8 Ways to Ace Your Next Teacher Observation

Teacher in a classroom

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Teaching students — engaging with them, comprehensively instructing them and creating a positive classroom environment — is a tall enough task to ask of even the most experienced educators. But what happens when there’s a visitor in the room? Being observed in the classroom can be a point of stress and pressure, whether you’ve taught for a few months or 30 years. Yet these same observations are a great way to get feedback about lesson plans, teaching methods and student-teacher interactions. They not only help you become a better teacher but also improve the classroom and school environment as a whole.

What is teacher observation assessment?

Teacher observation assessment is a type of evaluation that provides teachers feedback on their classroom instruction and engagement. Fellow teachers, administrators or instructional specialists often conduct these evaluations, generally in the classroom during a regular school day. These evaluations range from just a few minutes of class time to a full class period or day.

Evaluators aim to provide teachers comprehensive feedback on not only their lesson plan but also how they run their classroom, what teaching methods they use and how their students engage with the material. A teacher observation assessment should be comprehensive and holistic, evaluating the teacher for various aspects of their instruction and classroom environment.

These evaluations also prove invaluable for understanding how teachers function within the school mission and curriculum. Because many teachers may develop lesson plans and teaching methods in isolation, these assessments show evaluators how teachers may fit (or don’t) into the school’s teaching goals. Evaluations can be a method to compare teaching methods and instruction between faculty and other institutions.

8 Tips for surviving — and getting the most out of — your teacher observation

1. Choose a topic you’re passionate about.

Pick a lesson that discusses a topic you’re particularly excited about. It should be something of personal interest that you not only have extensive knowledge about but also something that engages you. If you’re excited about it, your enthusiasm will weave itself into the lesson.

However, make sure this topic is relevant and enthralling for your students. Not everything you’re passionate about will excite them, so it’s important to find a way to make what you love not only legible but also exciting.

2. Pick a lesson plan you’re comfortable teaching.

Your lesson plan should be something you’re familiar with and able to teach with ease. It can be a variation on something you’ve done before, but don’t be afraid to embed something new. Either way, make sure to practice your lesson thoroughly to get familiar with what you’re going to teach. Pick your strongest teaching methods and favorite classroom activities to make yourself feel most secure.

3. Test drive the lesson.

To ensure that you’re the most comfortable teaching this lesson before your evaluation, practice your lesson. Then, practice again. Maybe practice another time. Going through your lesson over and over, whether it’s with a class, friend or even yourself, can help you understand where the lesson can improve. This way you’ll catch your weakest points before you’re live in the classroom and can revise accordingly.

4. Understand what your evaluator wants from you.

Evaluation systems may require a pre-conference meeting, and if yours doesn't, be proactive and reach out to your evaluator before your assessment. Talking to your evaluator can help you understand what they’re looking for and what they hope to get out of your lesson. While you should still show off your personal strengths and style of teaching, understanding what your evaluator wants can help you better prepare to meet their expectations.

5. Prepare your students.

While you don’t want your students to act unnaturally, it’s smart to give them a heads-up before your evaluator enters the classroom. This can be a more general conversation on how to behave when there are guests in the classroom, but don’t stress that they need to act differently from how they do in the regular class. Simply reiterate your classroom expectations and ensure that they’re aware of the upcoming visit.

6. Be flexible.

Sometimes, fortunately or not so much, things happen. There might be an odd number of students when you’re hoping to group in pairs. The projector may malfunction when you wanted to show a short movie clip. Maybe your students aren’t receptive to what you’re teaching that day, or your lesson plan ends up running way long. Don’t panic; instead, be open to changing your set lesson and acting on the go. If you don’t freeze up when something doesn’t go your way, you show your ability to adapt to the ever-changing nature of the classroom.

7. Engage with your students.

The best teachers work with their students, rather than talk at them. Make sure your lesson engages with students beyond just imparting information. From the moment you greet them at the door, you should be actively listening to them and conversing with them. This demonstrates better student-teacher relationships and helps you learn more about how your students learn and grow in and out of the classroom.

8. Start and end with purpose.

For whatever evaluation period you’re giving, make sure your lesson has a meaningful beginning and ending. Students should be engaged with your lesson as soon as they enter the classroom door. Try a writing prompt, warm-up question or even an activity before they sit at their desk. Before they leave, ask students to summarize what they’ve learned or give them a quick recap. Make sure you’ve answered all the relevant questions and comments and leave them prepared for the next lesson.

How do you conduct a teacher observation?

What happens if you’re not getting observed but rather the one observing? Observing teachers is a great way to understand their teaching methods and the learning environments they create. However, they’re also crucial to giving teachers concrete ways to improve and develop their work. Conducting a successful teacher observation means providing holistic, comprehensive feedback to your teachers.

1. Establish your expectations.

Before going into your observation, it’s important to prepare adequately — just as the teacher you’re evaluating will be. Make sure you’re clear to yourself and the teacher you’re evaluating about what you’re looking for. You should be familiar with not only what other evaluators want to see but also the school’s mission and philosophy of learning.

2. Focus on how students are learning.

While you’re evaluating a teacher, the point of teaching is student learning. Understand how the students are engaging (if at all) with the teacher and their lesson. Are they simply copying the teacher’s ways to answer questions? Are they asking important questions? How does the teacher assist students when they have trouble understanding?

3. Evaluate the lesson plan.

A teacher’s lesson plan not only encompasses a teacher’s teaching methods but also how they organize their lesson, how they diversify their activities and how they engage with students. Does the teacher teach to different types of learners (visual, auditory and so on) and different levels of learners? Do they provide a variety of activities? Do they simply lecture students? How do they include them in their lesson?

4. Evaluate how the teacher contributes to broader learning goals.

While you may be evaluating this teacher in an isolated classroom, it’s important to tie your observations back to the professional learning community. Is this teacher aligning with the school’s missions or learning standards? Are they doing something other teachers aren’t that’s helpful? Try to understand how they fit in within the larger goals and priorities of your institution.

5. Be thorough.

Giving a teacher a satisfactory or unsatisfactory rating isn’t going to cut it. If you’re scoring, make sure to think holistically rather than just focusing on specific aspects of teaching. Assess not only what’s being taught, but also how it’s being taught and how the students interact with the teaching.

6. Provide feedback promptly and clearly.

During your evaluation, take good (holistic!) notes that will help when referring back to your assessment later. Before you leave, make sure to thank the teacher and offer a bit of reassurance. If you know when you’ll be able to give feedback, let them know when you’ll be doing so.

Make sure you deliver feedback soon after you’ve completed your evaluation. Doing this not only ensures you’ll give more accurate feedback — instead of struggling to remember the evaluation — but also allows the teacher to understand and apply your feedback sooner.

Teaching observations give evaluators the opportunity to learn about the teacher’s specific teaching styles and classroom environments. By performing regular assessments, teachers have the ability to get feedback on their work and improve their teaching to the evaluator’s and school’s mission. Observations are therefore crucial to not only creating better teachers but also creating better learning environments for students to understand and grow.

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Zoë Kaplan is an English major at Wesleyan University in the class of 2020. She writes about women, theater, sports, and everything in between. Read more of Zoë’s work at www.zoëkaplan.com.