Saturday, November 7, 2015

Tips and Tricks to having a successful teacher observation

Have a successful teacher observation every time when you follow these simple tips!  Teachers share their strategies to having a great teacher observation!


Observation.  A word that can make a teacher's blood run cold.  One colleague of  mine used to always say she would rather go to the gynecologist  than be observed!  But being observed doesn't have to be stressful and can make you a better teacher.  Here are some tips to have a successful observation:

Before your observation: 

You really start preparing for  successful observations day 1 of your teaching.  Principals look for:


 Do you show that you like your job?  Do you spend your lunch hour complaining about accommodating a student's needs because it is extra work?  Are you welcoming and friendly to parents and your colleagues?  Do you contribute to the learning community as a whole?  Impress your principal by showing a passion for teaching!  Make positive connections with students, parents, and staff.   Be positive, even on those days you don't feel it.  Complain to your spouse, your best friend, your cat or your mom- but try to keep complaining out of your work conversations.  Always bring up a problem with possible positive solutions.  

Classroom Environment

Provide a classroom for your students that is pleasing and organized.  Remove excess clutter. So many teachers are savers (myself included!!!)  make sure what you keep is neat and put away.  Hang examples of rigorous and meaningful student work in the hallways and classroom bulletin boards.  Show that there is learning happening in your classroom on a regular basis.

Routines, Management, and Structure

From day 1, teach your students your expectations and routines.  Students that know routines are better behaved and you are able to be more focused on their learning.  Practice routines.  I review some part of our routines almost every day.  Even if it is just to quickly review a procedure before we  move on. For example about once a week I say, "it's time for lunch, please stand up, push in your chair, and walk to the door."   I don't say it every day, but often enough that they know I still want them to do it that way.  The days I don't say it, if they don't follow that routine I make them go back and do it over.  My students just know that is what they have to do or they have to go back.  They don't like to go back, so they just do it.  Another example is when my students come in to my room for math (I teach departmentalized first grade math) they put their work tubs in a certain spot and walk to the carpet for our class math meeting.  I may review the expectation once in a while, but by this time of the year if someone doesn't do it, another student calls them out on it.  I can spend those few minutes getting myself together so I am ready to teach as soon as they are sitting. Principals look for good classroom management during an observation.

Solid Lesson Planning

Good lesson planning can go a long way to having a successful observation.  Planning out the standards being taught, student-friendly learning objectives, essential questions, rigorous learning activities (include choice if you can!) to support the standards and informal ways to assess learning as you teach can make or break your lesson.  Make sure you have every copy, manipulative, and supply and even a few extras you need to teach your lesson ready to go.  Stick with activities you would normally do! This is not the time to try a group learning project for the first time!  If you normally do group learning projects go for it, but if not, stick to your tried and true lessons that make you feel comfortable doing and you know have high engagement.  I chose an interactive Venn Diagram activity the last time I was formally observed because I knew the kids already knew the procedure, but I then added a mathy spin to it.  I tried it out a week before my observation and then did a similar, but different lesson during. The principal loved this lesson.  Stick with what works!
Have a successful teacher observation every time when you follow these simple tips!  Teachers share their strategies to having a great teacher observation!Have a successful teacher observation every time when you follow these simple tips!  Teachers share their strategies to having a great teacher observation!

Be Proactive

Ask your principal what they are looking for during your pre-observation conference.  If your district is using  a evaluation tool such as the Charlotte Danielson Framework, see if your principal is willing to observe a standard or two that you need observational evidence.   Ask other teacher's for advice from their experiences of being observed.  
Know what your school priorities are.  One year at our school the principal was looking for posted objectives, if you didn't have it you would be marked down, last year we had to have expert walls and listed standard operating procedures, this year we are not supposed to have expert walls, but we do need to have data walls.  Whatever the priority is for the year, make sure you have it.
Make sure you have everything ready for your lesson.  Don't forget to have a good supply of sharpened pencils!   You don't want any time of your observation to be wasted sharpening or worse, a child not engaged in the activity because they don't have a pencil and don't want to say anything because the principal is in the room!

Prepare Students

Give your students the head's up that someone is coming in to observe the learning that is going on in the classroom.  Some teachers make a point to say that the principal is coming only to evaluate the teacher and some make a point to say that the principal is coming to see the students.  In reality, neither and both points are the truth.  The principal is coming in to observe the learning environment as a whole which includes the teacher and students.  I usually tell my students that the principal is coming in to see all of the great learning that is going on in our classroom.  This way, students don't stress over it, they just feel proud to show the hard work they do on a daily basis.

During your observation:

Set your objective

Make sure that your students know what they are going to learn.  Have it on the board, say it, have them say it.  Make it clear that they know what they are going to learn .  Research shows this increases learning!

Stay Focused on Learning

Don't try to pull off some kind of big fancy show with you as the star.  Let the learning be the star!  Every part of your lesson should be about keeping the students engaged in their learning.   Some things principals watch for is student engagement, teacher/student connections, lesson flow (don't rush out of nervousness!), classroom management, as well as student learning.  It is a lot to juggle but, relax, you do this multiple times a day!  Follow the lesson plan as best as you can, but be ready to be flexible if you need to be.  Make sure that you end with some kind of informal assessment.  An exit ticket, a journal entry, a practice page - something that shows learning was happening!.
Have a successful teacher observation every time when you follow these simple tips!  Teachers share their strategies to having a great teacher observation!


Try not to be nervous or stressed.  An observation is meant just to be a snap shot of your teaching and student learning, if it doesn't quite go the way you want, use it as a learning opportunity! 

After your observation:


What went well?  What flopped?  The students didn't fully grasp the lesson?  Get ready for your post-observation conference with a plan of what you will do next.  Your students were writing notes on their sticky notes instead of what they were supposed to write?  Have a plan to fix the behavior .  We are not perfect, things don't always go our way.  Principals already know that you don't have a classroom where everything goes perfectly 100% of the time because no one does!  What you need to be prepared to show is what you do when things are not so perfect to make it better the next time.  We should be in a constant state of reflecting as educators...  plan, do, check, adjust!  Focus on the positives and how you will change the negatives!

Be positive

We can be our own worst critic!   Use your observation as a learning opportunity.  Don't go into your post-observation meeting ready to bash yourself!   Make sure that you use your post-evaluation conference to ready to highlight your positives.  Show data that shows good results if you can, such as a pre-test and post test.  Use this time as an opportunity to have a meaningful conversation with your principal about your strengths  and things that you can improve to be the best teacher that you can be. 

Take Criticism as an opportunity 

No one is perfect.  Observations are not meant to "get you" , they are opportunities to find out how to improve.  Listen to criticisms with an open mind and do not react defensively.  Even if you don't agree, listen respectfully and take note of  what your administrator wants you to do differently.  If you would like to offer a written rebuttal, follow district procedures.  In our district, we type a letter of rebuttal and it is attached to the evaluation.  Choose something from your evaluation to work on until next time.

Hopefully your observation will be a great reflection of who you are and what kind of learning that happens every day!  Try to relax, you will be great!!!

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