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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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Discussion


  1. I really enjoy your site, but I must respectfully disagree with your thoughts on observations. If the purpose of an observation is to help the teacher reflect and improve his/her practice, then your suggestion of having a canned lesson that is ready to pull out really defeats the purpose and ruins the process. As a principal, I can recognize a dog and pony show a mile away. As a principal, I am in classrooms all the time so I am constantly in conversation with teachers, so when I observe , I look for what they do every day. As an educational consultant, I would think your advice would be a little different.

    1. Hi, Lynne! Thank you for taking the time to share your opinion. I certainly see where you’re coming from. I’m wondering if our definitions of a “canned lesson” differ? If the lesson is one that the teacher created and believes is a strong representation of her teaching style and teaching skills, I don’t see that as a “canned lesson” or a dog and pony show. My advice is intended to take the pressure to perform off of teachers so that they can be relaxed and natural during observations. I don’t see the harm in having a repertoire of activities and teaching strategies that they feel confident in using during observations.

      If teachers are in schools like yours where the principal is in the room all the time, it’s less of an issue, but many teachers get very few chances to show what they’re doing in their classrooms and therefore they feel a lot of pressure to WOW the principal with a dynamic lesson. I’ve never known a teacher who didn’t take extra time to plan their very best lesson for the day of a formal observation, and I think it would be unrealistic of me to pretend that teachers should just do whatever they would normally do. In my experience, the teacher’s strengths and weaknesses will still be apparent in their “best” lesson and there will still be plenty of things to discuss in terms of reflecting on and improving teaching practices.

  2. What do you do when you just cannot stand your administrator? Mine will reteach lessons she has not even seen, she interrupts my lessons, she will play Simon Says to get them to behave when I already have consequences in place for misbehavior…she buts in, takes over, and undermines my authority. I have never had an administrator do this in 20 plus years of teaching.

    1. Hi, Katy! I’m so sorry to hear about your situation, and wish I had some easy answers for you. Some principals are more effective than others in evaluating their teachers and providing helpful feedback and modeling. I think the best thing to do is not take her behavior or corrections personally, or allow them to upset you. Explain your position and your wishes to her calmly and assertively when needed, and go on about your day. You have the ability to set the tone and expectations in your classroom the vast majority the time, so stay focused on that and don’t allow yourself to get discouraged.

  3. Thank you SO much for this. I teach high school but this still applied. I had an observation today- my kids were taking a quiz (BORING) and then they did an awesome activity but then we got done early so I had to wing it. It went ok but my scores were not where I had hoped they would be. Even worse- my kids said he was very intimidating! eek!
    Anyway! THANKS SO MUCH

  4. I am a new elementary school teacher feeling very stressed and second guessing my teaching skills mainly due to the results of my two Marzano observations. My scores right now put me in the category of a partially effective teacher. I am the general education teacher in an in-class support environment. The class consists of 6 classified students (1 autistic and 5 with adhd). Two more of my students have recently been diagnosed as biopolar and are going through the child study team process right now. I have many students with problem behaviors in the class. My scores are mainly low in the classroom management section. One observer tells me to give more consequences, the other observer says don’t use negative consequences???? I am getting conflicting advice from administrators and no help. Who else should I go to for help?

    1. Yikes, that’s really tough–especially the part about getting conflicting advice from admin. I think I would pursue admin’s help a bit more, explaining that I need more support with behavior management in the form of a clear approach that I should take. If there is a special ed coordinator at your school, get his or her help, too, so you develop individual behavior plans for the kids. Good luck to you!

  5. Hello Angela I am former teacher who had problems with teachers observation and evaluations. I am thinking about returning to the classroom and I want to get over my anxiety about teacher observations and evaluations. I got three bad evaluations and I want to do better but got no real feedback on how to accomplish that. I saw your blog about surviving teacher observations & evaluations and wondering if there is a book about this topic or other resources for me? I really want to do well on teacher observations & evaluations.

    1. Hi, Stephanie! I’m so sorry to hear you’ve not gotten helpful feedback after your evaluations. It’s very difficult for me–or any other author, I think–to offer specific advice on preparing for teacher observations and evaluations because the criteria and approach change frequently and vary wildly between schools, districts, and states. You’re better off focusing on best teaching practices and improving your skills as an instructor and manager of a classroom.

      The other piece is talking with colleagues to understand what, exactly, the principal is looking for. Though it shouldn’t be this way, the admin might have a tendency to be extra hard on teachers in certain areas, or have pet peeves that cause them to down score a teacher, so gather as much intel on that as you can.

      One practical suggestion I can make is to have respected colleagues observe one of your lessons and give you feedback. Perhaps they could do this during their lunch or planning period. Even just 10 or 15 minutes should be enough for them to be able to give you some helpful advice about what they noticed was and wasn’t working in your classroom.

      All the best to you!

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