Tips for Formal Observations

This week’s #educoach chat was on Effective Pre/Post Conferences with Teachers for Observation and was a great discussion that all principals could benefit from.  If you would like to read the archives of the chat, you can find a link at the end of this post.

I’ve previously written about leading with a “coaching hat” and try to do so even in the formal

observation/evaluation process. While principals can get into classrooms with a coaching hat on, we are still ultimately responsible for evaluating teachers.  Yes, each school/district/system has its own evaluation requirements for the formal observation process, but I still believe it is possible to utilize the process with a coaching mindset as much as possible.  When a principal approaches the formal observation as simply an evaluatory task, they are more focused on judging teachers and completing the necessary paperwork.  In this situation a teacher will feel like they are simply “under the microscope” or become too nervous for it to be an opportunity for reflection and growth.  A principal completing formal observations with a coaching hat on puts the opportunity for conversation first and the necessary paperwork second.

I know that it is not possible to truly approach a formal observation as an Instructional Coach does, because the principal ultimately has the formal evaluation paperwork in the end; however, teachers will see much more value if the principal puts the emphasis on dialogue and growth first.

Unless you have a concern that is so significant that it warrants an improvement plan, the post-conference should be an opportunity for reflective dialogue.  Ask reflective questions that allow the teacher to do most of the talking.  Two of the easiest questions to ask are “What went well?” and “Was there anything that didn’t go as you had intended?” The ORID Framework provides a variety of sample question stems for different purposes. ORID questions are: Objective, Reflective, Interpretive and Decisional.

Here are some of my tips for principals on the formal observation process:

  • Before the school year starts, create a year-long schedule spacing out the formal observations month by month.  When creating this schedule plan more or less formal observations based on busier or calmer months (i.e. December holiday, state testing month, etc).  Give all teachers a copy of this schedule so they can see how many are being observed each month.
  • Email teachers a reminder at the end of each month if they are “up” for their formal observation in the following month. This gives them a reminder and allows them to schedule an observation with you.
  • When scheduling an observation, schedule the pre- and post-conference all at once.   If possible, schedule the post-conference for the same day as the formal observation. Save yourself a lot of time by having your secretary in charge of your calendar. 
  • Give all teachers a pre-conference form ahead of time so they know what questions to be prepared to discuss during your meeting. Some recommended questions include:  1.What are the objectives/outcomes for this lesson? 2. Describe the population of the class and what differentiation is planned for this lesson. (Once you know your classes well from frequent walkthoughs, you will no longer need to ask for the population of the class). 3. What will be observed? What instructional methods will be used? 4. How will student performance be assessed throughout or after the lesson? What evidence of success/student achievement are you looking for? 5. Is there anything in particular you would like to be observed during the lesson for you to receive specific feedback on? 6. What do you believe to be any areas of concern?
  • Complete as much of the observation form as you can while you are observing in the classroom, but include questions you’d like to ask the teacher in the post-conference and wait to finish it until after you have that post-observation discussion.

If you would like to read the full archive of the chat, you can find it HERE. (*Note-If you’re new to reading storify, it shows some tweets several times based on the number of times it was retweeted by others).  Throughout the #educoach chat I favorited several tweets, here are the “nuggets” from the chat:


This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Georgia Boothe

    I like your first tip on creating the observation schedule before the school year starts. I think teachers would really appreciate efforts to make them aware of when the observations were happening. This would help them to make sure that they are prepared and also give them time to discuss with the principal any issues or schedule complications that may come up!

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