Many teachers prefer announced observations. The advance notice provides an opportunity to plan an engaging lesson strategically designed to demonstrate high levels of student involvement with rich content. Announced observations also allow for a pre-conference with an observer, thus giving teachers the chance to share important contextual information about the class, the learning goals (both long range and lesson specific), and the activities planned to foster student engagement. But there is a downside to announced observations: they can be very stressful.
For this reason, some teachers prefer unannounced observations. After all, if you’re consistently doing good work and striving for engagement in all of your lessons, what difference does it make when an observer “drops in?” There’s no stress leading up to the observation and no need to participate in a pre-observation conference.
The downside, of course, is that the observer had no opportunity to gain crucial insights into the learning goals, important contextual considerations or intended design of the lesson. This lack of perspective might lead to a misinterpretation of the data collected, potentially skewing the ensuing ratings.
How can you provide the critical contextual information that helps observers make an informed interpretation of the data collected during an observation?
When a supervisor drops in for an unannounced observation, consider where you are in the lesson and what important information came before. Having a lesson plan available allows you to quietly supply an important document that provides the observer with some context. Simply point to where you are in the plan so the observers can see what happened before he/she dropped in.
Consider your formative assessment strategies for the lesson. If you typically make mental notes, jot them down so that you have evidence of how you are measuring student understanding during the lesson.
Collect student products as the lesson proceeds; these can provide the observer with insight into the level of student cognition around the learning topic. If you teach younger children, this might mean snapping a few photos as they play instructional games, use manipulatives or work on group tasks.
Pay special attention to student interactions. Are they generating questions about the content? Are they making meaning through dialogue with each other? Make some notes about the content of student conversations; this is often challenging for observers to record so your notes might be helpful.
If the supervisor leaves before the lesson is complete, make a note in your lesson plan so that you can provide him/her with information about how you achieved closure with your students.
After the lesson — as soon as you are able — write some reflective notes, identifying the lesson’s strengths, where you made adjustments based on your formative assessment of the students, and indications of their understanding of the lesson goals and where they fit into larger learning objectives.
All of this helpful additional documentation should be shared with the administrator as soon as possible after the observation. It is impossible for an observer to see everything, capture it and interpret it in a meaningful way without important information that only you can provide. By supplying this supplemental data, you are rounding out the data collection process while demonstrating your skill as a reflective and effective practitioner.
Dr. Stefani Hite is an outside consultant hired by NJEA to assist members with the transition to the new evaluation system. Her column appears monthly. Contact her below.