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Taking Charge of Your Instruction with Peer-Collected Classroom Data

Trent E. Kaufman

Emily Dolci Grimm

Foreword by
Sarah Brown Wessling
2010 National Teacher of the Year

Title Page
Title Page

About the Authors

Trent E. Kaufman is a principal at Education Direction, a school reform research and consultancy firm focused on improving student outcomesacross school systems. Education Direction serves state offices of education, school districts, and schools in implementing teacher-driven observation and other data-driven improvement processes. Prior to founding Education Direction, Kaufman served as a teacher, department chair, technology coordinator, athletics coach, dean of students, assistant principal, and principal in northern California. He also previously served as a research and teaching fellow for the Harvard Graduate School of Education, a summer fellow for Industry Initiatives in Science and Math Education, a national faculty member for High School Futures, and a senior analyst for Education Resource Strategies.

Kaufman earned his doctorate in education policy, leadership, and instructional practice from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and his master's degree in education leadership from the University of California at Berkeley. He is the coauthor with Emily Dolci Grimm of Collaborative School Improvement: Eight Practices for District-School Partnerships to Transform Teaching and Learning (2012) and the author of a chapter in Data Wise in Action (edited by Kathryn Parker Boudett and Jennifer L. Steele, 2007), and his work has been published in Education Week.

Kaufman has presented at dozens of conferences, including ASCD's annual conference, Learning Forward, National School Board Association, California League of Schools, Brown University's School Leadership Institute, and the California Charter School Association.

Emily Dolci Grimm has worked as a teacher in both traditional and alternative settings for over a decade. She currently works as a principal at Education Direction. Prior to this position, she served as a teacher, coach, and response to intervention team member at a high school in Maine. While there, she secured grant funding to create and implement the Girls' Aspirations Program, an alternative education program to meet the needs of at-risk girls in the community.

Grimm earned her bachelor's degree from Haverford College and is working toward her master's degree in educational leadership at St. Joseph's College in Standish, Maine. She is the coauthor with Trent E. Kaufman of Collaborative School Improvement: Eight Practices for District-School Partnerships to Transform Teaching and Learning (2012), and her work has been published in Education Week. She has presented at several conferences, including ASCD's annual conference, Advancing Improvementin Education, and the annual New England League of Middle Schools conference.


Like the teachers and school leaders profiled in this book, time is a resource consistently in short supply for us. We are indebted to our colleagues at Education Direction for their time and for giving us the time to develop and refine this project.

This book has been constructed from the experiences of teachers and school leaders who work tirelessly for the students they serve. Their dedication, persistence, and willingness to open up their practice have built teacher-driven observation into a practice for professional learning. In particular, the educators in the Chandler Unified School District in Chandler, Arizona, and Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation in Evansville, Indiana, have informed our thinking and illustrated the power of taking charge and opening up their classroom doors.

Fred DePrez, principal at Hamilton High School in Chandler, Arizona, deserves special recognition for his vision and commitment to this work. Our partnership with him has proven invaluable in refining teacher-driven observation. The teachers at Hamilton High have put this vision into action. Patricia Berg, Andrew Burkhart, Phyllis Carr, Shelley Ceinaturaga, and Heather Love, among many other teachers at Hamilton High, have contributed to our understanding of teacher-driven observation in practice. We sincerely thank these pioneers.

We did not write this book alone. Dimi Berkner, Lesley Iura, Linda Manuel, and Marjorie McAneny at Jossey-Bass were instrumental in supporting this project. Two blind reviewers provided valuable feedback that informed its development. Cami Hewett, a talented independent editor, invested countless hours into refining our prose. Our colleague Allison Miller provided valuable feedback and assistance throughout our writing process. Additional thanks to Sarah Brown Wessling, 2010 National Teacher of the Year, for writing the Foreword in which she introduces the book's content and clarifies its unique value.

Like the practice of teaching, constructing a book is a process of continuous refinement. The support of our colleagues and families has been instrumental in the completion of this project. For that we owe them our most sincere gratitude.

Trent. I have been blessed with the most amazing partners. Emily Grimm, my writing partner, has earned my deepest trust and respect in our three years of working and writing together. Teacher-driven observation exists because of her persistence in perfecting the core logic behind it—first for our partner schools, and now for this book. My business partner, Randy, has been more supportive of this book than I could have ever hoped. His peerless stamina and example of thinking big have kept our eyes on our ambitious writing goals. My life partner, Rosie, has not only read and critiqued every sentence in this book, but for years she has helped me hone the ideas in it through our nightly walks and noontime phone conversations. Her orientation for seeking feedback and self-improvement in her daily work are core principles on which teacher-driven observation was created. Words are insufficient for describing my love and admiration for her. And special thanks to my youngest partners—JT, Isaac, Kate, Henry, Philip, and Nora—for helping me keep it real. After writing all day, going home to wrestling matches and bike rides are just what the doctor ordered.

Emily. I have been truly fortunate to engage in this project with my colleague Trent Kaufman, who has the keen ability to defy math, such that his efforts and my own are greater than the sum of the individual parts. Both his passion for improving the culture of professional learning in education and his commitment to creating a resource that truly serves teachers have contributed to this project from inception to completion. My trail and life partner, David, has enriched my life in ways too innumerable to note here. His zest for adventure, patience, and sense of humor ground me (particularly on late nights of writing). I owe him my deepest thanks for his enduring companionship and support, both of which enabled this project and have carried me over many mountain peaks, both real and symbolic. I look forward to our next adventure—whatever it may be.


As the 2010 National Teacher of the Year, I have had the unique opportunity of talking with thousands of fellow educators about the state of American education. In these conversations, I noticed a trend that didn't honestly surprise me: many of them described feeling isolated in their classrooms and entrenched in their routines. However, when I asked these educators how they would shape the practice of education differently, I was surprised at how their insights began to dovetail. They expressed hope for a deliberate culture shift—for the ability to work in an environment of inquiry and collaboration within their schools.

I developed my wish list for American education from these conversations. I hope for schools where teachers are empowered to ask the toughest questions without fear of failing. I hope for schools where administrators get to immerse themselves in instruction as much as they must immerse themselves in the business of running a school. I hope for schools where colleagues consider each other trusted experts, willing to wear the same kind of transparent vulnerability with each other as they do with their students. I hope for schools where teachers have the kind of professional development that fuels their instruction because of the system, not in spite of it.

The kind of school I'm describing is not utopian. Across the country, there are schools that embody many elements of my wish list, to the benefit of students and educators alike. But there are far too many that don't.

The first step is to take a step—to find a way to help teachers see the power of learning not just from their own classrooms but also from the classrooms of others. In The Transparent Teacher, Trent Kaufman and Emily Dolci Grimm have given schools a blueprint for empowered professional development. When the nexus of growth becomes the teacher's own inquiry, Kaufman and Grimm aren't just suggesting that teachers take charge of a process; they're offering a way to create a learner-centered culture through the practice of teacher-driven observation. For teachers, this opportunity to cultivate learner dispositions is a chance to recast professional development (PD). No longer is PD something done to teachers; now it's done by them. With precise direction and clear purpose, the authors help teachers learn to zoom in and zoom out of their own classrooms, using classroom observation data to uncover the patterns left by teaching that advise deliberate instructional shifts. With thoughtful discussion on how to prepare for an observation, precise directions for implementing it, and insightful ways to sustain this work as it shifts school culture, this book will help you transform the way you think about your practice. In addition to the protocols and the specific advice for administrators, you'll be drawn in by Heather, Margaret, and Jay, whose story of teacher-driven observation makes this process come alive.

Teacher-driven observations help teachers become the empowered professionals they deserve to be. In moving professional development from the convention center to the classroom, Kaufman and Grimm are elevating us all to the status of learner.

Sarah Brown Wessling
2010 National Teacher of the Year

Johnston, Iowa

February 2013


As we introduce The Transparent Teacher and teacher-driven observation to audiences of teachers and administrators, we find that they are interested in hearing the origins of this unique teacher-driven observation process. We'll share with you now the short narrative we offer them because it illustrates what is possible when a teacher takes charge of her learning and becomes transparent in her practice. Set during evaluation time when Trent was a brand-new high school assistant principal, this story provides the vision for what it means to take charge. In this story, you will find our motivations for writing this book and the power this process has to shift the culture of teaching. We predict that you'll see connections between the narrative and your own experiences as a teacher.

Shifting Teacher Observations

I had been a high school assistant principal for all of three days when the principal gave me the list. I felt my heartbeat quicken as my eyes scanned the names of twenty-two teachers I was assigned to evaluate that year. My situation as an administrator holding this list was unique: several years back, I had been a new teacher at this same school, and a number of these teachers had mentored me. In my eyes, they were masters of the trade.

I was expected to make two visits to each classroom over the course of the school year. The first was an informal but scheduled observation, where I would observe the class at an appointed time and recommend areas for improvement. Later in the year I would drop in for the formal evaluation, during which I'd look for progress in the improvement area the teacher and I had chosen.

I'm not sure why the principal recommended I first observe Shelly, known as the best math teacher in the district. She was intimidating and really, really good. As the head of the union, she had both experience and influence. Maybe he thought that if I could survive this one, I'd be on my way. Maybe he told her to take it easy on me a little. Who knows? Frankly, I was less worried about the formal evaluation than about the first observation because the first required me to suggest areas for improvement without the structure of a rubric or set of criteria.

Most of my teachers, including Shelly, were teaching subjects I'd never taught, and many of them had far more classroom experience than I did. I lay awake in bed wondering how the observations might go and what it would take for me to add value to their teaching. Certainly I'd need to come up with something useful—if not brilliant—in order to prove myself as an effective administrator.

It came to me the next morning as I was driving to work. In graduate school, I'd taken a class that was directed toward administrators and described the importance of collecting objective data in the classroom. Instead of walking into these classrooms and observing whatever caught my attention, I would assign myself the role of data collector. I decided to take this idea one step further: because there are so many potential data sources in the classroom, I would focus specifically on collecting data that the teacher wanted. That approach felt exciting to me. It meant that I would need to communicate with each of these teachers before our observation and ask them what they were focusing on improving in their teaching.

When Shelly knocked on my office door the morning before our scheduled observation, I sat up straight. She sat down and crossed her legs carefully as I launched into an explanation of my plan to collect data during our observation in an area she was focused on improving. Her eyes brightened as she caught hold of the idea and told me, “In my classes recently, I've been focusing on how to improve my questioning. My goal is to engage more students in my basic math classes, and I believe that asking more application questions will help me accomplish that.”

“I follow you completely,” I responded. “Would it help you if I script all the application questions you ask during our observation?”

“I like that idea. Do you think you could also script what the students say in response? Then we could have a conversation afterward about what's actually going on in the classroom. We'll probably see some next steps I can take based on the data,” she concluded, taking charge. “I'm up for that!”

I responded, making a mental note to brush up on Bloom's taxonomy before the observation, “See you in third period!” She nodded, smiled, and went off to class.

I arrived at her room with confidence born of clear purpose: I knew exactly what I was going to do during that observation, and I knew that it would add value. Over the next hour, I drained the ink from my pen, earnest in my commitment to support her by gathering data relevant to the area she had designated. As quickly as my ears picked up her questions and translated them to my fingers, she gathered responses from student after student.

Having filled my assignment with zest, I was equally confident when we debriefed the observation after school. Sitting in her classroom, we shared an extremely productive, data-based conversation. Because the data I had collected were at the heart of our conversation, she didn't feel threatened: we were reviewing teaching data, not evaluating the teacher. As we looked at the questions and student responses I'd scripted, we quickly noted the following:

Shelly asked for my insight as an observer: “What were the other thirteen students doing during the lesson? Why were only four students able to answer my application questions?”

As we discussed the data, Shelly suggested a few things she could try. “Maybe if I chunk the questions into more digestible parts and begin to require everyone to answer them, I'll find the real value in these application questions.” She fleshed out her plans and bounced ideas off me as she considered how the data I collected could help her improve. I was greatly relieved that I didn't have to be a math expert or even a teaching expert to be a productive observer.

Our interaction had a positive impact on my capacity as an observer. I began to take on the role of data collector, and the teachers I observed felt my commitment to helping them do better what they were already doing.

At Shelly's retirement party several years later, we talked about that observation experience. She laughed when I admitted how nervous I'd been and thanked me for making a difference in her professional development that year: “You know, when I learn a new strategy at a conference, there is a fifty-fifty chance it simply won't transfer to an effective practice in my classroom. Now I've found that when I have a colleague observe me implement a strategy in my classroom with my students, the likelihood that it sticks is almost 100 percent.” As I nodded, she continued, “Working with you, I really felt that I took ownership of the observation process. You helped me improve an area I was already focused on, and the data you collected showed us the next steps.”

As an educator, I took several important lessons from this experience with Shelly, and these lessons serve as the foundation for this book:

Since this time, I have founded Education Direction, an organization that teaches these and other data-driven education principles to hundreds of schools and districts.

The Transparent Teacher: Taking Charge of Your Instruction with Peer-Collected Classroom Data

That title and subhead are a mouthful. To give you an idea of what we're really saying here, we'd like to explain the words we chose.

The teachers we work with often describe feeling frustrated with the professional development they receive. The strategies may be interesting, but they don't work consistently in the classroom. Professional development topics can be innovative and groundbreaking, but much gets lost in the space between the convention center (or where teachers received professional development training) and the classroom (where they put the strategies into practice).

This space is our niche—the gap we're bridging. We support teachers in taking charge. When teachers take charge of their professional development by moving it directly into their classrooms, they take charge of their own growth, effectiveness, and even overall job satisfaction. Using the techniques we present in this book for teacher-driven observation, teachers lead their professional learning inside their own classrooms.

Breaking down the professional isolation characteristic of the profession and opening up our classrooms—becoming transparent teachers—is a necessary part of moving professional development to our classrooms and into the context in which we work each day. As a teacher leading your own teacher-driven observation (TDO), you'll invite your peers to collaborate with you in observations in order to collect data. When you open your classroom to your peers, creating transparency around the teaching and learning that occurs there, you'll set the stage for your colleagues to collect classroom data. Having these data is like having eyes in the back of your head: they allow you to see into the blind spots of teaching that occur for every teacher. Instructing is a 100 percent mental capacity endeavor, so you miss details like how many times a student got out of his seat or what questions the students asked during the lesson. You answered those questions, but you don't know ultimately how many questions you posed, or whether the student questions reflected their collective understanding or confusion related to the topic.

Taking charge means that you decide what areas you'd like to focus on in your teaching. TDO gives you the tools to answer your questions as you collaborate with your colleagues. Taking charge means that you control who comes into your classroom and when. You guide the meetings and keep the data collected. We invite you to take charge of your teaching and situate your professional development in your classroom by reading this book.

How to Use This Book

As you dive into the following chapters, you'll hear the voices and read about the experiences of hundreds of teachers engaged in TDO. We hope that the process offers you, as it has for them, a way of leading transformation in your teaching and improving student learning.

The Transparent Teacher will be a rich resource for you in implementing TDO. So that you get the most out of it, the remainder of this Introduction describes the three parts of the book, gives you an idea of where to start reading, and details key chapter features. It also highlights the chapter summaries and study questions at the end of the book that may prove relevant for your personal review or for a book study group.

Parts 1 Through 3

Part 1, “Preparing,” explores the purpose of TDO and topics relevant to planning for its implementation in chapters 1 and 2. Together these chapters provide a context for what TDO can do for your teaching and the professional culture in your school. They also address the preparation that best sets you up for success. Through the exploration of these topics, you'll meet Heather, a seventh-grade math teacher who is looking for a meaningful way to apply her professional learning to the unique context of her classroom. By the end of part 1, you will be ready to dig into the specific steps of TDO.

Chapters 3 through 5 in part 2, “Implementing,” detail each of the three steps of TDO. Each chapter explains how to engage in one step of the process, providing examples and tips that support implementation. You'll continue to follow Heather's journey as she engages in the TDO process. Her experiences provide a comprehensive, insider view of the process from start to finish. You'll also read about how other teachers have applied the core principles of TDO in their work. By the time you finish part 2, you'll have a clear vision of how TDO can support your learning and the instruction in your classroom. You may even feel prepared to begin a round of TDO.

Where to Start Reading

Your role in your school and your existing comfort with having observers collaborate with you about your teaching will inform how you use this book. Teachers and administrators who are brand new to the concept of TDO will find it most helpful to begin with parts 1 and 2, moving on to part 3 when they are ready for implementation. If you're intrigued by the concept and ready to learn more about the practices themselves, you may find it most helpful to begin with part 2 in order to build your understanding of the process itself.

Chapter Features

Each chapter contains text boxes that highlight key points. These points are the big things to remember about TDO and are useful for in-text navigation and review.

Each chapter also contains at least two boxes titled “A Note to Principals” that highlight information that is relevant from the point of view of principals. Principals who are reading this book might flip through the chapters to read those boxes first and then look for more detail as is relevant. Because chapter 7 is dedicated to addressing principals, there are no principal boxes in that chapter.

A “Common Missteps” section follows the main body of each chapter in most of the chapters in parts 2 and 3. We've culled these from the experiences of hundreds of teachers across dozens of schools. You'll find it helpful to take note of these not only during your initial reading but also to revisit these as you engage in the practice—both in its infancy and development.

Chapter Summaries and Study Questions

If you've read this book before or just prefer to begin with more of a quick point version, flip to the back of the book and read the chapter summaries provided there. These summaries may give you an idea of which chapter you'd like to refer to for greater detail. We've also provided study questions that connect directly with each chapter. These questions are designed to encourage deeper thinking about the concepts in the chapters and promote personal application. Any teacher working with TDO can benefit from thinking through these questions. They can also be used in more formal book study gatherings or graduate school courses.

Final Thoughts

We are confident that you'll find in the pages ahead both the vision and the resources for creating a professional, job-embedded learning experience inside your own classroom that empowers you to take charge of your teaching and equips you to become a transparent teacher.