Formal Classroom Observations: 5 Tips to Help You Prepare

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If you are reading this, then chances are it’s your evaluation year.  Maybe you are a first year teacher and you’ve made it through those first overwhelming weeks of the school year and now you get an email from your principal to set up your first formal classroom observation. You start to break out in a sweat and you feel your anxiety level start to creep up. 

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I’ve been teaching for over 29 years and I still get a little anxious when it is my evaluation year. Honestly, I would worry about you a little bit if you said you weren’t nervous about it at all. However, there is no reason to panic. I have learned some tips over the years that have helped me and other teachers that I have mentored and I am going to share those with you. 

The more prepared you are for your formal classroom observation the less stressed you will feel.

Tip #1 Know what your principal or district is looking for in an “excellent” observation. 

Most districts have some form of a rubric or checklist they share with their teachers regarding the expectations of a formal classroom observation. Sometimes they give it to you during those in-service days with a ton of other paperwork…which makes it easy to misplace. Or maybe your district posts it on their website under a tab for staff. Maybe your local union has a copy of it. Wherever it is, find it. You will need to be very familiar with it as you prepare your observation lesson. 

If for some reason, your district or school does not have a rubric, talk to the person who will do your evaluation. Set up a time to meet with them and ask, “What will you be looking for when you observe me?”  Take notes.  Sometimes the school or district will be highlighting particular strategies in a certain year. Know which ones . 

Ask your evaluator what they will be looking for specifically and take notes.

Tip #2 Build relationships with your students before the observation. 

I have seen students try and sabotage their teacher’s formal classroom observation because they didn’t like that teacher. This won’t happen if you have spent time greeting them at the door everyday and getting to know them throughout those first few weeks of school.

I am one of those teachers that jumps right into my content on the second day of school but I make time to get to know my students through the lesson or by doing fun things during the first or last few minutes of the period. You can’t skip this. 

I have seen teachers send certain difficult students to another teacher during their observation. The principal will notice if that student is missing. They expect students to misbehave at times, what they are looking for is how you handle the situation when it happens. They want to see that you have a system in place for classroom management and that you are working your system. 

Here is a previous blog post all about how to build relationships with students.

Students won’t try to sabotage your observation if you have spent time building relationships with them.

Tip #3 Stick with the tried and true during your formal classroom observation.

If you try to use a strategy like Think-Pair-Share with your class during your formal classroom observation and you have never done a Think-Pair-Share with them, I promise you it is not going to go well.  Can you say, “Crickets?” If you want to use a certain strategy during your formal observation, make sure it is one that you have practiced many times before with them. 

I have had students turn to me as I was observing their teacher and say, “We never do this, it’s only because you’re here.” And while I would always take what the student says with a grain of salt, it will be obvious if you haven’t practiced a strategy with your students. 

I also think that a lesson that is a culminating lesson or review lesson works very well for a formal observation. If students have covered the material before they are more likely to answer questions when you pose them. They will feel confident with the questions that are a higher depth of knowledge as well, if they have seen the material in previous lessons. 

Stick with engagement strategies that you have used with students before.

Tip #4 Write out your lesson plan well in advance. 

Even as a veteran teacher I still write out my lesson for a formal classroom observation. Many times you will have a pre-observation meeting with your administrator at which they expect to discuss the lesson you will be presenting. They want to know you have put some thought into the content and the strategies you will be using. 

When you write out the lesson make sure you consult the rubric/checklist  from Tip #1. For instance, if my administrator’s rubric or checklist says, “Connecting subject matter to meaningful, real-life contexts” is something he/she is looking for, then I am going to want to make sure I include that in my lesson. 

If my administrator mentions in our pre-meeting discussion that he/she is going to focus on the depth of knowledge of my questions, then I am going to make sure I have my questions written out in advance in my lesson plan. 

Also, have your written lesson plan with you on the day of your observation. If you are a super nervous person, like I can be, you can refer to it if you get discombobulated during the observation. 

Write out your lesson plan well in advance to help you prepare for your formal observation.

Tip #5 Practice your lesson.

It might seem silly but practice your lesson in front of a mirror. It will help you to not feel so nervous and it will help you with your timing. If you have a trusted colleague, practice your lesson in front of them and ask for feedback. 

You could also record yourself giving the lesson and then watch it back. Are you cringing? Most of us don’t enjoy seeing ourselves on video but recording your run through of the lesson will provide you with valuable feedback. You can even use the rubric that your evaluator will be using and do a self-evaluation.

Video recording yourself teaching is always a valuable experience.

Formal classroom observations can be stressful for everyone. If you are an experienced teacher with more tips, drop them in the comments below so other teachers can benefit. Or if you have other comments or questions please let me know those as well.

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Thanks for being a teacher! 🌺

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