Hacking Education: The Pineapple Chart

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Hacking Education

     Welcome to the next post on our #D100BloggerPD series on Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School.  The book was written by Mark Barnes and Jennifer Gonzalez.  Bloggers in my district will be taking turns reading and reflecting on the 10 "hacks" listed in the book over the next few weeks.  Click on the image above to catch up on previous posts!

The Pineapple Chart

     They had me at "hello."

     With all my work as a Mentor Program Facilitator, and as a Literacy Coach, I cannot agree with this statement more.  Some of the best pedagogic learning happens by watching other teachers teach.  Whether we watch other teachers and learn new instructional techniques, or whether we watch them and use it as a springboard to reflect on our own practice, both result in personal growth as educators.  Gonzalez and Barnes also suggest that watching others teachers builds rapport and refreshes our practice.  So, open those doors!  

     But... Teachers are so busy!  We don't often have more than a few minutes to spare.  How can we know what is going on, at a glance, in our building so that we can observe something for a little bit of time and move on with our action packed day?

The Hack:
Post a Calendar of "Open House" Lessons

     The pineapple is a traditional symbol of welcome.  A Pineapple Chart, therefore, is a systematic way to welcome teachers into classrooms in one central place.  By having a calendar where teachers can post if they are doing something worth watching, other teachers know that the door is open to visitors.  You create a chart divided into days and possibly time periods, and then hang it in a central location in a high traffic area.  Every week, teachers could add times where they are trying a new instructional strategy, or using a tech tool, or perhaps celebrating a unit.  

     If teachers see something on the board, then they know they have permission to stop by and informally observe, even if just for a few minutes.  Teachers can choose the lens that they need to use (behavior management, instructional strategy, tech integration, etc.).  The best part is that the TEACHERS get to decide what and when they want to observe.  It is completely optional.

     A month or so ago we took a building Focus Walk on math, and we are on the eve of taking a Walk on writing tomorrow, so our teachers have already gotten adjusted to opening the doors to each other.  With the Focus Walks, we are all looking at Writing Workshop and reflecting on that as a staff.  But, I was looking for a way to keep that informally going between walks.  When I read Barnes and Gonzalez's "What YOU can do Tomorrow" box, I found my way.  I talked with a couple of teachers about creating a wall in my office, which is also near the staff bathroom.  Central location!  Teachers are always inviting me to stop into lessons.  What if we made those invitations a little more public to the staff?  I envisioned a "parking lot" chart of sorts, where every week teachers could pop a post it note on it and invite me to their writing celebrations, their new milestones, etc.  Theresa Carrillo suggested I make it on my big glass window, and that was the inspiration I needed!

Here is a view of the window, with the dates sectioned off.  

     The picture on the left is from inside my office, and the one on the right is from the hallway.   As you can see, they can read the words (even in they are backwards) from the hall if we write with dry erase marker.  Great idea, Theresa!

      Now that I made the chart, I need ask a key question.  "What is going on in your class today?  What time is that happening?" was the sample.  I'll stick with that for now.  :)

     I want to go a little further and perhaps designate specific colors for lessons that they might want feedback on, or a lesson that I could Periscope for them and share with the building.  For example, perhaps someone has something great happening at 10:50 on Tuesday, but they can't get out of their room.  A teacher could circle it in a specific color, signaling they want me to go in and Periscope a bit of the lesson and tag them on Twitter.  Then they are "seeing" the lesson as it happened, but in a digital way.

     I am so excited for the possibilities in this!!!

A few words of advice from Barnes and Gonzalez:
  • Make sure everyone is clear that this is INFORMAL, not formal, observations.
  • Seek out people who are willing to put their name on the wall, and who will also go and observe lessons for short periods of time, to get things started. 
  • Keep it optional, but encourage people.
  • Give staff a change to reflect or give feedback after a visit.  (I'm thinking a parking lot next to the Pineapple Chart, or using your school hashtag to give public praise.  #HiawathaPride is ours.)
  • Incentivize it, if necessary.
     My own word of caution on that last one...  From personal experience, sometimes incentivizing things turns it into a friendly competition, and to some people it appears as true competition. The goal here is for teachers to see the VALUE in watching peers.  Make sure the focus stays on the qualitative value of the observation, and not on the quantitative number of observations they take.  

     And then there's pushback from those who don't feel they have anything to contribute, or those unwilling to give up 5 minutes to watch a coworker, or those who are self conscious, or those who think it's just one more thing to do.  My response to that is give them time.  They'll come around when they are ready.  Personalized PD has to be on the person's terms, and that means that encouragement and coaching and time can move people a long way in changing their perspective.  

     The bottom line is the absolute best way to learn how to teach is to watch others teach, and then apply it to our own practice.  Whether it was when we student taught, or as new teachers, or mentors watching new staff, or with ongoing peer observation like the Pineapple Charts, finding small chunks of time to watch lessons that you are interested in seeing pays off.  So, get into someone else's room, or at the very least have me Periscope it so that you can watch it when you do have 5 minutes.  It's worth it.

     I'll do a follow up on our Pineapple Chart once we get it going, so stay tuned!  In the meantime, be on the lookout for the next post in the #D100bloggerPD series.  +Virginia Burdett is up on March 14th with Hack #3.  Check Twitter for the link next week! @missburdetthia


  1. Having the opportunity to observe other teachers is invaluable. Observations of others spark ideas and bolster inspiration. Every teacher has something he/she can improve on. All of us can be better educators. What a great and FREE way to access professional development. I love seeing how you've implemented this hack already. What a practical way to make it visible for the staff! Thanks for sharing, Leah. :)
    Literacy Loving Gals

  2. I LOVE the Pineapple Chart idea, and am excited to hear about how it goes at HIA! Thanks for sharing it with everyone - I think it's such a wonderful way to get teachers in one another's rooms, just so informally!

    1. I'm eager to see how it develops as well. I will keep you posted.

  3. I'm chiming in on the thanks for showing how you're doing it at Hiawatha! That was very helpful and helped me envision a way to get this going at Pershing! We even have a similar glass wall close to staff bathrooms!

    1. I think that glass wall would be perfect! I would be sure to look at it next time I'm at Pershing. :)

  4. We were just talking about informal visits to each other's classrooms in my building. I will be sharing your post and thinking - thank you!!

  5. This is such a real and valuable way to get PD in. Observing one another and debriefing the experience is hands down the best PD. I need to get my hands on this book too. :-)

  6. Thanks for sharing. I always like watching other teachers work their magic. I always have a take away to use immediately when I visit felow teacher classrooms. This type of PD is powerful.

  7. I'm re-reading this... Freedom is jumping on the bandwagon. Today's goal... scout out an excellent spot for our chart! Thanks so much, Leah!

  8. I read this article from 3 months ago and then, I had an inspiration to develop the teacher professional in my program or faculty at NPU. Thus, really thanks for sharing this useful idea. - Dr.Savitree Thaotho