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Uncategorized   |   Nov 17, 2012

Tips for Surviving Teacher Evaluations & Observations

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Tips for Surviving Teacher Evaluations & Observations

By Angela Watson

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

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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  1. 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!

  2. 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!

    1. 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. 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!

    1. 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. 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.

  5. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

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