You’ve just received that dreaded email, that your class is about to be observed by your boss, line manager or head teacher. Your stomach gets tied up in knots and you start looking up the price of flights to leave the country. Don’t run away just yet!
Scheduled observations are a routine part of this business and nothing to be scared of. In fact, if you work for a professional organization, observations should either be quarterly or biannually. While observations are admittedly a way for the employer to do quality control, they are also the most effective professional development tool that schools have. Workshops are great, but they aren’t nearly as good as an experienced teacher watching your class, diagnosing problems and prescribing ways to solve them.
Read on for my tips on preparing for an observation, what to do during the observation and how to receive feedback. Also, if you are in need of a formal lesson plan template, you can gain access to one by clicking on the button below.
Preparing for the Observation
More than likely, your employer will either have supplied you with a lesson plan template or simply asked for a copy of your lesson plan. In either case, I would advise that you take this chance to fill out a thorough lesson plan including interactions, timing, stages, etc. True, it takes a lot of time to fill these out, especially in a way that will be intelligible to an observer. However, they don’t come around that often, and filling one out completely is a good chance to think more deeply about a lesson.
One thing that many teachers neglect to fill out is the anticipated problems and solutions section. I’m not entirely sure why that is. Either they don’t think it’s that important, or they aren’t anticipating any problems. Both of these ideas are false: it is important and there are always problems.
There might be some problems with naughty students, or students whose level is either too low or too high for the class. Perhaps you’ll be teaching something a bit difficult and are worried that the students might not understand the lesson. Maybe you’re playing a game that is new or has the potential of going wrong. Again, there are always problems. Filling in this section and having some potential solutions shows your employer that you are organized, have foresight and are a capable teacher.
One thing your observer will definitely be watching for is interactions. Take the time to include these interactions in your lesson plan and make sure that there is plenty of student talking time. Generally the symbols are as follows: T-Ss (teacher to students), T-S (teacher to student), Ss-T (students to teacher), S-T (student to teacher, S-S (student to student), Ss-Ss (students to students), etc.
I’d also advise being very specific with your timing. This might be slightly off during the lesson, so have a backup plan. That said, the more specific the timing, the tighter the lesson plan appears.
During the Observation
Make an extra effort on the day of the observation to make sure you’ve eaten well, are well caffeinated and relaxed. Accept that the lesson isn’t going to go perfectly, and that that isn’t the goal. Wear that really nice shirt that you always get compliments on. Get into the classroom a little bit earlier than usual to make sure all your materials are organized and your board is ready to go.
When the observer comes into the classroom, seat them somewhere where they’ll have a good view of everything, but that will keep them out of the way. You’ve got two options for how to treat the observer during your class. You can either introduce them and try your best to forget that they are there, or get them involved. Not every observer likes getting involved in the lessons they are observing though, so if this is your plan, make sure it won’t go against you.
Try your best to keep in mind that an observation is like a snapshot of a class. You aren’t going to be able to drastically improve continual issues the day of the observation, so don’t try. Keep your activities simple and try your best to keep the lesson similar to what you usually do. Also, I’d advise against trying anything drastically new on the day of the observation. Try to keep the class as true to form as possible so that you can get helpful feedback.
During the Feedback Session
No matter what, you’re likely going to go into the feedback session feeling like your lesson was a disaster. It’s a nerve racking experience to be observed, and now you have to sit and listen to all of your flaws. Don’t worry. Unless your employer actively wants to get rid of you, it is their job to make you feel comfortable during feedback. In fact, a feedback session, almost more than the class itself, is a great chance to impress your employer.
One way to do this is to go into the feedback session prepared. You will definitely be asked about how you thought the lesson went, and what you may have done differently. Having solid and specific answers for these questions shows that you are a reflective teacher and that you have ideas for improvement. Things will definitely go wrong during class time, showing that you are actively trying to improve and have the knowledge and background to do so is what will impress.
Lastly, make sure that you bring a notebook in and take notes. Though you may not consider this, your employer is taking time out of their schedule to meet with you and try to give you tips for improvement. If you’re not taking notes, it doesn’t seem like you are taking the feedback seriously.
Feedback sessions are a good time to ask a lot of questions about the organization that you work for and other classes that you have. While you have an experienced teacher in front of you, take advantage of this. Similar to the previous point, having questions prepared before the session will definitely impress.
Lastly, try your best not to get emotional. Observations and feedback are a regular part of the business. Look at it as a learning and growing opportunity, not an attack or a judgement.
If you’re being observed soon and would like a lesson plan template that you can use, you can gain access to the resource by clicking on the button below.