During my first classroom observation, I was an enthusiastic, nervous student teacher eager to call a classroom my own. My mentor’s feedback, carefully crafted to keep my delicate teacher confidence intact, made one thing clear: Preparation was not evident. I took steps to master things I deemed important (i.e. rapport and content knowledge), but I had no sense of preparing for an observation.
Since then, I have crafted a method of observation preparation that is influenced by my experience, coupled with honest conversation with administrators and senior teachers. I am certainly an advocate for keeping observations natural and unscripted, but there are some things each teacher can do to effectively prepare.
When it’s time for your classroom observation, the bulk of the preparation should already be done. You should, for example, be in the habit of using data to drive instruction. Your students should know and have practiced classroom expectations and routines. Visual aids such as anchor charts and student work samples should be in place, and you should be referencing them as necessary.
Train Student Ambassadors
My best teacher observation was great because of one student. As students worked on a project, he took it upon himself to show off and explain his progress to the observer. He did this because he took pride in his work, and my administrator was amazed. His experience was organic, but I have since trained my students as classroom ambassadors. I teach them to take pride in their work, and help visitors understand what we are learning. I remind them that they are the experts in the class, and their knowledge is valuable. You can imagine how this is a great confidence builder!
When observations are announced, I take advantage of the opportunity to be proactive. Before my observation, I always send a short, preparatory email. The purpose of this is to provide information that may not be evident in the lesson plans. I might provide information about how we have built up to this lesson throughout the unit. I specifically highlight what performance data influenced that lesson. I also provide digital attachments of things that may be helpful when scoring my observation. The key is to make this communication brief but impactful.
Differentiation often becomes second-nature for educators. Often when we differentiate to compensate for student weaknesses, we become masters at differentiating discreetly. This is great – but not on observation day. Make sure that your administrator knows exactly how you are differentiating, and what data inspired the differentiation. If you secretly gave Johnny a more rigorous prompt, for example, make your observer aware.
The truth is that a teacher observation is a mere snapshot. It takes time and presence to capture a full picture of a teacher’s value. Your observer will not see everything in one observation, but preparation can ensure that the snapshot they see is an accurate reflection of your effort.