Tips for Surviving Teacher Evaluations & Observations
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
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 innovative 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 unforeseen 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 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.
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