Craig’s experience as a counselor, coach, teacher, and principal set him up perfectly to develop a model of teacher observation focused on building trusting relationships that spark teaching and learning growth. As the author of Trust-Based Observations, Craig is on a mission to change the world of teacher observations to a model of support that fosters risk-taking, innovation, and creativity. 

Driven to transform the world of teacher evaluation and observation through Trust-based Observations. When leaders build trust with their teachers such that they feel safe, then those teachers will embrace the vulnerability necessary to take big risks in their practice, the result is teaching and learning growth.

Daniel (00:00): New leader, even as a veteran leader, we're often looking for the path, the right answer, the framework to operate within so that we know we're doing our best. The funny thing is that often there isn't really a path like you're making it up. It's all invented. Even with that said, you get confidence, you have clarity when somebody says, this is the path to take. That's why we like List blog posts, 10 ways to do X, Y, and Z. So that was sort of a question my guest had today for his mentor, right? If you are a successful principal, and you're saying that the key is observations. How long do I need to be in classes? We'll start there with today's podcast and you'll get the answer of what Craig Randall's mentor said in terms of the amount of time to spend in classes.

Daniel (01:00): I want to highlight too, that Craig talks about trust-based observations and I truly enjoyed this conversation. He did a great job sharing stories that I think are going to resonate with you. I want to highlight one more as well and it's really interesting. You're going to want to hear how he approached this dinosaur, this veteran of a teacher. When he walked in the classroom it looked very traditional and things really needed to change, but he bit his lip and he opened up his mind and how that relationship changed. What he learned from that teacher is really, truly remarkable. Stick around for that part of our conversation as well. Hey, it's Daniel and welcome to the better leaders, better schools podcast. This is a show for you, a Ruckus Maker, an out of the box leader, making change happen in education. We're so glad you're here and we'll be right back after these messages from our show's sponsors.

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Daniel (02:37): A tool that allows you to deliver lessons from anywhere, which allows students to connect from anywhere with any device and it integrates with tools you already use like Google classroom and Microsoft teams. If you think that sounds too good to be true, I can assure you. It's not. That's why I'm proud to introduce you to the SMART learning suite online, learn more at smarttech.com/learning suite. That's smarttech.com/learningsuite. All students have an opportunity to succeed with Organized Binder who equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning. Whether that's in a distance hybrid or traditional educational setting, learn more at organizedbinder.com. Hello, Ruckus Maker. Today, I am joined by Craig Randall experienced counselor coach, teacher, and principal, and these experiences set him up perfectly to develop a model of teacher observation, focused on building trusting relationships that sparked teaching and learning growth. As the author of Trust-based Observations, Craig is on a mission to change the world of teacher observations, to a model of support that fosters risk-taking innovation and creativity. Craig, welcome to the show.

Craig (04:04): Thanks so much for having me on Danny. I'm really excited to be here.

Daniel (04:07): I am excited to dig into this content trust based observations. I would have loved to have been a part of that as a teacher back in the day. You're a wealth of knowledge on this topic and we have a lot of value to share with Ruckus Makers today. I'd love for you to start with a story talking about your mentor, who changed your thinking about observing classes.

Craig (04:33): Sure, thanks. I felt some frustration with the observation process anyway, even in its best scenario where you were observed once or twice a year, it just felt infrequent and so formal. I wanted something more. I maybe wanted a chance to show off. I wanted to learn more and then I had a principal where for two straight years we weren't observed at all, which some of us know is more common than we think. About that time I was feeling frustrated. I would talk to people about the observation process and people had similar frustrations, but their mindset was more like, that's just the way it is. It's just the system. Around that time, I started my principal certification program and I met my mentor, Warren Alord at Western Washington University in Bellingham.

Craig (05:15): In his class, he immediately started talking about how you have to be in classes every day, how you have to be observing, how you have to be supporting teachers, or you have to be having reflective conversations supporting them to improve their teaching and learning growth. I just remember having this hallelujah light bulb moment, like, Oh my gosh, this is somebody that like, this is what I wanted to hear. This is what I need to hear. Maybe it's not just me. I remember asking him like, okay, okay, okay but how long do you have to be in class? I think sometimes like great teachers, they just do what they do without even really thinking about it because they're just naturals. I think he was like that. In class I was like how much time?

Craig (05:57): And then finally he said an hour a day and I was like, okay. It turned out like 20 minute observations. So three 20 minute observations a day. In his class, we would practice observing and having reflective conversations. We would all have to bring in these 10 minute lessons to teach and one of us would teach and then another of us would do the observation. Immediately afterwards we would have a reflective conversation and it was anchored back then and it still anchors trust-based observations today. What were you doing to help students learn? And if you had to do it over again, what if anything might you do differently? I don't think I really realized that at the time, but that is just a massive schema shift from the model where afterwards, as observers, we go in and tell the teachers what they were doing, give them ratings on everything,and hopefully share something good with them and then tell them what to get better at. Instead of that instantly, it's not about me as the observer, it's about you as the teacher and what your thoughts are about it. When I went into practice, teachers were just so thankful to have you ask them about their teaching. Many of them said I've been teaching for 20 years. No one's ever asked me before. His simple message with that was really at the beginning of what evolved over time and to trust-based observations.

Daniel (07:18): What's wild about the story is a lot of times these things that we think are so common really aren't. They're uncommon and I'll never forget the school I was at in Texas. As a principal I was the first one to meet with the custodial staff, the cafeteria staff, the main office staff and bring them together in consistent meetings, talking about vision and where they plugged into it all. What you shared there, just the fact that you're getting frequent observations and you have a leader who's asking you about your craft and how you want to get better is so empowering in terms of that process. I think you noticed something too, when you were starting your admin program, again, maybe common to us, uncommon to others, and some of your peers, your colleagues they were commenting on the feedback observation cycle and just saying that's just the system, right. Can you give us the context of why they were saying that and maybe why those comments are a bit troubling?

Craig (08:21): There's all kinds of different people, right? There's innovators, risk takers, the to go along, to get along, there's rule followers, there's rebels, there's all kinds of different people. If we look at the system right now, that's been in place for really, I'd say, since no child left behind in the early two thousands, they became an increasing mandate to be more accountable, more accountable, thinking that was how we could improve teaching or maybe at the very least get rid of teachers that weren't as good. Really the research has shown that what we're doing right now, isn't working. The Gates foundation actually spent seven years and $200 million on a project to improve the quality of teaching, improve student learning outcomes and improve graduation rates through basically the development of a more robust teacher observation evaluation process.

Craig (09:14): Seven years, $200 million. They had the Rand Corporation, like they often do come in and do a study. At the end of that, they said there was no sustained improvement. The real problem is that what we're doing isn't improving teaching and learning. If we think about teachers and why teachers get into teaching. We have huge hearts and we want to make a difference in the lives of young people. When you have this increased accountability rating and grading you on all these different areas of teaching, not that the areas of teaching aren't accurate indicators, but you can be missing many areas of teaching and still be an amazing teacher. Putting it into a box because teaching is craft and art is not really the best way to do it and then to grade people. Actually, there's a man named Matt O'Leary out of Great Britain, he's the predominant researcher on observation evaluation in the world. His qualitative research said that as soon as we start to evaluatively rate or grade pedagogy, people stop taking risks, stop innovating, and stop creating and just play it safe. It is actually having the opposite effect on what we want to do to improve teaching and learning.

Daniel (10:26): A lot of those rubrics, like you said, teachers have big hearts and they want to make a big difference in terms of their kids' lives. The fact that in the rubric, where do you see that? You might see something about relationships and seeing the kids, but it might not have as much heart as you'd like. The research you quoted there and the fact that it's not having a big impact in interesting. The Gates foundation, seven years, 200 million working with Rand, it's like, okay, let's pivot, right. If you keep doing the same thing and expect different results, they say that's insanity. What is going on with that? For some of our Ruckus Makers listening, it's a wide variety. Some might be newer principals, some are veterans 20 years, there's retired principals that listen. I want to talk to the novice principals right now because you were in those shoes once and you had to give feedback to veteran principals, but that was a very uncomfortable experience for you. I need tips or tricks to get past that.

Craig (11:34): I'll share a story, I guess, about a failure or a near failure. As I came in as a new principal, after two years as an assistant principal, and then I had these heart beliefs and everything that we've talked about so far. At the same time, I think maybe my vision of teaching was a little too strict, rigid in terms of my progressive. I maybe had my own little box about what progressive teaching was. I had a teacher. I remember they had been teaching over 20 years that he was an IB biology and biology teacher. He was up at the top lecturing and in rows. I'm a big cooperative learning guy in Kagan. Seeing the rows was always cringy to me. I remember feeling like I need to help this guy make some changes into his practice. Being new at something just told me to wait. I was waiting, being new to the school, I found that his IB scores year over year were over one and a quarter points above world average, which is massive. I'm so thankful I waited because then I went back and I started watching him and I thought, I need to look at him in a different way. I started to see things like he was relentless. He did not let anyone not work, not succeed, not reach their potential. As an example, every time they went over a new learning target or an IB target, he had every student in the class have a paper copy of all the IB two year goals. He would make them pull that paper out and he would make them turn to that page and it would make them write today's date so they could line it up and this is the goal that we're working on. So that was just one example and then he had this really dry sense of humor that played really, really well with the kids. If a kid just messed around, he'd say, what do you want to go to Foosball University? And the kids love that. He turned his clock off and the kids hated it, but loved it because he didn't want them clock watching. As I looked at it more, yeah, he was lecturing, but it was also a lab science class and there was a lot of time spent in the labs. I eventually went and talked to him, but this time I went and talked to him from a different way. I said, what you're doing really works. I'd like you to put on a PD for the rest of the faculty.

Craig (13:58): He said, I'm a dinosaur. What do I have to tell them? I had to persist for like five months to get him to do it. At the beginning of the next year he did. He titled it Jurassic 101, which I thought was priceless and he basically ended up talking about a lot of the things we were talking about accountability and relentlessness and holding the kids to a high standard. Out of the staff of about 45. Six of the younger teachers came up to either him or me afterwards and they said, thank you so much. For the first time, I feel like I have permission to demand more from my students. For me, it was a huge lesson on so many levels. One teaching is craft and art, and there are a million different ways that you can be a teacher. There's not just one way that you can be a teacher. Two patiecience. Take time to get to know your teachers because you will see different elements out of them. You don't want to make a mistake and offer a suggestion on something that might be a strength that you don't realize is.

Daniel (15:00): If you're acting on some sort of a worldview and perspective that, okay, rows are bad that's traditional. Honestly, I'm the Ruckus Maker guy so the row would bother me, but I appreciate what you're saying too, because you're basically summoning Peter Drucker in a sense. He said to be first to listen and the last to speak. If you went in there, young buck, a new principal telling this Jurassic Park Dinosaur of a veteran teacher breaking up the rows, collaboration, et cetera, et cetera, you would have missed all the craft and art of his professional presence. I want to dig into that a bit more because you listened to your gut. Can you talk a bit of how you approached the class to see it differently, if that makes sense. You saw the data point a quarter above world averages. Wow. He's doing something. How did the perspective change after that? Can you remember?

Craig (16:06): Well, I know I went in and I told myself to open up my own mind and my own view and put my own restrictions on what I thought was good teaching aside. I definitely remember having thoughts like that. Maybe not as articulately stated as I just did. I just started watching and went through that open, watching. I started to notice things like the relentlessness. I started to see the humor more. I started to see how much the students respected him. Like sometimes that strict taskmaster. I'm not saying he was necessarily that, but students can really, really appreciate that. You could see the respect for the students, which maybe I was so focused on the traditional things that I didn't look at the whole lesson and the reactions to the lesson. What's the learning going on, what's going to reactions. I allowed myself to maybe try and be more of a blank slate as an observer.

Daniel (17:07): The other thing I want to point out real quick before the break for the Ruckus Maker listening is that this teacher was performing at a high level. I believe like for your superstar employees, you have to have a different almost evaluative model for them too. If you didn't catch it, the brilliant thing that Craig did here is that he recognized, he acknowledged the amazing stuff happening in the class. He was relentless in asking that teacher to teach the staff. To have him give back in the community and to think you're not done yet, right? You're not retired. You may be a dinosaur but you have so much value to offer. What a great way to loop them in and to teach the future of the school and demand more from your kids. I have goosebumps from that story. That was a really powerful one, Craig, and I appreciate you sharing it.

Craig (18:04): It's funny because with the Trust-Based Observation, one of the most powerful elements of it to me is we're continually cycling through 12 teachers a week, 12 teachers a week. We really see who's best at what and because we really know it firsthand we tap into that. We actually connect the areas on the pedagogy template to professional development and goal setting and they're teacher-led professional development community. You're constantly empowering your teachers throughout your whole school because of it. What that does for the whole culture is amazing.

Daniel (18:38): Beautiful. Well, Craig, we're gonna pause here just for a moment and we're going to get a message from our sponsors. What I'm gonna say is when we get back, let's talk a little bit about that empowerment and having teachers take risks and what you've seen them try. Learn how to successfully navigate change. Shape your school's success and empower your teams with Harvard certificates in school management and leadership programs. Get online professional development that fits your schedule. We're now enrolling for February and June, 2021 courses include leading change, leading schools and leading people. Apply today at hgse.me/leader. That's hgse.me/leader. Ruckus Maker, I want to tell you about a remote blended learning tool. Your school needs right now, SMART Learning Suite. Online as a teacher, you can create store and deliver lessons from anywhere, no smart board required, and your students can access and engage with your content from any web browser on any device, no matter what your classroom looks like right now, SMART Learning Suite online offers many options for flexible learning, engaging students via collaborative workspaces in game based activities. SMART Learning Suite online integrates with tools like Google Classroom and Microsoft teams making it an easy to use way to create engaging content and connect with students.

Daniel (20:11): Learn more and get started@smarttech.com/learningsuite. That's smarttech.com/learningsuite. Today's show is brought to you by Organized Binder. Organized Binder develops the skills and habits all students need for success. During these uncertain times of distance learning and hybrid education settings. Organized Binder, equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning routines so that all students have an opportunity to succeed. Whether at home or in the classroom, learn more at organizedbinder.com.

Daniel (20:51): Alright, and we're back with Craig Randall. He's the author of Trust Based Observations. Craig is on a mission to change the world of teacher observations, to a model of support that fosters risk-taking innovation and creativity. Craig, let's talk about risk taking because there's not really a nice way to say it. I think a lot of schools and districts are full of it, right? They say, we want innovation. They say, we want you to take a risk and the second you stick your neck out there, bam, you're slammed with the metaphorical, hopefully metaphorical two by four, and you put back in your place. How did you build that safety to really have teachers take a risk?

Craig (21:30): One of the things that we actually have on the farm. An area that, but it's not really there as an area that we're looking forward to. An area to remind us as observers because we have risk taking and innovation. One of the things that we tell our teachers regularly in the reflective conversation, and let's be clear, that's where the relationship and the magic happens is in the reflective conversation. That's where the trust begins to be built. One of the things we always say to our teachers is we want you to know that if we come into your class and we observe you trying something new, that completely bombs, you can rest assured that the next day and there during the reflective conversation, you will receive a congratulatory fist bump. When teachers know that and experience that, and really, really believe that then they feel safe enough to build risk.

Craig (22:16): It's interesting. I posted a thing on LinkedIn and Twitter last week on that. I had two teachers tell me, one teacher told me that they were fired for taking a risk one time when it bombed. Another teacher told me she ended up, she was an AP teacher and she ended up being on an observation plan or an accident pre-book plan for that. It's so sad to me that that would happen. This teacher ended up going on to another school and has gotten all outstandings. I'm not into ratings but anyway that's the opposite of what we want to do. I would say one asking those questions first. That's the first thing too. After we asked questions. After we ask questions, we share what we observed, which means we're sharing strengths and so that's a big part of it.

Craig (22:57): Three. For at least the first three visits when we're new to the practice, we don't offer any suggestions because we're getting to know them. Even if we've already been there as a principal and we're changing our model, we still say we're taking a new look at ya. And because of that, I'm not going to offer any suggestions we use, of course, as much empathy and use our best emotional intelligence to drive the tone and the words we use. But more than that, too, there's so many little things that we do to build trust. Like we have the reflective conversation in the teacher's room because whether you're seven, 17, or 37 going to the principal's office, it feels like going to the principal's office. If it's in their own space, they feel more comfortable. We sit beside the teacher with their laptop open so they can see the template right there. Instead of having the power, instead of sitting across from them, we ask the question so they can see it. We're transparent the whole way through. What ends up happening over time is teachers trust you. They'll start saying the amazing thing is by waiting, they'll frequently start saying, okay, okay. Okay, but what can I get better at? At that point there's trust there.

Daniel (24:06): I had myself muted, but I said, that's right. I've learned that as well, like in conversations. When you're listening deeply and somebody says, that's right, that's exactly it. That means you've heard them. When you have a teacher saying, tell me, please tell me what to do to get better. They're basically begging you for it. That's a great indicator of trust. Let's talk about what you've seen. Teachers try that that trust has been built. The rapport is there, the relationship, and now they're ready to leap in and take some risks. What are some things you've seen teachers do?

Craig (24:38): I can think of a couple that come to mind right away. I had a math teacher who was amazing at relationships. The kids loved her and look if I were to throw out a general stereotype I would say math teachers tend to be the most traditional of all in terms of the way they practice up at the board, doing a problem, then doing the next problem and doing the next problem, the last five or 10 minutes, they work on the problems in class, in a group or independently. The teacher works the way around. I had a teacher that was like that, and we ended up talking to her, talking to her and she got to that point. We had another teacher in the building and in a different department who had really embraced the flipped classroom and started recording his lectures.

Craig (25:18): And that was the homework. And then almost the whole class was spent doing work together. We brought that up as a suggestion and we hooked her up with that other teacher because she was totally open to it. She immediately started flipping her class during her lectures. Now when you went in and the kids were so engaged because 45 minutes and what are they doing? They're teaching each other, right? Which that's the highest form of retention of learning. So that's one example. Another example is I had a teacher who was again, really a nice guy, good sense of humor, and cared about his kids. His content and knowledge was just off the charts. He was a guy that literally sat at the lectern and lectured for 50 minutes. These were 75 minute block classes. So if you can imagine, and his AP micro and macro, and this was in Korea where the bar is very, very high. His AP micro and macro were an average getting 20, 20, 25% of the kids are getting twos and ones, which is not a pass and in an environment that's just not acceptable.

Craig (26:21): And because we had the relationship with him, we were able to recommendKagan Cooperative Learning and we had some teachers in the building, but we also said, we'll send you to a workshop over the summer. He said, yeah, let's do it. He came back, completely flipped it. Most of the year, the kids were in groups again, doing this Kagan, learning from each other next year, every single kid passed. So that's just two examples of teachers like really jumping out of the box and taking huge, vulnerable risks to their practice that made a really, really meaningful difference in the teaching and more importantly, the student learning.

Daniel (27:00): Well, Craig, thank you for sharing all these great ideas around. Your work and the book Trust-based Observations. Before I asked you the last two questions I asked everybody, is there any other idea or tip that we might've missed regarding trust-based observations that you want the Ruckus Maker, listening to know?

Craig (27:18): I mean, I did, obviously this is the 30,000 foot view of it. I think for the basics, but I think we're covering the basics pretty well.

Daniel (27:25): Beautiful. Okay. You can put a message on all school marquees around the world and it'll show up for just a day. What would you want that message to say?

Craig (27:37): Building trust to foster risk-taking innovation and growth.

Daniel (27:41): You're building a school from the ground up. You're not limited by any resources, you're only limiting your imagination. How would you build your dream school and what would be your top three priorities?

Craig (27:52): Ooh, that's such a good one. Number one is creating trust and building trust with everyone. Absolutely. Certainly nowadays we have to talk about equity but I think we want to create a relentlessness where every single person working in that building has a relentless attitude with the freedom to create. I don't have all the answers, but I know this when we, as a school and every person in the school has the freedom to experiment, we will find all the answers at least for our school. So that's it.

Daniel (28:24): Got it. Well, Craig, thanks again for being a part of the better leaders, better schools podcasts. Of everything we talked about today, what's the one thing you want a Ruckus Maker to remember,

Craig (28:35): Get into classes, care for your teachers, ask them questions, listen, be patient and support their growth. So they will be willing to take risks.

Daniel (28:46): Thanks for listening to the better leaders, better schools podcast for Ruckus Maker. If you have a question or would like to connect my email, Daniel@betterleadersbetterschools.com or hit me up on Twitter at @alienearbud. If the better leaders better schools podcast is helping you grow as a school leader, then please help us serve more Ruckus Makers like you. You can subscribe, leave an honest rating and review or share on social media with your biggest takeaway. From the episode, extra credit for tagging me on Twitter at alien earbud and using the hashtag #BLBS level up your leadership @betterleadersbetterschools.com and talk to you next time until then class is dismissed.

Show Highlights

  • Master the 20 min observation 
  • Break the feedback observation cycle 
  • Broaden your lens as a novice admin is a veteran move
  • Dinosaur Instructors make traditional ruckus 
  • Build trust to foster risk-taking, innovation, & growth 
  • Magic happens in reflective conversation
  • Expand rubric indicators of what effective teaching is 
  • Tips and tricks to build trust during observations
  • Trust-Based Observation transforms the entire culture 
Craig Randall: Trust-based observations

“One, teaching is craft and art. There are a million different ways that you can be a teacher. There’s not just one way that you can be a teacher. Two, patience. Take time to get to know your teachers because you will see different elements out of them. You don’t want to make a mistake and offer a suggestion on something that might be a strength that you don’t realize is.” 

Craig Randall



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