Educated observations

I’m a new teacher, and my principal informed me she’s going to do a formal “observation.” She’s been in and out of my lab on weekly walkthroughs, but this time she’ll be in the room for the whole class. This is my first observation and I’m getting nervous—how should I prepare?
—Kate, Elizabeth, New Jersey
Walkthroughs provide candid snapshots of what happens in a class. A visitor can learn interesting things about a class and teacher in just a few minutes. But these snapshots can also raise questions, especially about the context of the lesson and what preceded and what would follow this brief visit.
To expand the picture of what happens in a classroom, principals may also conduct formal observations of teachers several times a year (depending on district policy and teacher contract). These observations usually last for an entire class period, from when the students enter to dismissal. These observations provide a different perspective on a teacher’s classroom management and his or her abilities to plan, conduct, and evaluate instruction in a cohesive and purposeful way.
Sometimes these observations are unannounced, but in your case you have time to plan, reflect, and get nervous! Some teachers suggest you shouldn’t have to “prepare” anything—just teach what you ordinarily would. The reality for a novice teacher is that no day is “ordinary.” You are still developing your repertoire of effective teaching strategies. What your principal sees is a work in progress.

Talk to your mentor or another science teacher to find out what the usual procedure is for observations. Does the principal stay for the entire class period? Does she take notes? Where does she sit? Does she walk around the classroom? Is there a particular form that she uses to record her notes? What kind of feedback should you expect? When do you get the feedback?
In some schools, the principal sets up a pre-observation meeting, but even if that is not the case in your school, you can still ask your principal about her expectations. Does she want to see hands-on activities, large group instruction, a lecture, the use of technology, a lab investigation, an assessment activity, classroom routines, or cooperative learning?
As you plan the learning activities for that class period, choose those with which you and the students are comfortable. This might not be the best time to try a new technology, but if you are doing something new, be sure that you provide guidance and modeling for the students during the lesson.
Take a quick look around the classroom/lab. It should be safe, organized, and conducive to learning. You don’t need a new wardrobe, but your own appearance should be professional as always.
When your principal comes in, give her a copy of the lesson plan, along with handouts, the textbook, or other materials that will be used during the lesson, including safety goggles. If your district has a required or even a suggested lesson plan format, be sure you’re using it, rather than a list of assignments such as “Read Chapter 6” or “Lab on Fungi.” If the lesson is a continuation, be sure to provide the principal with enough context on what the students did prior to this class, including the big idea or theme of the unit. Likewise, describe what the next lesson will include (this is a good teaching strategy even when you’re not being observed.) Since you have time to prepare for this observation, you could also prepare a list of “look-fors”— things you would like the principal to notice, such as your bellringers, class routines, science notebooks, the way you pose questions, how you and the students use technology, or lab safety procedures.
Some teachers go overboard to create a show. A savvy principal will be able to tell whether she’s seeing the usual routine or contrived events. The students may be nervous with a visitor in the room, although they should be familiar with your principal’s presence from the walkthroughs and observations of other classes. (When I was student teaching, my students were unnaturally quiet when my supervisor came to observe. I later found out they thought he was a police officer.)
After the observation, ask the principal when you can meet to discuss the class. Assuming she provides constructive feedback, with commendations and recommendations, this could be an opportunity for you to grow as a teacher. Put your copy of her notes or report in your professional folder.
It’s normal to feel nervous, and even veteran teachers get a few butterflies when the principal walks in. Your principal is not expecting scripted perfection. I’m sure she’s more interested in your instructional strategies, how you convey your interest in the subject, and how you relate to the students.
Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/spcummings/361167519/

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1 Response to Educated observations

  1. Hello admin! This is very helpful posting thanks.

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