Seeing Is Believing: The Johari Window & Professional Growth


Know Thyself.

—Ancient Greek proverb, attributed to Socrates

If we’re to improve our practice as educators, we need to know how we’re currently doing, and honestly assess what we need to change.

But that’s not as easy as it sounds, because it’s pretty hard to know yourself.

Heck, I can’t even tell if my shirt’s tag is sticking up, much less identify all of my best opportunities for professional growth.

Plenty of people made fun of Donald Rumsfeld for talking about “known knowns” and “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns” but there’s something to all this.

The Johari Window helps us map out the blind spots:

Johari Window Diagram

Feedback from Others

Right away, we can see why getting feedback from others is helpful:

  • It prompts us to take action on “open” areas of growth, that we might already know about but not yet have acted on
  • It gives us a chance to learn about growth edges that we’ve been “blind” to

But opportunities to get feedback from peers are pretty rare in most schools.

Seeking Signals From The Unknown

So how can we peer into our “unknown” areas of practice, if they’re invisible to us and to others who observe us?

Simple: through seeing, firsthand.

If we sit around a table in the library and merely tell each other what goes on in our classrooms, there’s going to be a fair amount of both self-deception and posturing.

And if we just tell ourselves we’re doing great, without ever seeing our own practice—without looking in the mirror—we’re hanging out in the “blind” quadrant.

But if, on the other hand, we actually see ourselves in action, on video, the impact is immediate and dramatic.

We see.

And seeing is believing.

Seeing Is Believing

If you see what I’m actually doing in the classroom, your feedback isn’t just idle opinion.

If I film myself, watch the video, and reflect for a bit on what I actually see, my capacity for self-deception will be diminished, and my opportunities for real growth will increase dramatically.

If I then get your input, and show you the same video, I’m going to blow out the Johari Window. I’m going to have far fewer blind spots and unknowns in my practice—at least, in the aspects of practice that can show up on video.

Note: We Don’t Do This

I’m not saying anything new, here. But I’m advocating for practices that are almost never…well, practiced.

It’s easy to understand why—getting feedback from a peer can be intimidating, not to mention a logistical challenge.

Arranging schedules, finding substitutes, creating a climate of trust—it’s no wonder that virtually everyone believes we should see each other teach, yet virtually no one ever does it.

That’s why we created the Professional Collaboration Challenge—to help you gain greater insights into your own practice, and give and receive helpful feedback around your most important instructional priorities.

Register for the Professional Collaboration Challenge, and we’ll share powerful strategies, tools, and techniques for making collaboration part of your practice, without disrupting your schedule or taking more time out of your day.


Lessons for School Leaders from the Corporate World

It’s been four years since common core burst onto the scene — and tossed the U.S. educational system on its ear.

The standards ushered in an era of reform, marked by increased accountability, new forms of instruction, a change in roles for students and teachers, and new demands for school leaders.

Today’s schools now have to teach all students to high standards. School leaders must now adjust their operations and adopt new practices in order to support emerging pedagogies and ensure deeper learning.

School leaders are responsible to champion and oversee this transition within their buildings.

They must be proficient in educational best practices and adept in finding ways to ensure that their teachers also continue to grow and better meet student needs.

They are no longer simply managers.

The days of principals focusing mainly on the functional aspects of their jobs — staffing, scheduling, discipline and the like — are effectively over.

So how do school leaders achieve this?

I suggest that they borrow a few pages from the business playbook.

1. Articulate clear expectations.

Effective leaders don’t leave success to chance. Know what needs to get done and communicate expectations to employees.

Outline what success looks like and offer examples to ensure that staff members channel their energies effectively towards the right ends.

2. Hold others accountable.

Smart leaders demand accountability. Track projects to ensure they’re staying on schedule and budget. Quickly troubleshoot issues then steer everyone back on track.

For long term projects, ask for regular evidence of progress to avoid missed deadlines and unpleasant surprises.

3. Lead from behind.

The best business leaders engage in servant leadership. Position staff for success by supporting their growth and achievement. Take little to no credit. Instead, focus the spotlight on others and bask in their success.

4. Keep learning.

Today’s business leaders know that they must continue to learn new skills if they are to remain one step ahead.

School leaders must keep learning. New demands and educational paradigms mean that yesterday’s training is not enough to stay current on new research and educational tools.

5. Understand Generation Y.

Millennials represent a very different kind of worker than the Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers that preceded them. Business leaders are grappling with this new reality, trying to figure out how best to work with this shifting labor pool.

Millennials have different skill sets, values and professional expectations. They will walk – or not start – if they do not like the work environment or value its mission. If principals are to recruit and retain younger teachers, they must understand the needs and wants of these Gen-Y teachers so they can get the most out of them.

6. Embrace — or at least develop a working knowledge of — all aspects of school function.

Successful business leaders may not have intimate knowledge of every aspect of their company, but they understand that basic fluency of all its components — production, R&D, IT support, etc — is necessary for them to provide focused leadership.

So often, school leaders fall into the mindset of being instructional leaders only, to the exclusion of the other aspects of school function. School leaders must be institutional leaders as well as instructional leaders (though instructional leadership is still their primary task) in order to help their schools succeed in a competitive era with growing constituent expectations.

7. Be results oriented.

The educational landscape is more about results than ever before. This is similar to the corporate world, in which the bottom line serves as the ultimate arbiter of success.

While schools are not businesses and should never become profit-centric institutions, there does need to be more willingness to hold personnel — including leaders — more accountable for results.

8. Invest in success.

Business leaders must invest in their success and the success of their teams. This needs to become a central component of our schools.

School boards must be willing to invest in their leaders, to provide leadership training and coaching to help them successfully achieve their many tasks. This should be targeted, goal-oriented professional development, not simply the “one size fits none” perfunctory training that has become commonplace in schools today.

Without question, this new way of thinking bucks the culture of traditional education and can be difficult for veteran educators to embrace. Schools operate with a unique culture and mission that can be far different than what is found in the business place. A school culture is a protective culture, one that emphasizes longevity — as in tenure — and can oftentimes be resistant to change.

To help foster change, school leaders should take advantage of the readiness of their All-Stars and new teachers, who enter the field with fewer inhibitions that their more seasoned colleagues. Celebrate their successes through memos, congratulate them at faculty meetings or reward them with new authority and other related perks.

If you enjoyed this article, click here to subscribe and we’ll let you know when we post a new article on school leadership.

From Gut Feelings to Solid Evidence with CEIJ


Too often, teacher evaluations are little more than ratings with a few supporting statements thrown in.

If the process involves so much work for both administrators and teachers, why don’t we get better results?

There’s a vicious cycle at work:

  • Most evaluations don’t have a positive impact on students—they don’t result in improvement or the dismissal of underperforming teachers
  • Because evaluations have such a poor track record, we tend to see them as perfunctory, and do a perfunctory job, so they’re rarely solid enough to use in dismissal
  • The more we see the evaluation process "fail"—the more we fail in our efforts to dismiss underperforming teachers—the more pessimistic we become about the whole process
  • We start to look for workarounds, such as reassigning or otherwise harassing teachers we want to get rid of, in the hopes that they’ll get the message and leave voluntarily

How’s it working for us? Not well.

But I believe we can break this cycle.

Breaking The Cycle with Better Evidence

We each have opinions about every teacher we work with. Some of these opinions are backed by solid evidence, and others are mere assumptions—which have no place in the evaluation process.

Gut-level feelings are an important starting point, though. Walk through this exercise in your mind as you read.

1. Articulate Your Gut-Level Feelings

Think of a teacher whose performance you aren’t happy with. What’s bothering you? Express your gut-level feeling, in whatever language comes to mind.

Shut the door and say it out loud if you need to, or write it down, but don’t share this with anyone. It’s just an exercise.


"Mr. Smith just has no rigor in his classroom. He has 3rd grade kids doing 1st grade work. Every time we talk about rigor, he complains about "where students are" and how he has to give them a solid foundation first. I feel like he’s underestimating his students, and not following the curriculum that everyone else is being successful with, especially in math. His kids aren’t going to be ready for 4th grade next year, and he thinks he’s doing them a favor…"

2. Dimensionalize and Check Those Feelings

Take your gut-level opinions that you expressed in step 1, and try to come up with specific instances that would justify your feelings:


"I visited the class on Friday and students weren’t doing the 3rd grade math curriculum—they were doing a bunch of random worksheets, and when I asked him about it, he said he was meeting the kids where they were."

Now, ask yourself: was this an isolated incident, or just another example of this teacher’s typical practice?

If you can’t come up with more than one example, now you know your next step: collect more evidence.

3. Imagine The Defense

Now, imagine that you’ve made your accusations, and both you and the teacher are presenting your case to a 3rd party—perhaps the head of Human Resources or a union rep.

What could you expect the teacher to say in his defense? A few possibilities:

  • "I had a good reason for what I was doing, and you didn’t bother to understand it for yourself"
  • "That was an isolated incident, and I was having a bad day"
  • "I know it’s not the way you’d do it, but I’m getting results with my students"

If you have a good counter-argument to overcome each of these objections, you’re ready to move forward.

If not, you may want to reconsider whether your gut-level feeling lines up with the facts.

If you do have to change your claim, that’s a good outcome. It’s better to pursue a hypothesis, and abandon it when the evidence proves it false, than to not look into it at all.

4. Write Your Argument in CEIJ Format

Now it’s time to move from gut feeling and draft evidence into crafting a powerful, specific argument that you won’t be afraid to share with the teacher or any 3rd parties who’ll be reviewing it.

CEIJ format has been around for years, and was (to my knowledge) popularized by Jon Saphier. Briefly, the elements are:

  • Claim: Characteristic practice
  • Evidence: Specific instances
  • Interpretation: What they mean
  • Judgment: Final rating on criterion

The Claim

When you write a claim, you’re translating your private, gut-level feelings into a specific claim that you can share with the teacher and anyone else involved in the evaluation process.

A word of warning: when you write it out, the claim is going to sound harsh (if it’s a negative comment at all), because you’re separating the claim from any context that might soften it, and making a statement about the teacher’s general level of practice in that specific area.

The "I was having a bad day" or "that was just one incident" arguments will be directly challenged by the claim.

The Evidence

Of course, the claim doesn’t speak for itself; it needs multiple, specific instances to serve as evidence.

The evidence should be indisputable; in other words, the teacher should agree, or be clear from your notes, about what happened, because it’s strictly factual.

This separation is key: the claim makes a general statement, and the evidence backs it up. The only way to challenge the claim is to provide contrary evidence.

The Interpretation

Here, you’ll specify the impact of the claim and evidence. Typically, the interpretation says what impact the instruction had on students or on other factors relevant to professional practice.

For example, you might say ‘As a result of doing below-grade-level worksheets, students were unable to complete most of the questions on the grade-level common assessment."

The Judgment

Finally, you’ll give the rating. You’re not rating the lesson or the observation, but the overall level of practice, so make sure this lines up with the claim you made above.

Putting It All Together: High-Performance Teacher Evaluations

Generating solid evidence for teacher evaluations is a major focus of our online course, High-Performance Teacher Evaluations.

Registration is open now through this Friday, February 27, when we’ll officially start the course.

Learn more about High-Performance Teacher Evaluations »