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To get into classrooms and conduct teacher observations is one of the most significant jobs all the principal must do, but figure out time for this visit (and the subsequent reports) is always a difficult task. Therefore if time is one of the challenges you face when it comes to observations here are the five ways to maximize the time you spend in your school’s classrooms.
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1. Prepare yourself, prepare the teacher.
Before stepping inside a classroom, you need to consider those things that will make the observation to be great. Know the structure you are basing your assessment on, and make it clearly to the teachers. Per Charlotte Danielson, be clear about what you expect to see in the classroom, and what you’ll be assessing both pre and post observation. Understand what you see fairly, and make sure your scores coincide with others in the school and district. You don’t want to be known as either the easy or hard assessor.
2. Look for learning, not teaching.
“As an alternative, instead of observing a teacher teaching a lesson, I will like to advice that you should start out with the idea on the observation I observed in the retired principal Jim Thompson’s class, he told the Education World. “That is where my emphasis retains. The more I concentrate on learning—proof of student learning in classrooms and proof of teacher learning through the development of a mutual learning community—the stronger my school will be.” Thompson is now the director of Instructional Coaching Services from Genesee Valley Educational Partnership in New York that leans on Rick DuFour’s three essential questions to support his assessment.
- What and what do we want students to learn?
- How do we know that students are learning?
- What do we do when we find out that students are not learning?
3. Properly judge the lesson plan.
You need to create a great lesson plan so that you will walk tightrope in a windstorm. Lots of reasons can push an educator off his planned mark. According Principal Ron Tibbets as he tells the Education World “there are three factors he considers when evaluating a teacher’s lesson planning”.
- Are students engaged? If they are not engaged, how long will it take to get them back on task? But if they are engaged, will the content challenging them enough to stretch their learning?
- Does the teacher make it clear to her students what they should be learning? This sounds basic, but is often missing. Therefore to make it clearer, having a teacher post essential questions is a great way to cover this aspect.
- Classroom participation. Making students to answer questions is a lot more difficult than calling on the first hand to go up. Check to see if teachers are varying whom they call on, waiting satisfactorily to allow more students to contribute, and varying their question types to consist of factual, divergent, and higher-order questions.
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4. Tie your observation to the professional learning at your school.
According to Charlotte Danielson, he reminds principals to tie their observation findings back to the qualified learning community (expectantly) already in place at the school. Encouraging expert discussions on teaching and learning helps everyone in your school or department. If a teacher nails her lesson and observation, you need to invite her to share tips with peers. If she needs help in one or more area, be sure to select other teachers she can connect with to discuss sticking topics.
5. Give feedback promptly.
Importantly, if you want to conduct a better observation you need to be clear with teachers about what you’ll be observing for (hopefully tied to their teacher goals for the year), consider taking good notes, offer one positive note as you leave the classroom, then finally follow up quickly with a full report. Just like students desire to see their work corrected and give back quickly, teachers need timely (as soon as possible!), meaningful response. Cover up an observation within one week diminishes the potential for doubt and misunderstanding, and at the same time allows teachers to understand and apply corrections to their teaching quickly.
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