Okay, okay. Perfect is a strong word, but since that is what we teachers like to strive for, let’s go for it! Through my experience, research and reading, and interviewing administrators, I have collected the eight keys to a perfect observation.
Teacher evaluations definitely add stress to a teacher’s job. But, if we look at them objectively, we can see the positives and the potential in them. The best way to evaluate our teaching is to watch us teach. I have a pair of blog posts about evaluations that I encourage you to read. But, today we are just focusing on the formal observation part of the evaluation.
I have divided the keys into three categories: From the beginning of the year, preparing for your formal observation, and the day of your formal observation.
FROM THE BEGINNING OF THE YEAR
1. Have Efficient Procedures in Place .
Classroom community is so important for maximum student learning. Principals are looking for a genuine, authentic, engaged classroom during an observation. This means you have to start building it from DAY ONE. Or before. The first step in building a safe, engaged learning environment is having efficient procedures. Please stop right now and read this post about classroom procedures. I firmly believe good procedures reduce behavior problems while increasing fun!
While you are teaching, practicing, and assessing the classroom procedures with your students, begin to build up a strong sense of community. This is necessary for making students feel comfortable with you and with each other. If we want students to talk about their learning (and we do!), they must feel comfortable. Read more about classroom community here.
2. Regularly Observe Other Teachers.
When planning your prep periods, map out times to go watch other master teachers teach. Write it in your planner. Block that day off and don’t let yourself out of it because you are behind on grading. Do this every two-four weeks. Be sure to select teachers that you know are doing a great job because we want to see great ideas and models of great teaching. Those are the teachers we want to learn from!
PREPARING FOR YOUR OBSERVATION
3. Know the Evaluation Rubric.
Whether your district uses Marzano, Framework for Teaching, Value-Added Model, or some other teacher evaluation system, it is important to know what is expected of you. The scoring rubrics are public and should be studied. Just as we want our students to understand our rubrics and how they will be evaluated, we should do the same. It sounds so basic, but when I spoke with a principal, he mentioned how teachers seemed to overlook this one simple and obvious step in their evaluation process.
4. Select a dynamic lesson that includes student talk.
Select a lesson that you love to teach. Choose content that you are very confident with and includes student talk. This can be in the form of group collaboration, pair work, gallery walk, etc. It doesn’t matter how you engage your students with talk, but make sure to use a structure that you have used before. Formal observation day is not the day to try a new Kagan structure or elaborate procedure at them. One thing I have heard from multiple principals about observations is that they hate the “dog and pony show.” They want to see organic interactions and students who are comfortable with what you are asking them to do. In each of the two linked lesson plans, there is a balance between teacher talk and student talk. Both also include a clear learning target. Make this learning target known to students. If a principal asks one of your students what they are working on, you don’t want them to say, “a worksheet.” They should understand that they are learning to “apply percents in the real-world by estimating a sale price,” or “using right triangles to find the angle of elevation a football must be kicked to make it above the goal post.”
If you need a GREAT way to get students talking in class, read the post to the right. This twist on an old classic will ensure focused, low-stress student discussion.
5. Be Prepared for anything.
On formal observation day, Murphy’s Law will be in full effect! LOL! Inevitably, a student will show up late, or your planned technology won’t work, or students come without supplies, or a student is having a meltdown. You get the point. If something can go wrong, it will. However, these are all opportunities to shine. It will seem frustrating when something like this happens, but when you think about it…dealing with these obstacles are things we deal with daily. We handle hard things all the time. It just seems worse because we are being evaluated and we are a little nervous. Just pause. Breathe. And handle the situation calmly like you would on any given day. Most of these obstacles can be prepared for (and even prevented in some cases) with good procedures. See number one above!
6. Be realistic when planning the timing of the lesson.
When planning a lesson plan for a formal observation, meticulously plan the timing. Bellwork is a non-negotiable in my classroom every day, so I know about how long it takes. Are you giving instruction? Prepare for student questions, but know students always seem more hesitant to ask questions when the principal is in the room. Will students be getting out of their seats or will there be transitions? Account for the time that takes. Are you planning an exit ticket? If not, consider using one, but make sure you have time for it. Don’t throw it at students as they are leaving. Do you have a plan if things go much quicker than you anticipated? You don’t want students sitting there staring at you for the last 10 minutes.
7. Include a formative assessment.
Find an opportunity for a quick, check-for-understanding in your lesson. Here are a few ideas:
- Ask students to give a thumbs-up, thumbs-down, or “wiggle in the middle.” (Sometimes it’s difficult to tell which direction they are pointing their thumb. This helps!)
- Use student whiteboards to have them show their thoughts. Easy and students love them!
- Try a free app like Plickers to get a quick glimpse into your students’ thinking.
- Use an exit ticket that includes a check for understanding on it.
With all of these, have a clear vision for how to adjust your instruction. Will you pivot the lesson in real time? Are you going to use their responses to adjust groupings for tomorrow’s lesson? Will you distribute different homework based on their results? Try to find a way to demonstrate that you are a responsive teacher. To help you get started using exit tickets, try these free templates!
Day of Your Observation
Relax. Nerves are natural, but remember this is an opportunity to demonstrate what a great teacher you are! Be confident in that and show off. If you don’t believe you are great, your administrator won’t either.