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.

Tips for Surviving Teacher Evaluations & Observations

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 normalroutines 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, anyway. 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 to keep giving it your all.teacher-evaluations-300x300



  1. Jennifer

    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!

    • Angela Watson

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

    • Veronica

      I agree. The last points says it all and it’s about knowing thyself, knowing your students and making progress.

  2. Jennifer Basso

    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!

    • Angela Watson

      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.

  3. Christa

    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!

    • Angela Watson

      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!

  4. Jackie

    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.

    • Angela Watson

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

  5. Michelle

    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.

    • Angela Watson

      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.

    • Shirley

      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.

  6. Lynne

    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.

    • Angela Watson

      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.

  7. Katy

    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.

    • Angela Watson

      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.

  8. Jessica Potts

    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

  9. Joanne

    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?

    • Angela Watson

      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!

  10. Stephanie Shoulders

    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.

    • Angela Watson

      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!

  11. Tara

    Thank you for a great article! I am preparing for my observation and am very nervous. My Principal is, well, tough to say the least. She claims to want to see the kids talking and working in groups, but then is very critical of noise and off task behavior. I was wondering if you try to keep a more structured lesson format for your observations? I teach 2nd grade and the kids are still learning how to work in groups, which leads to some off task behaviors during small groups.
    Thanks for your help:)

    • Angela Watson

      I try to do things I have done many times with kids before so they know the routines and procedures well. Maybe try partner work instead of group work–that tends to be easier to manage. All the best to you!

  12. Nicole

    Thank you for this wonderful article! It was really great reading it and realizing that we are not alone! I am a second year teacher and try to put everything in perspective after an observation. As I mentally prepare for my first unannounced of the year, I will keep in mind your hints and tips. I love how you mentioned to thank the students at the end of an observation. It is so important to remind them that they are being observed as well. Sometimes we forget that. Thank you again! I will be reading this article over and over again.

  13. gary birtles

    I agree that the teacher shouldn’t prep students too heavily for an evaluation. It is a good idea however to review classroom etiquette they should have when a guest is visiting their classroom. Students respond better when that is done opposed to intimidating them with the idea of an evaluate.

    • Angela Watson

      I agree 100%! Thanks for sharing.

  14. Shelley P

    Angela, our district has recently adopted Danielson, and I’m doing evals for teachers in several of our programs. I am sharing this article with them, as I think you’ve got some great tips here. Thank you.

  15. LuvBees

    Thanks for the reminder that we should not be fazed by some kiddos’ behaviors. They are children!

  16. Jennie

    At the school I was at the special needs teacher observations were all over the place and some teachers were treated differently and some used strategies that weren’t exactly ‘fair’. For instance, some teachers would send their behavior students out of the classroom so that they would have a well controlled classroom. Admin had no idea that several teachers were doing this and they got very high ratings. They seemed to always know about all the observations even the required ‘surprise’ ones.

    One admin gave me a low rating saying that my 8th grade small group class was not academically challenging enough….but no student could read above a 3rd grade level in the 8th grade class and two were tested at 1st grade reading, and I was getting them to make A’s, B;s and C;s on modified 8th grade tests. We also only had 8th grade level books (that were 11 years old and did not follow the standards so a lot was self created). I was so insulted that I quit. I thought I deserved a medal, not a low rating.

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    […] back through your evaluations. Read any comments from your mentor teacher or university supervisor. If you have questions, sit […]

  18. J

    We have been using Danielson for at least 6 years and I have always had anxiety whether the evaluation system be Danielson or something else for the past 15 years. I’ve always gotten excellent observations, but I feel very anxious. I always try to find an activity or discussion for my students when the formal observations occur, but I am looking for ways to feel that what I do on a daily basis rather than observations is acceptable at the very least.

  19. Sonya James

    Hi, it has been awhile since I have written a formal lesson plan for an evaluation. My eval is tomorrow, and I am reviewing for an upcoming test. The lesson will review identifying subjects and verbs, compound subjects and verbs, compound and simple sentences. We have completed these sheets in their workbook, I have no resource to print anything off, but I have made some group activities. Should I do group work, or review on the board first?

  20. Angie

    Hi, I have 16 years of experience and the person that has evaluated me for the past 3 years makes such horrible comments on the walkthroughs, and at the formal observation. Then, rates me at the lowest proficient level, never any higher. When I came to this campus I had 10 years of experience and all those years I have always had exceeds expectations in all domains. This year I’m freaking out with the new T-TESS instrument to evaluate teachers. The perso has already done walkthroughs and made comments that I’m developing as a teacher??
    What do you suggest?

  21. Maria Schindler

    Hi, I am totally unsure what to do here: my principal who is completely incompetent and racist recently wrote me a very negative evaluation. It was not based on my actual work as a teacher but on the fact that he dislikes me because I have been sending highly troubled students into his office frequently. I am moving and need a good evaluation for the new schools I am applying to. What should I do?

  22. Carmen

    Thank you so much for this article, it was very helpful. I just had a formal observation and it did not well. I am trying for this not to affect me and keep moving forward with a positive outlook.

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  24. Connie

    Thank you so much! I just had my 1st formal evaluation in my 2nd year of a probationary contract. Different grade and it didn’t go well. I’m trying to stay positive for the post meeting and I can upon your article.

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