During a question and answer time of a conference session I presented for new principals, one participant asked me what I would look for when starting walkthroughs. At the time, I talked about some of the different instruments I used and how I tried to narrow my focus depending on the initiatives we were working on, the time of the year, the purpose, etc. At the time, I hadn’t thought about what I now have come to see as a bedrock of instructional monitoring/coaching for a principal–congruency. No matter what kinds of different instruments or tools I had, I would always have one for monitoring congruency between purpose (target), standard, assessment, and activity/task.
Congruency is essential to raising student achievement. You could have the most dedicated teachers, the most engaging lessons, and the hardest working children, but unless these are all anchored in content that is congruent with what students really need to know and do, we won’t get the results we want. By anchored in content, I mean that the dedicated teachers are crystal clear on the intended meaning of the standards. They are using student-friendly learning targets for their lessons that communicate the intended learning and that match both the content and rigor of the standards. Engaging lessons have to provide students meaningful practice that is congruent to the practice required to meet the learning target. The hard-working children should then be required to show what they know in written form the demonstrates mastery of the target.
So, no matter what, I will always be focused on monitoring congruency. A congruent lesson can be thought of like a hamburger. While it’s fun to go into a classroom and give feedback on the meat (the engaging activities) dressing up that meat with cheese, bacon, lettuce and tomato (the partner talks, the questioning strategies, the stagecraft, etc) without a congruent top bun (the learning target based on the standard) and congruent bottom bun (the formative assessment that demonstrates mastery) you just have a salad–not a hamburger. When that activity is not even congruent with the standard you don’t even have a real beef burger. It’s just some mystery meat. Who wants mystery meat when you are craving a good burger?