Whether you’re new to teaching or a veteran, informal observations can often bring about fear in many teachers. Knowing this, Jenn over at PrintablePrompts has used her experience to write an in-depth article to help you overcome the stress of your next observation. Take it away, Jenn…
Does your heart sink when the principal walks through your door, even when you’re students are busy doing amazing things? Do you suddenly start to question all things happening in your classroom like:
Are my bulletin boards up to date?
Are my objectives posted?
Is my class too noisy?
Is Bobby going to wipe a booger on Sal during my lesson again?
Teacher evaluations are on the rise and one of the ways that schools in my state are evaluating teachers is based on informal observations (formerly known as walkthroughs or pop ins). My principal can walk in unannounced, sit down, record the lesson, and then give me a score during a quick follow up afterwards.
In many ways this type of observation is much more difficult than the formal, hand in your lesson plan, type of scheduled lesson observations.
But fear not.
Here are some tips to help you to keep calm during informal observations!
Be sure the principal has an up to date copy of your schedule
You (probably) don’t want your principal coming in to evaluate you during snack time and they probably don’t want to either. Be sure your principal knows when these transitions will be occurring, this way he/she may be more likely to come in during instructional time. This is a really easy way to make for a better observation experience and it also shows respect for the principal’s time (ensuring you start off the observation on the right foot).
Prepare your students for visitors
I tell my students from the beginning of the year that lots of people in our school and families are VERY excited about all the wonderful things first graders are doing. They may want to come in and see the wonderful things happening in first grade. I tell them that we welcome visitors and then their job is to be the best first graders they can be so we can show what we know!
This takes the pressure off of you and helps the students take responsibility for their own behavior.
Having and practicing a routine for visitors is exciting for students and amazing. You can have them greet the visitor with a simple “Good Morning!” or “Good Afternoon” or have something like a little jingle/song ready when a new face shows up. Ask your colleagues to pop in to practice how you can greet the visitor and then re-engage in the lesson. It also helps to get right back into the routines which provides a nice segue into tip #3:
Establish classroom routines early
In my experience, principals offer more feedback on transitions than any other area of the classroom. So establishing classroom routines is an essential investment of time for many reasons. It will help you to re-engage your students when the principal or any other visitor, comes into the classroom. Having a chime, signal, or quiet routine is an amazing tool. Practicing these transition routines will help you to have a much smoother year, and lead to a more positive observation.
Know what is expected
In my district we are expected to have objectives posted.
I have to admit that I am working on this. As a result, I have more general overall monthly objectives for each subject area posted. I refer to these during lessons and then get more specific as we work on them in class.
For example, if our month long objective is to decode CVC words, I will say “Today we are going to practice decoding words with a short ‘a’ sound.” Knowing that this is expected has helped me to prepare my classroom and set up ahead of time to meet these needs. It also keeps me focused during my instruction.
Our students are expected to know the purpose of different activities. Having most of the instruction during our day centered on small group provides a challenge in this area, especially when students are able to choose between 3 or 4 different writing activities.
My district has also provided the rubric that they use to “score” us. I personally ignore this during the actual observation and look at the type of things the district is striving to see instead. I aim to incorporate these things into my routines.
Invite the principal in early and often
One of the biggest concerns teachers have with this type of observation is the principal may make broad assumptions based on a 10-minute slot. There are tons of benefits of having the principal come into your classroom early and often. The principal is a very special kind of visitor for your students to see. You, the principal, and your students will all be more comfortable and prepared if you’ve established this type of open door relationship. (Read more about inviting the principal here!)
Keep calm and pretend this is the lesson plan
This quote was on a coffee mug given to me by my classroom aide my first year teaching first grade. It has resonated so well with me!
Take full advantage of the fact that your principal has not been prepped with a long and detailed lesson plan. Keep teaching just as you would on a regular day. Sometimes lessons take a turn we don’t expect. Go with it. Just keep teaching. If the class needs a little motor break/ stretch, do it! Your principal wants to see what is happening each day in your classroom, not a scripted and rehearsed performance.
So are you ready to rock that informal observation? Let us know how it went below!