How One District Leveraged the DG Resources To Reimagine Observation and Professional Learning

March 3, 2022

An Assistant Superintendent’s Take on Why the FFT Matters More than Ever 
By Dr. Matthew Friedman

The Danielson Group is partnering with the South Orange & Maplewood School District in New Jersey to implement the Framework for Teaching in their schools. Dr. Matthew Friedman is the Assistant Superintendent of the district and oversees the partnership. 

We encourage teachers to use small group activities in the classroom because collaboration is a valuable skill to prepare students for the real world. Turns out, collaboration shines no brighter than with those in charge of the classroom. 

Students’ academic success relies on a confluence of factors – many of which are out of the control of teachers and schools, especially in 2022. But for what is within our control, we are obligated to do everything that we can with the time that we have with our students. When it comes to school success, it starts and ends with quality instruction. That’s why the Danielson Group’s (DG) Framework for Teaching (FFT) has been such a game-changer. Having the proper observation structures for our staff has meant that we can effectively analyze how teachers and their students are faring in the classroom. This is what we need to mitigate the learning losses of the pandemic, and to establish a system in which every student can thrive. 

To ensure that each one of our students has an exceptional learning experience, we need common expectations and language across our classroom work; the DG has given us that unifying thread to move everyone in the same direction.

In my experience there are three focus areas for what teachers and administrators need to run a school well: 

  1. Responsiveness. We need to listen to, understand, and meet the needs of teachers and students.
  2. Culture of professional learning. We need teachers and principals to be eager to talk about practice, and we need to lead with an objective approach to inquiry.
  3. Continuous support. We need school representatives to comprehend what the Framework for Teaching is, and how it helps schools create more inclusive and growth-focused practices.

Last year while our district was fully remote, we had to get creative about how to bring professional learning back to life as we navigated online learning and the in-person return. We worked with Brian Johnson, the Assistant Director of Learning at the Danielson Group, to facilitate learning walks and professional development sessions based around the FFT’s four teaching domains of teaching responsibility and its twenty-two components. These sessions came to life and have been filled with knowledge and collaboration. Brian brings together our school teams with the common objective of bettering our systems for the sake of quality instruction. Our teams love them. Moving forward, the goal is to grow in the same direction and use common language when it comes to our collective work. This partnership is moving us in the right direction.

Teachers need tools and support to grow in practice. Those who observe and mentor teachers need common language and benchmarks for providing that support.  Our partnership with the DG allows us to focus on the systematization of professional learning and provide bite-sized, manageable ways to give feedback. We avoid misunderstandings with our team by prioritizing conversations around the FFT and getting to the heart of what we’re trying to do: achieve student success. The DG has been our supportive arm and helped us create customized strategies to improve teachers’ work, mentors’ jobs, and ultimately students’ outcomes.  

Our K-12 English Language Arts (ELA) Supervisor, Dr. Jane Bean-Folkes, said the following of the partnership, “I am excited to work toward the crosswalk between the Danielson Group and our observation process. Teachers need a clear direction as they work toward excellence in teaching. We all agree that teaching is an art that involves two people engaged in multiple conversations around practice. It takes time and clear direction. This tool is what is needed to make it happen!”

Our teachers need support. If we see a dissonance between student outcomes and the observation feedback teachers are getting, we need to combat it with professional learning. We need to emphasize the power of relationship-building for instructional learning, and that is what the Framework for Teaching does.