Tips for Surviving Teacher Evaluations & Observations

What’s Here

When I started teaching in 1999, I was scheduled to be formally observed every five (!!) years and informal observations were non-existent. Now it seems like the pendulum has swung completely in the opposite way, and many teachers are having informal walk-throughs on a daily basis and regular scheduled observations multiple times per year. On this page, you’ll find tips and advice on preparing for teacher evaluations and handling informal observations and walk-throughs.

Choosing a Lesson for a Planned Teacher Evaluation

How to prepare for informal observations/walk-throughs and formal evaluations (and how to cope when they don't go well!)Deciding what to teach during a teacher evaluation is tough! For my planned evaluations, I usually chose a favorite lesson: something I had taught before with a previous class and was comfortable with. Generally I tried to make sure it included technology, collaborative learning, hands-on materials, and mostly higher-order thinking activities. I tried to pick an activity that was different than what we’d already done in class (so the kids would be highly engaged) but still similar in format (so they’d be able to follow our normal routines and procedures without getting hung up on the practicalities.)

If you can choose the subject you’re observed teaching, pick the one that you feel is your strongest and that is easiest for you to integrate your most innovate teaching methods. I usually chose math and had the kids work with manipulatives and individual dry erase boards (which got all students actively involved.)

Handling a Re-Scheduled Teacher Observation

I always found it to be extremely stressful to prepare for an observation and then have the principal cancel at the last minute due to a school emergency or unforseen circumstance. (I once had my observation cancelled because the principal had her observation date changed, and the area supervisor wanted to watch her doing something in another grade level!) Talk about a dog and pony show.

After getting frustrated about this numerous times, I realized it’s very helpful to have a few really great lessons you can use anytime. These lessons should be for skills you’ve already introduced but the kids still need lots of practice with, such as main idea or multiplication. It’s the perfect solution for those times when you administrator is pulled away for emergencies: you can keep the same lesson you originally planned and not have to re-think everything during each postponement.

Having “anytime” or “backup” lessons prepared can also be useful for unplanned observations. If the principal walks in right as you’re changing subjects or activities, just transition into one of the backup lessons you have that really show off your range of teaching skills.

Preparing Students for a Teacher Observation

This is tricky. You don’t want your kids to act unnaturally, but you also don’t want them to feel TOO comfortable!

Since the goal is really for students to be calm and attentive during an observation, talk with your students about how to behave when visitors are in the room. It’s good for them to be taught that certain behaviors are appropriate at certain times. Talk about the difference between home expectations and school expectations, classroom expectations and playground expectations, etc. Let the kids that when a visitor is in the classroom, they need to make that person feel welcome and let that person see their very best work.

It’s fine for kids to know that visitors are from other schools (or are in charge of other schools) and they’ve heard good things about how your school runs: therefore, we want to live up to our reputation! You can also let the kids know how important it is that they show how much they know and how smart they are. This is their chance to show off in a good way!

After a visitor leaves your classroom, thank your students for being so on-task and attentive–let them know they made you and themselves look good.


Dealing with Unplanned and Unexpected Teacher Observations

If you’re right in the middle of a lesson and the principal does a walk-through, don’t panic. Be relaxed and natural and focus on getting into your “flow.”  If you’re concerned the activity is boring (you’re giving a test, for example, or the kids are copying their homework assignments), circulate around the room, encouraging your students and asking higher-level thinking questions if they’re stuck.

Respond firmly but calmly to any misbehavior and project an energy that you’re not phased by the behavior or embarrassed because of it. You’re in a real classroom with real students, and real problems will sometimes arise! That’s fine.

Be confident in your teaching: let your natural skills and rapport with students shine through. Even if the observation scenario isn’t ideal, remember that you’ll get lots of other chances to show what you can do.

Don’t Let a Bad Observation Ruin Your Day!

I always felt like my administrators came into my classroom when I was doing the least interesting things with my students. I’d spend the whole morning working with the kids in an elaborate, student-directed collaborative project. but the second they cleaned up and I passed out the weekly multiplication fact quiz, then boom! In walks my principal!

Eventually I stopped worrying about it. If you know you’re a good teacher and you’re doing what you’re supposed to do, it doesn’t matter when the principal comes in. Over time they’re going to see a variety of things, any way. Some days will be better than other days. That’s okay.

Your administrator may get to rate your performance based on a few times s/he has been in your room, and the school district might evaluate you based on your students’ test scores, but neither of those things define you as a teacher. Your worth does not come from a principal’s approval. You can only do the best that you can do. Keep learning and trying new things. Keep improving your practice.

And most importantly, stay focused on your students. They are the reason why you teach. Don’t allow a less-than-ideal evaluation put you in such a bad mood that you take it out your on your kids. Don’t allow the observation or evaluation system to get you so discouraged that you have no energy left for your students. The best thing you can do as a teacher is keep giving it your all.

Now What?

The CornerstoneFinding a Teaching Job
Fun Free Stuff to Print
Grading Made Simple
Purposeful Planning
Surviving Standardized Testing
Changing Grade Levels
Combined Class/Multi-Grade Classes
Co-Teaching and Team Teaching
Departmentalized Teaching

What are teacher observations/evaluations like in your school? Share your experiences (and advice) in the comments!

The following two tabs change content below.
Angela was a classroom teacher for 11 years and currently works as an instructional coach and educational consultant based in New York City. She's created a webinar series on pro-active behavior management and has written 3 books for educators. Check out the blog and free teacher resource pages for photos, tips & tricks, activities, printables, and more.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jennifer November 17, 2012 at 8:40 pm

Thank you for this article. I kept on thinking about all of my past informal and formal observations as I was reading. The last paragraph was especially important to keep in mind!

Reply

2 Angela Watson November 18, 2012 at 11:00 am

You’re welcome, Jennifer! I know evaluations are stressful. There is so much pressure on teachers these days! I’m glad this article helped.

Reply

3 Jennifer Basso November 18, 2012 at 8:19 pm

I’m scheduled to have my first observation for the year this week and this is my second year teaching. I meet with the principal tomorrow for my pre-conference. I teach media and our district had adopted the Charoltte Danielson evaluation system. I’m a bit nervous as I want to do a very good job instructing so seeing this tonight made me a little bit more comfortable. If you have any suggestions I’d really appreciate them! Thanks!

Reply

4 Angela Watson November 18, 2012 at 9:02 pm

Hi, Jennifer! It sounds really corny and trite, but I think you really have to believe in yourself and what you do with your students on a daily basis. Since it’s only your second year, I’m sure you are still building up your self-confidence, but it will (or can) get easier the longer you’re in the classroom. If you know that you are giving your very, very best–not every minute of every single day, as no one works at their peak 100% of the time–but that’s you’re doing your very best as a whole, then that’s all that you can do. You can be satisfied with that.

If you are criticized, consider the feedback you’re given and show a willingness to learn, grow, and improve. That kind of lifelong learner attitude will often compensate for your weaknesses. Most principals would rather have a teacher who’s got a long way to go but is trying and willing to do things differently than a teacher who’s already pretty good but not willing to listen to advice.

Reply

5 Christa November 18, 2012 at 8:36 pm

Thank you so much for sharing this! I am going on my third year of teaching and had an amazing firs two years. This year has come to b my most challenging and my administration just does not seem to understand that! It gives me hope and motivation to keep going and be confident in myself as a teacher to make the beat decisions in my instruction for my kids instead of focusing on the two times my principal has seen me. Thank you again for the inspiration and motivation!

Reply

6 Angela Watson November 18, 2012 at 9:05 pm

You’re welcome, Christa! I’m glad that was your main take-away from the article. If you’re feeling inspired, motivated, hopeful, and enthusiastic, you’ve already won a huge part of the battle. Your attitude toward your job and your students shows through during your observations, and really colors the perception of the person who is watching you. Focus on loving what you’re doing–your observations will go better, and you’ll be a lot happier, too!

Reply

7 Jackie November 18, 2012 at 9:08 pm

Thank you so much for writing this article. I am a first year teacher and had my first observation for this year last week. Your article helped me put the experience into perspective.

Reply

8 Angela Watson November 18, 2012 at 11:26 pm

Great, Jackie! Thank you for taking the time to comment.

Reply

9 Michelle November 18, 2012 at 10:46 pm

I live in Louisiana and we have adopted a new rubric for teacher evaluations. The feedback that I got was that my lesson needed to be more student led. We are rated from 1-4. I got a 3 but those were my suggestions to work on. I would love to know what a student led classroom looks like in 2nd grade.

Reply

10 Angela Watson November 18, 2012 at 11:34 pm

Hi, Michelle! Glad to hear your observation went well overall. I am not familiar with the term “student-led classroom”, and I agree that sounds kind of strange, especially for second grade. I’m assuming it’s another way of saying “student-centered” classroom with student-led projects/lessons/activities, vs. a “teacher-directed” classroom, and it refers to gradually releasing more and more ownership of the classroom to students as the year progresses. As your students master the routines and procedures and become more independent, I’m sure that will happen. The beginning of the school year tends to be filled with more whole class instruction and direct instruction than later in the year, when there are more small groups and centers happening. You can also try to incorporate student-led projects (book studies and such that are based on student interests) and give students more choice as to how they demonstrate understanding of the content. During your lessons, try to make sure your students are doing more of the talking than you are.

I wouldn’t worry about it too much if I were you–everyone has to have an area to work on, and this is one which will probably improve naturally throughout the school year. The fact that you’re mindful of it now makes it even more likely that you’ll do better next time around.

Reply

11 Shirley December 2, 2012 at 12:06 pm

Dear Michelle, I have always wanted to have a student led classroom and I was able to implement one thing in the 2 years that I had left before I retired. We began with a simple activity using the cooperative learning model. The students were seated in small groups with one student per day as the discussion leader. All were required to listen, but the leader listened hardest on his or her day. They would listen to me give a brief description of a concept we would be studying and repeat it to the group. Then they would rearrange the words they said into a question and ask the students about what they had just learned. The leader would call on group mates, listen carefully and consolidate the replies to report to the class. This became a ritual and evolved into deeper discussions as the repetition of a concept became repetition of an “Essential question” and a small group discussion. The reporting out became quite competitive as the students tried to impress all listeners with their replies and how much prior knowledge they had. They started to take themselves and their learning very seriously. It made my last years very meaningful. Of course, you have to establish rules, give reminders, support the shy ones (I taught them how to respectfully offer to sub/help) and keep it simple at first, but if it works for you, it is a great activity and supports listening and speaking. I was surprised that my first graders were able to understand some parts of the cooperative learning model and put them to use. I hope this can be useful to you.

Reply

12 Lynne November 27, 2012 at 10:17 pm

I really enjoy your site, but I must respectfully disagree with your thoughts on observations. If the purpose of an observation is to help the teacher reflect and improve his/her practice, then your suggestion of having a canned lesson that is ready to pull out really defeats the purpose and ruins the process. As a principal, I can recognize a dog and pony show a mile away. As a principal, I am in classrooms all the time so I am constantly in conversation with teachers, so when I observe , I look for what they do every day. As an educational consultant, I would think your advice would be a little different.

Reply

13 Angela Watson November 28, 2012 at 11:10 am

Hi, Lynne! Thank you for taking the time to share your opinion. I certainly see where you’re coming from. I’m wondering if our definitions of a “canned lesson” differ? If the lesson is one that the teacher created and believes is a strong representation of her teaching style and teaching skills, I don’t see that as a “canned lesson” or a dog and pony show. My advice is intended to take the pressure to perform off of teachers so that they can be relaxed and natural during observations. I don’t see the harm in having a repertoire of activities and teaching strategies that they feel confident in using during observations.

If teachers are in schools like yours where the principal is in the room all the time, it’s less of an issue, but many teachers get very few chances to show what they’re doing in their classrooms and therefore they feel a lot of pressure to WOW the principal with a dynamic lesson. I’ve never known a teacher who didn’t take extra time to plan their very best lesson for the day of a formal observation, and I think it would be unrealistic of me to pretend that teachers should just do whatever they would normally do. In my experience, the teacher’s strengths and weaknesses will still be apparent in their “best” lesson and there will still be plenty of things to discuss in terms of reflecting on and improving teaching practices.

Reply

14 Katy January 15, 2013 at 7:14 pm

What do you do when you just cannot stand your administrator? Mine will reteach lessons she has not even seen, she interrupts my lessons, she will play Simon Says to get them to behave when I already have consequences in place for misbehavior…she buts in, takes over, and undermines my authority. I have never had an administrator do this in 20 plus years of teaching.

Reply

15 Angela Watson January 20, 2013 at 2:28 pm

Hi, Katy! I’m so sorry to hear about your situation, and wish I had some easy answers for you. Some principals are more effective than others in evaluating their teachers and providing helpful feedback and modeling. I think the best thing to do is not take her behavior or corrections personally, or allow them to upset you. Explain your position and your wishes to her calmly and assertively when needed, and go on about your day. You have the ability to set the tone and expectations in your classroom the vast majority the time, so stay focused on that and don’t allow yourself to get discouraged.

Reply

16 Jessica Potts December 10, 2013 at 8:26 pm

Thank you SO much for this. I teach high school but this still applied. I had an observation today- my kids were taking a quiz (BORING) and then they did an awesome activity but then we got done early so I had to wing it. It went ok but my scores were not where I had hoped they would be. Even worse- my kids said he was very intimidating! eek!
Anyway! THANKS SO MUCH

Reply

17 Joanne December 19, 2013 at 1:45 am

I am a new elementary school teacher feeling very stressed and second guessing my teaching skills mainly due to the results of my two Marzano observations. My scores right now put me in the category of a partially effective teacher. I am the general education teacher in an in-class support environment. The class consists of 6 classified students (1 autistic and 5 with adhd). Two more of my students have recently been diagnosed as biopolar and are going through the child study team process right now. I have many students with problem behaviors in the class. My scores are mainly low in the classroom management section. One observer tells me to give more consequences, the other observer says don’t use negative consequences???? I am getting conflicting advice from administrators and no help. Who else should I go to for help?

Reply

18 Angela Watson December 19, 2013 at 9:06 am

Yikes, that’s really tough–especially the part about getting conflicting advice from admin. I think I would pursue admin’s help a bit more, explaining that I need more support with behavior management in the form of a clear approach that I should take. If there is a special ed coordinator at your school, get his or her help, too, so you develop individual behavior plans for the kids. Good luck to you!

Reply

19 Stephanie Shoulders April 9, 2014 at 8:23 pm

Hello Angela I am former teacher who had problems with teachers observation and evaluations. I am thinking about returning to the classroom and I want to get over my anxiety about teacher observations and evaluations. I got three bad evaluations and I want to do better but got no real feedback on how to accomplish that. I saw your blog about surviving teacher observations & evaluations and wondering if there is a book about this topic or other resources for me? I really want to do well on teacher observations & evaluations.

Reply

20 Angela Watson April 11, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Hi, Stephanie! I’m so sorry to hear you’ve not gotten helpful feedback after your evaluations. It’s very difficult for me–or any other author, I think–to offer specific advice on preparing for teacher observations and evaluations because the criteria and approach change frequently and vary wildly between schools, districts, and states. You’re better off focusing on best teaching practices and improving your skills as an instructor and manager of a classroom.

The other piece is talking with colleagues to understand what, exactly, the principal is looking for. Though it shouldn’t be this way, the admin might have a tendency to be extra hard on teachers in certain areas, or have pet peeves that cause them to down score a teacher, so gather as much intel on that as you can.

One practical suggestion I can make is to have respected colleagues observe one of your lessons and give you feedback. Perhaps they could do this during their lunch or planning period. Even just 10 or 15 minutes should be enough for them to be able to give you some helpful advice about what they noticed was and wasn’t working in your classroom.

All the best to you!

Reply

Leave a Comment