Classroom Observation Tips
By Mary Montero
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We all know how nerve-wracking principal observations can be, even when that’s not their intent. I remember, early on in my career, my mentor teacher told me that NO principal wants to see a dog and pony show – they just want to see you teaching and interacting authentically with your students! That advice has really stuck with me and successfully led me through dozens of observations, both announced and unannounced. So, whether you’re preparing for a scheduled observation or want to ace your next unannounced walkthrough, I’ve compiled a few tips that I’ve gathered over the years. Scroll to the bottom for a rapid-fire list of classroom observation tips!
Shift your Mindset
Let’s start by making the shift from feeling like you have to put on an elaborate show during an observation to making it an authentic view of the amazing things you do on a day-to-day basis. To me, the purpose of teacher observations is twofold: they are 1) A time to showcase your strengths as a teacher and 2) An opportunity to get feedback on meaningful ways to improve your craft.
By prioritizing showcasing meaningful interactions and genuine teaching strategies, observation lessons can become valuable opportunities for growth and improvement.
Setting The Tone for Observations
When planning observation lessons, it is important to ensure that they reflect your daily best practices. The focus should be on authentic teaching and learning experiences rather than putting on a show or jumping through fancy hoops. Your observation lessons aren’t the time to try something brand new!
What Principals Expect
Principals look for several key aspects during observations, often based on a rubric. They’re paying attention to details like questioning techniques and seeking engagement from all students. While all standards of teaching practices are different from district to district and state to state, there are a few universal components that the administration looks for when they come in for observation. They’re observing how well students are mastering the content, how you’re assessing student progress throughout the lesson, and how you’re adapting the lesson as needed based on those informal assessments. Principals also want to see you demonstrate a genuine interest in your students’ learning and well-being.
Engagement and Management
Maintaining a well-managed classroom environment with engaged students is essential. I was asked during my teacher interviews if classroom management or engaging instruction was more important. My answer was both! They work together to create a positive and productive classroom environment. Without engaging content, your students will be tempted to get off-task. Without strong classroom management, your content can’t shine! Your principal wants to see you skillfully handle both. Here are a few posts to help.
- Tips for Increasing Student Engagement and Motivation
- 4 Easy Activities to Increase Student Engagement
- Classroom Management Tips for Essential Daily Routines
You should consistently practice efficient classroom management techniques to minimize disruptions and maximize instructional time. Smooth transitions and proper pacing between activities maintain momentum and keep your students focused. Your principal is watching how you (and your students) handle paper, supplies, etc. during lessons.
Transitions can easily turn to chaos and lots of wasted time if our students don’t have a clear routine and expectations, so this is something we practice often! Notice a part of your day that always takes too long? Challenge your students to be more efficient using a strategy like this!
Developing a community of learners through relationships is another crucial component your principal is looking for as part of your observation. This has to happen every day of the school year, not just when your principal walks in.
When you prioritize building strong relationships with your students, it creates a sense of belonging and trust within the classroom. This allows students to feel comfortable taking risks, asking questions, and sharing their thoughts and ideas. Furthermore, when students develop meaningful connections with one another, it promotes collaboration, empathy, and respect among peers. By fostering a community of learners through relationships, students not only feel supported and valued but also become active participants in their education. These posts have more tips for building a strong classroom community.
- Morning Meeting Routines
- Weekly Letter Writing to Build Community
- Teaching Collaboration Skills to Maximize Group Work Time
- Tips for Supporting Group Work and Collaboration
Preparing for Observations All Year Long
There are several things you can do every single day so that you aren’t caught off guard when your principal walks in unexpectedly. Principals expect teachers to create purposeful and engaging lessons that showcase their instructional skills daily, not just for observations.
Prepare Your Lessons and Supplies
As you plan each week, consider your learning objectives, align your lessons with your students’ needs, and choose engaging activities. Consider using a lesson plan template and weekly schedule that makes this process easier to “fill in the blanks” with your lesson content. Some schools have forms you’re required to use, but our principal doesn’t require us to turn in plans. Instead, she meets with us to go over our plans before beginning her observation to see what the lesson expectations are.
You should also make sure to have a strategy for organizing all of your materials each week. Whether you use daily bins or folders, always prep your copies and materials in advance. This way, you’re never scrambling for supplies, especially when under observation pressure!
Structure Your Curriculum
While it can be tempting to plan an over-the-top lesson for an observation, your principal prefers to see your tried-and-true lessons. Of course, you want to make your lessons as interactive and exciting as possible by regularly incorporating multimedia elements, hands-on activities, group discussions to keep your students engaged, etc. However, these elements should be the norm and not the exception so that your students are familiar with them. It’s really obvious when you’re trying something “special” just for your observation. Don’t do it!
Structuring each block the same way every day (for morning work time, your literacy block, your math block, etc.) also helps. That’s why I use resources like Skill of the Day, Literary Skill of the Week, and Word Problem of the Day. Each resource follows the same format every single time for consistency!
I’ll share future posts with observation-approved resources for each subject, but these posts are great places to start for now if you need help structuring specific parts of your day!
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and don’t expect your students to be perfect. You (and your students!) are human, and your principal knows that! Remember, it’s okay to stumble once in a while. You can show resilience by turning those hiccups into teachable moments, demonstrating your ability to adapt and go with the flow.
Reflect and Grow
After each observation, you should also embrace feedback from your principal as an opportunity for growth. Take notes during the post-observation meeting and reflect on areas where you can continue to improve. This highlights your dedication to professional development. Use the feedback to make each future lesson even better.
More Classroom Observation Tips
I hope these observation tips help you ace your next principal observation lesson with confidence. Remember… you are an AMAZING teacher, and this observation is a chance to showcase your expertise and grow as an educator. Here are a few rapid-fire tips as you prepare for your teaching observation:
- Make sure students have an opportunity to collaborate at some point during the observation. Use Kagan strategies and get kids up and moving and talking. Incorporate Whole Brain Teaching to have your students engaged the whole time. Use check-in practices like thumbs up, thumbs down, etc. so they are constantly at the ready for your next ask! While you are undoubtedly a star, you don’t necessarily need to be the star of this show ALL the time. 😉
- Don’t forget about brain breaks. Students TRULY need these, and knowing your students and reading their needs is a huge part of teaching. Have a plan for a quick 1-2 minute break, but be sure you have structures in place for those transitions.
- Question, question, question! If I’m ever asked what I believe to be my strength in teaching, I would say it’s questioning. A HUGE portion of my lessons involve asking my students questions, getting them to inquire about how and why things are the way they are, and drawing their own conclusions. These are always higher-order thinking questions – not just simple “yes” or “no” questions.
- Have a plan for if the lesson goes too long (how will you transition if you don’t get through everything?) or if it goes quickly. Consider ahead of time what might go wrong, what questions students might have, or how students might take the lesson in a different direction.
- Speaking of different directions, don’t be afraid to let your students take the lead! Some of the best observations I’ve had occur when students get even more involved in the lesson than I anticipated.
- Engage the observer! For the first few years, I think I tried ignoring my principal when she would come in. I’ve found it’s MUCH more comfortable for me and my students if I greet the principal (whether they are in my room unexpectedly or not) and acknowledge his or her presence off and on during the observation.
- Differentiate! Whether it’s including advanced vocabulary in your lesson, assigning a different task to different students, or grouping strategies, every observation (every lesson, really!) is better when differentiated.
You’re invited to join our FREE upper elementary Facebook group to share classroom ideas, ask and answer questions about teaching, and support one another. I love learning from other teachers and being INSPIRED by them. I know you will, too! Our group is a supportive and encouraging place for upper elementary teachers to share ideas and collaborate with other teachers around the world!
I’m so glad you are here. I’m a current gifted and talented teacher in a small town in Colorado, and I’ve been in education since 2009. My passion (other than my family and cookies) is for making teachers’ lives easier and classrooms more engaging.