Classroom Observations: How to Make Them Worth Your Time

Classroom Observations: How to Make Them Worth Your Time

Lead learner, instructional leader, growth mindset–these are all words that should describe the administration team at any school. It is the job of administrators to help teachers grow in their role. The best way to do this is to actually be present in the classrooms through observations.

I want to pause a minute and reflect on my previous sentence, “actually be present in the classrooms”. Anyone who has been in a position of school leadership knows that a well-planned day can get upended within seconds of walking in the door. This is why it is so important to plan a protected time that, no matter what, you are able to get into classrooms. I will save how to structure your protected time in another blog, but now back to classroom observations! The purpose of this post is to provide a concise list to help remind administrators of best practices for classroom observations. I will provide links to additional posts that offer an in-depth look at these specific practices as they are written.

What is a good classroom observation?

There are a few key components for good classroom observations.

  • Being Present
  • Being Engaged
  • Looking for Specific Strategies
  • Knowing Teachers’ Strengths and Weaknesses
  • Purposeful, Specific, and Timely Feedback

Being Present

Administrators are busy. We have several things on our mind, and we are trying to figure out how to get them all finished by our deadlines.

But when it comes time to do a classroom observation, that observation must be the only thing on our mind. Be present in the moment, and give your teacher and students your full attention. As instructional leaders, we have a crucial role in promoting student learning, and effective observations and feedback are key components of achieving this goal.

I have started leaving my laptop in my office and going to my observations with a notebook and pen. If I am doing a formal observation, then this approach is not practical, but I have found that removing the temptation of checking emails, finishing up other work, or getting an idea while in a classroom and starting on a new task, I am able to present and notice the small details that build the culture of learning in each classroom.

Being Engaged

Not only should you be present in the moment of an observation, you must also fully engage with the classroom experience. Teachers spend a significant amount of time on all of the aspects of their lesson. Engage with each part and be ready to ask clarifying questions or give praise on specific components of the classroom environment.

This is a time to be critical. Try to decipher why the teacher has chosen the pacing of the lesson, why students are grouped in a certain way, or how each part of the lesson ties back to the essential learning targets of the unit. If you are not able to answer these questions, then they are great starting points to discuss with your teacher.

Looking for Specific Strategies

According to Dr. Jay Dostal in his book Value Added Feedback, administrators need to look for themes that can lead to teacher reflection. Look for themes and specific strategies in the classroom that can contribute to a deep and reflective conversation. This is when true growth on the teachers part takes place. If you are unable to identify specific strategies, then as an instructional leader, you must provide suggestions that may have worked well in the lesson and be ready to share resources. One of the most discouraging things an administrator can do is give feedback (“Why don’t you add more structured student talks in your classroom?”) without providing the tools or resources to support the teacher in implementing these strategies in the classroom.

Knowing Your Teacher’s Strengths and Weaknesses

Each year educators are asked to write Professional Growth Plans or PGPs. These plans can be viewed in one of two ways: checking off a box that the state or district is requiring or a time to reflect with your teacher. When reflecting we should ask teachers to identify what strengths they currently have and should continue to build upon and what weaknesses they need to improve on.

During observations look for the areas that you can provide guidance in as well as the skills the teacher already has. The best professional development I have attended are ones where I am learning from fellow educators. By knowing your teacher’s strengths and weaknesses you can continue to build your teacher up by showing off their strengths as well as providing support and resources for growth areas.

Purposeful, Specific, and Timely Feedback

Have you ever noticed that educators can be the worst students? Think about faculty meetings or conferences; how many teachers are on their phones or talking with their buddy while the presenter is speaking? In the same way, we ask teachers to provide their students with purposeful, specific, and timely feedback on assessments, so should administrators when doing classroom observations.

If I have my laptop with me, I will go ahead and type up my email to the teacher with their glow and grow as well as any questions I may have before I leave the classroom. If I have a notebook and pen, I make sure that before I head home for the day that I have sent teachers an email thanking them for their time and sharing my observations.

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