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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Teacher Observations

Teacher Observations

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How can the process of observing teachers be streamlined so that it is objective and promotes constructive dialogue between the administrator and teacher? What methods/tools do you find most useful in promoting teacher growth and development?

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Comments (19)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Louis R. Manuppelli's picture

Nothing is as useful as the the in class observation, yet unnanounced walk-throughs can give you a better idea of the teacher's overall performance. As long as it's consistent and the staff is aware they can be very beneficial.

Thad Haines's picture
Thad Haines
Assistant Principal / Jackson High School

I agree that the walk-through can be most beneficial. i think it provides a more realistic picture of what is going on in the classroom.

The process is somewhat dependent upon your particular situation (i.e. union contract).

I think that we need tiered formative evaluations. We must take more care and spend more time with 2 main groups (new teachers and struggling teachers).

Marisa Constantinides's picture
Marisa Constantinides
Centre Director - Teacher Educator

Hi Eric,

I observe teachers very regularly as part of the teacher education programmes I run but this is a completely different thing to teacher appraisal on the job.

Do you have any defined school policies regarding this?

Is there a published set of criteria by which teachers know they will be evaluated?

Do they take part in this appraisal?

Are teachers encouraged to observe each other?

Do peer observations lead to teacher development workshops or action points for each teacher?

Is there an atmosphere of trust in the school microclimate or is the classroom observation something to be dreaded?

These are some of the questions that I consider very relevant as a starting point in this discussion.

Eric Sheninger's picture
Eric Sheninger
Principal at New Milford High School


As per the teachers contract, my district calls for all non-tenured teachers to be observed at least 3 times have a mid/end of year evaluation (5 documentations in all). However, I mandate it that all non-tenured teachers are observed a minimum of 4 times. Tenured teachers have to be observed at least once and also have an end-of-year evaluation.

There is not set published criteria for observations on a district level, although I make sure my administrative staff is on the same page in terms of what we are looking for and that be use a common language.

Teachers take part (sort of) during the pre-conference and post-conference (reflection).

Teachers are encouraged to observe each other in a non-evaluative fashion since they are not allowed to evaluate.

You last question is fabulous! If there is no trust between the administrator and teacher then the whole process is worthless. We need to make sure there is a constructive dialogue and the discussion is focused on improving instruction as opposed to an attack on what went wrong during the observation. This is key.

Thad also brings up a great point. More emphasis in terms of evaluation should be placed on non-tenured and struggling teachers. These educators need our help and guidance. If we are to retain these staff members then we as administrators must put the time in to make sure they succeed.

Tom Murray's picture

I have to make this quick, as I'm busy as anything tonight...

I'm a big fan of differentiated supervision. Why do we traditionally use a "one-size fits all approach" when we know that our teachers have a variety of strengths and weaknesses? I truly fret the traditional (1 formal a year for tenured teachers, etc.) Think about it...If we were to observe, even four full lessons, and our teachers actually teach, say six periods a day...Let's do the math:

184 days x 6 lessons per day = 1104 total lessons
4 out of 1104 lessons = 0.36%

So, in education, we often evaluate based on 1/3 OF ONE PERCENT of the instruction that occurred for the year. (Granted there's other factors that are taken into most district's eval rubrics. Just talking the instructional components here.)

Insane? I'd say so.

Although it'd be virtually impossible to increase that number to where it should be, differentiated supervision allows admin to spend more time where needed, and get out of the way of our best teachers!

Just my two cents.

Eric Sheninger's picture
Eric Sheninger
Principal at New Milford High School


Who provided you/your district with training on differentiated supervision? How long did it take to institute? How were teachers made to "buy-into" it?

When you get a chance I would love to learn more!

Woody Ziegler's picture

Walk through observations, 0.36% of classes observed, trust, accountability and value added appraisal all seem to have merit. After serving as a principal for 24 years, teaching Ed Leadership and facilitating the Bill and Melinda Gates Grant concerning effective use of technology for leadership and instruction - it still comes down to whether or not the principal/AP understands instruction. If this is the case then what resources does the instructional leader have at his/her fingertips to facilitate the differentiated appraisal and professional development plan?

Many times the observation and evaluation process are the game to be played by both the administrator and teacher to meet the letter of the law. When the observation process is complete with the pre/observation/post, the document signed and filed for many situations this is the end. In reality this should be the beginning. The teacher should have the opportunity to reflect on what worked or didn't, be affirmed for the quality instruction and encouraged to develop an area of growth.

Asking, "Who can become a better instructor?" should bring the response of everyone. But what are principals doing to facilitate the differentiated process that fits the needs and interests of the diverse staff? Given the Wallace Foundation research, principals are a key to quality instruction if they know instruction, expect quality instruction and are willing to reform practices. Seems this is what Terry Grier desired. In the San Diego situation it appears there was fear that the process was aimed at playing "Gotcha". Little trust and confidence that the principals knew instruction had common expectations and calibrated the evaluation process and were focused on improving the teachers for the benefit of student learning. When teachers know the administrator is truly there to assist them in growth and has resources that can reinforce them and move them forward in the quest to quality instruction they will be willing to examine new methods and opportunities.

Coming from the Nebraska Gates project of Leadership Talks Technology Academy we identified the topic we are discussing. Video was identified as a key for assisting the principals in developing knowledge of what good instruction can look like and support teachers in the differentiated coaching process. The result of this focus is the Educator's Virtual Mentor. Now principals using this tool have resources for calibrating their appraisal expectations, identifying what is known or not know about instruction with fellow instructional leaders and a thousand video clips of authentic instruction showing best practice instructional strategies action with real students in real time learning real content. Each article is supported by rubrics and reflection questions that assist the teacher with analysis of his/her professional practice or serve as pre/post observation conversation by the principal.

School principals are busy. We don't have time to research and provide the models of the quality instruction. We have resources for gathering data, preparing reports, taking attendance, communicating with staff and parents, but until now we've lacked a resource that helps us as instructional leaders. Best luck as you move beyond management to instructional leadership.

Jason Flom's picture
Jason Flom
Director-Elect in Tallahassee, FL

I'm a big fan of the teacher and principal evaluation rubrics written by Kim Marshall:

You can find them near the bottom of this post on my site, Ecology of Education.

Or skim his (impressive) list of publications on his site.

He also advocates for constant and consistent unannounced observations, justifying them with the same math Tom Murray shared.

Such efforts tailor feedback to meet the individual needs of the teachers and help foster their buy-in.

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