The purpose of observing instruction with leaders will likely change across the course of a school year: 

Beginning of Year

  1. Deepen understanding of leader’s strengths and needs aligned to Leader Levers 1, 3 and 4
  2. Learn more about instruction, planning and the school’s curricular materials

Throughout the Year

  1. Norm and align with a school leader and team on the quality of instruction and determine ‘what’s next’
  2. Prepare the leader to give effective feedback and development to teachers
  3. Evaluate the impact of professional development & feedback from leaders to teachers (tied to the school’s instructional priority if appropriate)

Reminder: It is recommended you observe instruction 3 times a year with leaders of the same 4 teachers to set a baseline for the school and track impact of our work with leaders over time using the Core Actions.


Time of Year

Approach to Observation

1. Beginning of Year

  • Diagnose teacher strengths & areas of need as it relates to the Shifts and standards (and a school’s priority if appropriate)
  • Get a sense for how a school is implementing a specific curriculum (especially if curricula is new for the school)

2. Middle of Year/Ongoing

  • Understand & monitor progress of teachers on a specific priority or academic focus 
  • Determine the impact of a recent PD opportunity on teachers’ instructional practices (session, planning meeting, etc.) 
  • Determine the impact of feedback on teachers’ instructional practices and/or identify and practice feedback to give to teachers

3. End of Year

  • Understand & define the progress of teachers on a specific priority or academic focus
  • Define teacher strengths & needs for determining a focus/ priority for the upcoming school year

*Depending on the school you may want to use the Instructional Practice Guide from Student Achievement Partners with leaders or just for yourself.  If the school has it’s own observation tool this is an opportunity to evaluate the extent to which it grounds in the Shifts & standards.

 Protocols and Agendas 


There are three tips we would suggest to ensure that classroom observations are effective.

Tip 1: Set up the structure & overarching purpose of the observation with the leader ahead of time

  • Ensure there is a focus for the observations either through your pre-brief or via email.  Some coaches use the Math & ELA Core Actions while others may use a school’s observation form or guide. You will want to use your judgment when deciding on what to use. You should be able to answer the question “what am I/we trying to learn from this observation?”  
  • When scheduling observations, have at least a short period of time to do a “pre-brief” with a leader before heading into classroom observations. Check in with the leader to ensure the planned focus is still the right direction for the day.
  • We strongly recommend you avoid observing instruction by yourself.  This does not give you an opportunity to align with the school leadership team on what you’re seeing and to understand their own knowledge of strong, Common Core aligned instruction.

Tip 2: Determine the “look-fors” prior to observations—what should you look for to learn about your focus?

  • Coaches have found it helpful to clarify the “look-fors” or evidence that they will be collecting during an observation with leaders, often pulled directly from the Math & ELA core actions. For example, if an ELA focus area is the impact of a recent PD on text-dependent questions, then a team might decide that they will script questions a teacher asks as an objective measure during the observation to later debrief.
  • Some coaches have also found it helpful to build leaders’ knowledge around a particular focus area by showing video clips or reviewing objectives/plans aligned to this focus prior to observing in classrooms. For example, if a focus area is “text-dependent questions,” a coach might show a video clip of high quality TDQs being asked and/or review examples of TDQs prior to observing for these in the classroom.

Tip 3: Use low inference notes in your observations with the leaders to ground in what you are seeing in the classroom

  • This is an effective way to ensure you are grounding in what teachers are doing/saying and what students are doing/saying rather than your/the leader’s opinions of what’s happening.  
  • Here is a resource from Student Achievement Partners on low inference notes.

Tip 4: Determine time to debrief & next steps after observations

  • Most coaches debrief observations directly after the observations have taken place. The debrief is a great opportunity to align on the strengths & needs observed and to determine the next steps the leaders will take based on trends. The debrief also allows space for you to listen & diagnose leaders knowledge & skill related to the focus area, prioritization, and providing feedback to teachers/teams.  
  • In addition to debriefing in person, coaches send follow-up emails that summarize the trends from the observation & next steps. While this isn’t required, it is a good practice for keeping things fresh & aligning the team.

Next Steps/Follow-Up 

  1. Synthesize evidence to determine instructional priority/affirm progress/set next steps
  2. Prepare leaders to give feedback to teachers
  3. Create or refine a professional development plan for the school
  4. Set intention for future observations and feedback to teacher