How to Prepare for Your Next Classroom Observation

Richard Lawrence
Richard Lawrence
Elementary school principal; M.A. in School Administration
Professional-looking woman talking to another woman holding a paper.

I have been on both sides of observations, as a middle school teacher for seven years and now in my fourteenth year in administration, covering all grades from PK-12. Let me state from the outset that a teacher should approach all lessons as if they are going to be observed. If you’re on an administrative team, you will frequently hear administrators decry what they refer to as a canned “dog and pony show,” i.e. an announced observation where the teacher can fully prepare for each minute of the lesson.

I try not to look at it this way. I see this as a time to look for what the teacher is truly capable of. If they can do well during an announced observation period, they can do well at all times. The goal for them should be to operate at this level of competency on a consistent and regular basis and this should set the expectation of the administrators evaluating the teacher throughout the school year and beyond.

Be Prepared

Benjamin Franklin once said “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Preparation is a simple concept, but one that is too often ignored. A teacher with some experience can be lulled into thinking that they can start to skip steps they previously took to prepare. To be frank about it, this is something I have seen far more on the secondary level.

Sometimes it is a misguided view of spontaneity. By scripting less, the teacher can be their “natural selves” and let the content flow freely from past experience and memory. Sometimes the teacher has become complacent and feels comfortable enough to go through the basic motions, possibly because the administrative team is not doing its due diligence. Over time, these attitudes will lead to levels of mediocre and subpar instruction.

A teacher can actually be more spontaneous when they have fully prepared and have reflected on the myriad of possibilities that can occur during a lesson. They also will be able to make adjustments during the lesson more readily and more smoothly. There is no substitute for preparation. Put the time in and thoroughly prepare for each lesson.

Communicate Proactively

For an announced observation, the pre-observation conference is the time to review and communicate what you hope to accomplish during the lesson as well as what type of class the administrator will be watching. What are your instructional objectives? How do you plan on meeting these objectives? What established data are you working with? What is the makeup of the class in size, gender, ability levels, etc.?

By clearly communicating this information, you will present the observing administrator with an accurate framework that they can fairly measure you within. Their expectations should be tempered by the realities the teacher is operating under. This most easily happens when they have a complete picture of your classroom.

Set Standards-Based Goals

Your teaching goals, including your instructional and behavioral objectives, must be based on the approved curriculum, which in turn must be based on your state’s standards. As long as you are operating under these umbrellas, you are in the right place. Now the challenge for you is to make sure you are setting rigorous goals that are properly ordered in alignment with the curriculum. You cannot be a passive recipient of the curriculum. You must actively mine it and highlight the most important parts of it. It is impossible to cover everything within the curriculum with equal weight. Be an expert interpreter and translator of the curriculum for your students and set reasonable goals for them to accomplish.

Tie in Professional Learning

Good professional development should be consistent within your district and specifically within your building. This is preferably built upon grade-level teams that meet consistently, although it may and will include other opportunities such as out-of-district workshops. The grade-level teams should regularly review curricular goals, the established and approved programs that they are using, and the pedagogical methods they are employing. The term “best practices” is a fair way to describe these. Once these practices are established, the teacher needs to ensure they are utilizing all of it in their daily teaching. An effective administrator will look for consistent practices among the team and implicitly and explicitly evaluate whether you are incorporating ongoing PD into your teaching and lessons.

Highlight Differentiation

I touched on identifying students and their varying ability levels earlier. Another important point would include how you intend to differentiate to meet the needs of all these students according to their ability levels. A good teacher will already be doing this.

Now how do you intend to highlight this for the observer? I would recommend that the observer be aware of the range of your learners and then ensure you are demonstrating your methods of differentiation during the lesson. Feel free to provide specific samples of differentiation prior to the lesson in your pre-conference and/or give the observer a copy of your seating chart with designations of your students’ reading levels and other related data. The observer will then be able to track how effective you are at differentiating instruction.

Determine How Students Will Demonstrate Mastery

Your specific type of lesson will determine whether you’re going to formally or informally assess or have some type of combination of the two. Whether it’s formal or informal, you need to make sure of a few things.

First, you should make sure each student gets a chance to demonstrate mastery of the content at some point during the lesson. This is more of a challenge if there is not a scheduled formal assessment. If it’s informal, try to make sure each student answers a question/participates at least once during the lesson. Have an exit ticket for the students or some other type of final assessment of the lesson. Your observer should clearly be able to recognize that you are cognizant of all the students in your classroom and that each is able to demonstrate a reasonable amount of mastery.

Manage Class Time Wisely

This directly ties back into preparation. I would recommend you have a minute-by-minute breakdown of your lesson. You may end up deviating from it, but there is effective deviation and ineffective deviation. A good manager of time will keep a clear breakdown of activities within a specific timeframe that they can adhere to and adjust as needed. Regular and consistent practice will enable you to do this smoothly and with minimal disruption. Never assume anything about time and never fail to plan for it.

I sincerely hope this has been a helpful set of guidelines for you on how to effectively prepare for an observation. It all begins with the first quality that was highlighted in this article. Plan thoroughly and wisely. You cannot possibly  prepare for everything that happens during a lesson, but you can mitigate disruption and unforeseen events by being fully prepared to the greatest extent possible. Happy teaching!


*Updated September, 2020
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