Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Classroom Observations are not the Enemy

As a classroom teacher, I used to encourage administrators to visit our room as much as possible. While it was likely that their visit may occur during study guide review or other less-than-exciting lessons, there was also the chance they'd see a behaviorally-challenged student participating with the utmost excitement in the classroom activity. I relished having other adults in my classrooms and witnessing the daily routines of our community. When it came time for my annual observation, I planned nothing special for the occasion and instead provided the usual lesson plans for the observer. My students rarely reacted to the extra adult in the classroom. I should point out that the administrator's visit didn't prevent them from misbehaving, but overall all of my official observations were a positive experience where I gleaned a few bits of advice from the experienced administrator. Fast forwarding a decade later, I've found that not all teachers share my welcoming perspective toward classroom observations.

During my decade as an administrator, I've experienced many unique perspectives on the observation process. Most of my teacher colleagues fall into one of the following three categories: (1) excited for the visit, (2) dreading the visit, or (3) extremely cautious of the visit. Given that I fell into the first category, I at times struggle with understanding a teacher's reaction to the observation that falls under category 2 or 3. No matter how many times I reassure one of my category 2 or 3 teachers that the observation will be a fun experience, I'm repeatedly told at the sickness and stress these staff members experience in the days leading up to the classroom observation. If you are one of these teachers at any school, please allow me to share with you my sincere goal as the site administrator in scheduling and proceeding through the observation process.

To me, the classroom observation is an opportunity to celebrate the amazing work you're doing in the classroom. Our administrative schedules are quite busy, just as your classroom days are. The chance to spend a class period with you and your students is a mandated blessing. I enter the experience with excitement and a welcomed, refreshing change from the oodles of paperwork and budget transfers that occupy the other parts of my day.

Throughout the observation itself, I watch the delivery of instruction by the classroom teacher but also closely follow how the students interact and adjust to the lesson. More often than not, our students are enthralled in the lesson and fully engaged in the magical journey their teacher has begun to share. When I see the dynamic methods of instruction by our teaching staff, I feel both dazzled and jealous of the hard work they've put into the successful delivery. Currently, at our middle school, we have teachers operating light years ahead of their Bay Area peers in creativity, delivery, and content. To be able to spend a class period with our students as they are confronted with rigorous learning opportunities is a blessing. The observation itself feels more like a formality at this point.

That said, my goal of every observation is to provide authentic, sincere feedback for the teacher on the successes they've presented and any areas of growth I've noticed. I am also aware of those colleagues who dread these visits and try my best to make the observation as effective and positive as possible. There is much to gain from the observation process; I don't believe in "gotcha" moments. I want to help provide reflection for our staff and allow them to self-select opportunities from the observation to grow.

Despite my best efforts, there are still a few staff members who stress heavily about the observation process. My hope is that, over time and through much trust, we work together to prove that these classroom visits are a positive growth opportunity for all of those involved. I feel we've made much progress, as a staff, toward this goal, but truthfully we still have a long way to go... and that's okay. I don't expect multiple decades of unfortunate observation experiences to be cured with my promises and words. Improving the observation relationship is something that takes many cycles to improve and it's a constant goal of mine to work toward. I think we're getting there.

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