Does your heart sink when the principal walks through your door, even when you’re students are busy doing amazing things? Do you suddenly start to question all things happening in your classroom?
Are my bulletin boards up to date? Are my objectives posted? Is my class too noisy? Is Bobby going to wipe a booger on Sal during my lesson again?
Teacher evaluations are on the rise and one of the ways administrators are evaluating teachers is informal observations (formerly known as walk throughs, pop ins). My principal can walk in unannounced, sit down, record the lesson, and then give me a score during a quick follow up afterwards.
In many ways this type of observation is much more difficult than the formal, hand in your lesson plan, type of scheduled lesson observations.
But fear not.
Here are some tips to help you to Keep calm during informal observations!
1. Be sure the principal has an up to date copy of your schedule.
You (probably) don’t want your principal coming in to evaluate you during snack time and they probably don’t want to either! Being sure your principal knows when these transitions will be occurring, this way he/she may be more likely to come in during instructional time. This is a really easy way to make for a better observation experience.
2.Prepare your students for visitors.
I tell my students from the beginning of the year that lots of people in our school and families are VERY excited about all the wonderful things first graders are doing. They may want to come in and see the wonderful things happening in first grade. I tell that we welcome visitors and then their job is to be the best first graders they can be so we can show what we know! This takes the pressure off of you, and helps the students take responsibility for their own behavior. Having and practicing a routine for visitors is exciting for students and amazing. You can have them greet the visitor with a simple “Good Morning!” or “Good Afternoon” or have something like a little jingle/ song. Ask your colleagues to pop in to practice how you can greet the visitor and then re engage in the lesson! It also helps to get right back into the routines. (Nice segue into tip #3)
3.Establish classroom routines early.
Establishing classroom routines is an amazing investment of time for many many reasons. One small reason is that it will help you to engage and re engage your students when the principal, or any other visitor, comes into the classroom! Having a chime, signal, or quiet routine is amazing! Also, in my experience, transitions are one of the most pointed out times when hearing feedback from a principal. Investing in these transition routines will help you to have a much smoother year, and have a positive observation!
4. Know what is expected
In my district, for example, we are expected to have objectives posted.
I am going to be the first to admit that I am the worst at this. For this reason, I have more general overall monthly objectives for each subject area posted. I refer to these during lessons and then get more specific. For example, if our month long objective is to decode CVC words, I will say “Today we are going to practice decoding words with a short a sound.” to narrow that objective. Knowing that this is expected has helped me to prepare my classroom set up ahead of time to meet these needs, and it also keeps me focused during my instruction. Our students are also expected to know the purpose of different activities. Having most of the instruction during our day be small group provides a challenge in this area, especially when students are able to choose between 3 or 4 different writing activities, for example. (Read more about how I address the “purpose problem” here)
My district has also provided the rubric that they use to “score” us. I’m going to admit that I ignore thoughts of this during the actual observation, but instead look at what type of things the district is striving to see. I aim to incorporate these things into my routines.
5.Invite the principal in often and early.
One of the biggest nail biters of this type of observation is that the principal may make assumptions based on what they see during this 10 minute slot. There are tons of benefits of having the principal come into your classroom early and often. The principal is a very special kind of visitor for your students to see. Your principal, your students, and you will all be more comfortable and prepared if you’ve established this type of relationship between your principal and your class.(Read more about inviting the principal here!)
6. Keep Calm and Pretend This is the Lesson Plan
This quote was on a coffee mug given to me by my classroom aide my first year teaching first grade. It has resonated so well with me!
Take full advantage of the fact that your principal has not been prepped with a long and detailed lesson plan. Keep teaching just as you would on a regular day. Sometimes lessons take a turn we don’t expect. Go with it. Just keep teaching. If the class needs a little motor break/ stretch, do it! Your principal wants to see what is happening each day in your classroom, not a scripted and rehearsed performance.
So are you ready to rock that informal observation? Let me know how it went below!