned to see Washington Middle School’s #ObserveMe story through my Dare to be Different video series through the Arkansas Department of Education. Picture preview below.)
In Russellville, teachers from the middle school and junior high made special T-shirts to promote their #ObserveMe movement. Four teachers in Sheridan have posted their signs and recently started the movement. Teachers at Henderson Middle School in Little Rock are brainstorming about how they can implement the initiative in their building. This movement has definitely sparked a conversation among teachers here in Arkansas.
Each school has a unique story as to how the movement was started and how it has grown. Schools finding success with the movement have gained support from the superintendent, instructional facilitators and even parents. Administrators can support the movement by providing opportunities for teachers to observe their colleagues. Some administrators are helping by creating #ObserveMe rotations. Others are going into the classrooms for 10 minutes while the teachers observe each other. Teachers involved in the movement this year are already planning how they will make improvements and grow their #ObserveMe teams for the next school year.
Where’s Your Sign? (as Jeff Foxworthy would say)
Start talking to your colleagues now about starting your own #ObserveMe movement for the 2017-2018 school year. Go ahead and create your sign. You can include “Coming Soon” or “Beginning August 2017” on the bottom. Collaborate with a group of teachers who you think will join you on your mission. Show them this blog, the pictures on Twitter/Facebook and the stories from educators around the nation.
Once you decide to join the movement, make a pledge by posting a picture with your sign on Twitter and Facebook using #ObserveMe. Share your #ObserveMe journey with the state and nation by posting pictures during the process. Be sure to capture photos as you hang signs, create feedback forms, design T-shirts and complete feedback forms in the classroom. Don’t forget to share a list of strategies you learned through the process.
I look forward to learning how teachers are sharing, collaborating and growing as educators. I am excited to see the impact on student achievement because teachers simply opened their door and welcomed feedback. This movement is powerful, and the outcomes are endless. I am excited about the great things that are happening here in Arkansas, as we reach our goal of leading the nation in student-focused education. Our students deserve nothing less!