Note: This video is a sample excerpt from Module 6 of our 8-module High-Performance Instructional Leadership Certification Program. It is not meant to stand alone (it's video 5 of 9 in Module 6), but to illustrate the kind of content in the program. Please contact us for more information.

In this lesson you'll learn:

  • When triangulation is necessary in your observations
  • How triangulation differs from evaluation
  • How triangulation helps create defensible evidence
Show Transcript
Back in Module 5, you compiled the key documents that make up your instructional framework, giving you a set of shared expectations for what good teaching looks like. Some of these expectations apply only to certain subjects or grade levels, because they're curriculum-specific, and others apply to everyone – for example, your school-wide expectations and teacher evaluation criteria.

Now we're going to connect those expectations with the evidence you're collecting in your classroom visits. Ideally, your expectations are written in the form of rubrics, with specific language describing different levels of performance. But even if you don't have rubrics for each expectation in your framework just yet, that's OK. What we're really looking for is the language, because that's what's going to allow us to triangulate.

Triangulation is the name of the game here, because we can't just score an observation, unless we're using a curriculum-based rubric that's very specific about one particular aspect of teaching. Most of the time, we don't know going in what the purpose of the lesson is, so we don't know which of those ultra-specific rubrics we should use.

There are a few exceptions, so let's get those out of the way. If you do have a well-defined structure that teachers are expected to always approach the same way, and you've done extensive training, and you've created a leveled rubric, and you've set expectations for how that particular aspect of instruction should look, then it's OK to score what you're seeing using that ultra-specific rubric.

For example, if you use Lucy Calkins' Readers or Writers Workshop curriculum, and you've developed specific expectations for how mini-lessons should look, then it's OK to evaluate those mini-lessons using your specific rubric for them.

Or if you've developed a bell-ringer procedure that all teachers are expected to use to start class, you can evaluate the start of class in any teacher's classroom using that rubric.

Usually, though, some of these essentials are missing, such as a clear rubric. Or, more importantly, what you're seeing during your visit isn't what you're actually evaluating. It's the wrong unit of analysis.

As I've said earlier in this module, teacher evaluation criteria, such as the Danielson Framework or whatever your district uses, aren't designed for evaluating individual lessons or parts of lessons. They're designed to help you evaluate teachers' overall practice, over the course of the entire school year.

So the bottom line is that we've got to get our unit of analysis right, and usually evaluating is not our immediate goal. A better goal, that's useful in almost every classroom visit, is triangulating.

Triangulating is the art and science of finding the right language to describe the evidence in front of you, drawing your vocabulary and expectations from your shared instructional framework.

This isn't our usual frame of reference as instructional leaders, because we've been trained to evaluate, but triangulating is a bit different from evaluating, and to explain the difference, I think it's helpful to consider an analogy. Like instructional leaders, food critics have to triangulate as well as evaluate.

Imagine you're a food critic for the Michelin guide, and your job is to both write an article for the guide describing the food at a particular restaurant, and to rate that food according to certain guidelines.

Now, I'm not a food critic, so I don't know the specific terminology they use. But I'm guessing you can't write for the Michelin guide and get away with phrases like “The food was spicy” or “The ingredients were fresh” or “The ambience was fancy.” Too clunky, not specific enough, and not the right way to use the precise vocabulary of the profession.

But it also wouldn't work to just take the criteria and write a review that was 100% ratings and numbers. Even if those ratings are accurate, it's the descriptive language that really gives the review credibility and usefulness.

And that's even more true for our work as instructional leaders, because we're not just trying to score our teachers. We are evaluating them, yes, but we're also trying to lead them to get better and better, and that means a lot of the value is in the conversation.

The conversation is where we establish agreement about the relationship between the evidence and the framework. It's where we use the specific vocabulary of our framework to create a rich description of the evidence that feels right, that fits.

So again, most of the time, we aren't trying to evaluate in the moment. Evaluation will come later, as patterns emerge. Our immediate goal is triangulation, to use the language of our instructional framework to talk about the evidence, usually in the form of our notes we took during the observation, with the teacher, to establish mutual understanding and agreement.

We can't always fully establish agreement on the final rating we give teachers, because ultimately that's a matter of judgment. But we're much more likely to arrive at judgments that are defensible and reasonable to teachers if we first triangulate the evidence with our instructional framework.

In a separate section, I'll model that for you using a video from Dave's social studies classroom in Costa Rica. I'm Justin Baeder, and I'll see you in the next section.