Ahhh the classroom observation.
We’ve all been there. We are right in the middle of teaching and suddenly the door opens and an administrator walks in the classroom. They are silent as they enter and almost immediately start writing something down on their clipboard. We assume they are writing something along the lines of, “How on Earth did this teacher pass their certification? This is by far the worst classroom instruction I’ve ever observed! Does he/she know their fly is down?” Assuming the worst, we begin to sweat and our voice starts to shake as we try and continue with our instruction. Then, after 15-30 minutes, the observer quietly exits the room (after writing what appeared to be thesis) and all of your students look at you as if to ask, “What the heck is wrong with you? You’re white as a sheet!” You don’t smoke, but you’re pretty sure you could use a cigarette right about now.
Sure, observations can be stressful at times…especially if they are unannounced. But the fact is, the classroom observation is one of the teacher’s best resources for becoming better educators. As the head of the New Teacher Mentor program at a previous school where I worked, I was tasked with going and occasionally looking in on the new teachers to see how they were doing. Sometimes I’d let them know I was coming, and sometimes I would just pop in unannounced. As an observer, I can honestly say…I wasn’t there to “catch’em” doing something wrong.
On the contrary, I was there to observe what they did right, give them kudos for performing an instructional procedure well, and then give feedback as to what I liked about the lesson. If needed, I would identify places for possible improvement. NOT ONE TIME did I ever say, “Holy Moly! What were you thinking? A one-eyed monkey could have done that better! Turn in your classroom keys at the end of the day!” NO! I gave positive feedback and suggestions that might make the teacher’s job easier and more impacting on the lives of their students.
In all honesty, the observer simply wants to make sure we teachers have all the resources we need to be awesome educators. IF they see a place for improvement, they will kindly tell us, “Hey, in the past I’ve done ______________, and it worked really well.” OR, “I see improvement in the area of _____________. If you want to make it even more impacting, you might try ____________.” Administrators, instructional coaches, new teacher mentors, and curriculum designers all have the same goal…to make the teachers better so that our students can perform at their highest levels. That’s It! When they pop into our rooms for an announced or unannounced observation, they really are there to help…I don’t care what the water cooler gossip says.
Classroom observers don’t have time to run around and try and catch you doing something wrong. That is counterproductive. We were hired because we offered something the district needed. Those who observe us just want to make sure we have a clear path to do what we do best. They simply give us feedback.
Feedback is crucial to the success of any person anywhere. It is when we take the feedback we are given, and apply it to our daily routines that we start to become better at whatever job we chose to do. As educators, we should be striving to continuously improve. Classroom strategies, grade-level curriculum, and state standards are always changing. We need all the help we can get to try and maintain an optimal learning environment. Feedback from others is a great way to stay ahead and be the best that we can be. And that is just what formal and informal observations are about.
So, the next time you’re being observed, you should take joy in the fact that your district thinks so highly of you (and your potential) that they are sending someone into your room to help you better prepare your students for the real world. Don’t view the observer as a scary interruption of your day, view them as one of the best tools you have in your teacher toolbox. Listen to their feedback. Ask questions. Try and find out how to make your classroom even better. At the end of the day, you’ll be glad you did, and more importantly, your students will be better off because you did. The classroom observation is simply a part of making you a more successful teacher.
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