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When the Observation Is a Surprise
posted by: Melissa | December 05, 2018, 08:54 PM   

It always happens the same way. You’re just settling your class down, perhaps they’re a little rowdier than normal, or maybe it just seems that way, whichever the reality, you’re always distracted and never quite on your toes. This is when the administrator slips in, notebook and observation sheet in hand. There’s that brief flash of panic as you crane your neck to peer at your calendar. Did you forget? Was this scheduled? No, it wasn’t. If you’re completely honest, you’re a bit tired and weren’t planning on breaking any pedagogical ground today. There’s nothing to do, but briefly make eye contact, give the administrator a nod of your head, and press on to try to salvage something of the situation.


When teachers are being honest, they will always say they prefer a scheduled observation. When you know an administrator is stopping by, you can make sure that you pull out all the stops for the lesson. You can make sure to get enough sleep the night before. You’ll double check that you have the right number of copies you need, you’ll make sure the lesson aligns perfectly with the standard, and you’ll toss in some technology, an app, and gamification or perhaps incorporate a buzz word your administrator has gone all-in on recently.


The truth is that observations happen when it’s convenient for the administrator in charge of them and we quite often don’t know about them ahead of time. Many administrators prefer unannounced observations because they give them a more authentic feel for the day-to-day operations in the classroom. At some point in your career, this will happen to you. So when it does, what can you do?


  1. Relax. Take a Breath. Your administrator is not “out to get you.” They will not crucify you for an imperfect lesson. They’re not looking for you to put all your knowledge on full display. They just want to see how you do in normal, everyday situations.
  2. Remember the Basics. When you don’t have a lesson with all the bells and whistles, it’s more important than ever to focus on the essentials of the craft. Don’t worry about the structure of the lesson as much as performing within that structure to the best of your ability. If your students are working on a worksheet, remember to float and observe; if you’re giving a mini-lesson, focus on your questioning technique; and so on.
  3. Be Honest. It’s likely that your lesson will be less than perfect, most lessons are. Maybe a student forgot a book, maybe you don’t have enough copies, maybe your technology doesn’t work, or maybe a student just won’t stop chatting with a neighbor. When these things happen, don’t get flustered and don’t try to shove them under a rug. Deal with the problems the same way you would with any other lesson. Ask a student to make extra copies. Give the misbehaving student a warning. Your administrator will see that you can remain calm and think on your feet and they’ll appreciate that skill.

You may not have planned your best and brightest lesson for this observation, but you can still shine if you remain calm and focus on doing what you do best – teaching.


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