Knocking Your Formal Observation Out of the Park



As a school administrator, part of my job is to observe teachers in their classrooms everyday.  Even though most teachers feel incredibly confident in front of their student audience, having another adult in the room, especially one who could potentially be evaluating them, can be extremely fear inducing.  Here are some insider tips to help you make best impression and to quash your fears.

Your Admin Wants You to Succeed and Grow

If you don’t know your administrator very well or are afraid of them, it might seem like they are waiting to catch you slip up.  The reality is that any good administrator is looking for things that you are doing well, as well as areas to help support you in your growth as a teacher (bad administrators are another issue.  Read the point below for advice about that). When the admin comes in, smile, take a deep breath, and try to put your best foot forward with growth in mind.

Be Proactive with Your Observer

If it’s a scheduled observation, be savvy about the lesson that you choose to present.  Make sure it is something that can show off your strengths as an instructor.  Even if it’s not mandatory at your school, find a time to meet with your administrator in advance of their observation.  Let them know areas that you think that you are doing well in, as well as areas you are looking to grow in, so they can collect specific evidence as they watch you teach.  Similarly, meet with them afterwards to receive feedback.  Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself or to mention things that occur in your class that the observer didn’t get a chance to see: this information is also helpful to your admin, as it fleshes out their understanding of you as a teacher.

Prepare Your Students

It’s ok to let your students know why the administrator is coming in advance of their visit: just as students constantly learn and grow from your feedback, you also continually learn and grow to be the best teacher possible for them.  If you are honest with your students about why teachers are observed, it increases the likelihood of their cooperation during an observation.

Make It Student Centered and Active

There is no greater kiss of death for an observed lesson than presenting a lecture for the entire block.  While some direct instruction might be necessary to set up a learning activity, it is important to keep it limited (this is a good rule of thumb in general).  Make sure that you are not lecturing for more than seven minutes, as, after all, the human attention span is a measly seven seconds long!  Think about learning stations, cooperative groupings or partner activities, or some active, hands-on activity.  Don’t forget to do formative checks for understanding, and to make sure that all students are engaged and participating.

If You Make A Mistake, It’s Ok, Keep Going!

Most admin are former teachers, and still remember the stresses of being observed, so they aren’t looking for perfection or a stepford teacher.  They have your success in mind, so if you make a blunder, either acknowledge it laughingly or just quickly shrug it off and move on.  Nobody is perfect, and chances are, the mistake is bigger in your mind than it is to them.  Unless you are grossly negligent or unkind to a child, you should be just fine.  

What to do in a Hostile Observation Situation

Unfortunately, just as there are bad teachers and human beings out there, there are also bad administrators out there too.  They fall into two camps, the lazy/unprepared sort, and the mean sort.  For the lazy category, they are just looking to check off the box that they came in to observe, so still try your best, but don’t worry too much about their feedback.  For the admin with whom you might have personal friction, I might advise trying to get another administrator to perform your observation.  If this is not possible, make sure that all follow-up conversations focus on objective facts rather than opinions, and try to keep the conversation as brief as possible.  If necessary, have the conversation in a public place, like the teacher’s lounge, or ask for another adult, like a co-teacher or a union rep, to be present.

At the end of the day, remember that an observation is only a few still frames in the film of your teaching, and that one day does not define who you are as a teacher.  Try to look at it as an opportunity to receive feedback to help you grow, and try to have fun!  If all else fails, reward yourself with a treat at the end of the observation!


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