Observations have been a part of my teaching career since the beginning. In my district, you were observed a few times of year (some were announced, some unannounced) until you reached tenure on the first day of your fourth year. Then, I had a brief year or two of no observations before NJ changed the teacher evaluation model, which required ALL teachers, tenured or not, to be observed. So, aside from that short time, observations have always been part of my teaching life.
Anyway, observations are so TRICKY. They fill me with angst and make me feel all hot and nauseous. It’s not that I don’t like administrators to come into my room. Quite the contrary. In fact, I’m always inviting people in to check out the goings on in my room. But there’s just something so terrifying when someone’s reason for coming into your room is to rate you on a whole bunch of little parts for the purpose of giving you a score that defines the whole of what you do. That provides a number that now allows you to figure out your “rank” among a group of peers – everyone from the cute, new teacher up the hall with no kids of her own, the Pinterest-perfect classroom, and 40k IG followers, to the guy down the hall who wears flip flops everyday (despite the dress code!) and has been “accidentally” absent for every faculty meeting over the last four years.
Just how will you measure?
I wish I didn’t feel this way. I know how valuable a new set of eyes on your practice can be. Still, after 13 years, I get butterflies every.single.time.
But, even though I still get nervous, I’ve learned a whole lot over the years about how to make the best of the stressful situation and impress your visitors. In this post, I want to share with you 6 tips to help you put your best foot forward.
1. Careful planning. Regardless of the evaluation model your district uses – Danielson, Marzano, etc. – you’ll want to plan a lesson that showcases a variety of instruction models. I always try to include direct instruction, guided practice, and independent practice in my lesson because I want my observer to see how I can change my role from instructor to facilitator. Below, you will see a copy of the lesson plan from my Creating Dynamic Characters – Lessons that Create Writers #1. I will almost always use one of these lessons if I being observed during a writing period because it easily fits to any writing unit we are doing and showcases lots of different learning experiences.
2. Prepare for your pre- and post-conferences. Hopefully your district gives you the opportunity to have a pre- or post-conference, or ideally both! When going into these meetings, it’s important to prepare a bit ahead of time.
- Explain the lesson you are planning to teach and any background s/he should know about why you are doing that lesson. It’s helpful to give a recap on what you did a few days before and what you plan to do a few days after this lesson to give some context.
- Discuss any behavior issues, management situations, IEP/504 modifications s/he should be aware of.
- Give your administrator something to look for in your practice that you’d like to work on. For example, last year I wanted my observer to look at how I created a culture of equity where each student felt like s/he had a valued voice in my room (sounds pretty fancy, right ;). I like to do this for two reasons: 1.) it shows your observer that you are reflective and always thinking about evolving your practice, and 2.) if you have a great observer, you can actually get some valuable feedback on what is important to you and your practice!
- Many times, I find that I over plan my lessons and don’t always get to the end. If that’s the case, explain how you opened your lesson the following day with the closure from the lesson s/he saw. If this happens to me, I like to email this as soon as a can the next day, long with some results of your closure, like pictures of a few exit tickets.
- Remember, there is ALWAYS something you can do better next time. Be honest with your observer and yourself 🙂
- If an administrator makes a recommendation for improvement, remember to get specific clarification of what they mean EXACTLY. We know as teachers that kids can rarely do much with vague feedback like “add more details,” and the same goes for us. Don’t leave until you are clear on what is expected of you next time.