My school is in an accreditation year, so we have been preparing in many ways for formal observations within our school community and from the accreditation team. (I’m on the west coast, so we are governed by WASC.) I normally really enjoy informal observations by department members and colleagues because I find that they are a great feedback tool for my own reflection and professional growth. During informal observations, I like to try out new methodologies or focus on meeting the needs of a particular group of students. Then, I like to debrief with my observer and brainstorm ideas for future tweaks. However, formal observations can have a very different plan and purpose. These are the types of observations you know will occur in advance and typically are not followed by collaborative feedback. These are the observations that you want to knock out of the park with a home run. Below are 7 tips for acing a formal evaluation. I’d love to hear your comments or concerns in the comment section below.
7 Tips for Acing a Formal Observation:
1. Practice the Strategy: When you are trying to guarantee an observation win, it is probably best to not to schedule the observation for the first day of a complex strategy like literature circles or your first day using a particular technology. Pick something for which students understand the expectations and you have worked out most of the bugs. The more comfortable you and the students are, the smoother the lesson will seem to an outside observer.
2. Set out Lesson Plans and Handouts: Have lesson plans and handouts ready for the observer so that the objectives, standards, and procedures are clear even if they do not stay for the whole lesson. I like to include the whole week’s lesson plan so that they can see how the lesson is part of a larger unit of study with multiple means of teaching and assessment.
3. Be Early: On the day of your formal observation, be early so you can put out any fires that come up and be both physically and mentally prepared for the lesson.
4. Dress for the Job: Of course, we think about this all the time as professional teachers, but be especially careful about the optics on observation days. If your lesson involves a lot of circulating the room, are your shoes comfortable but professional? If you need to lean in to join collaborative groups, will your choice of clothing remain modest?
5. Be Aware of your Energy Levels: Don’t let nervous energy start you off talking a mile a minute. Also, don’t get so focused on controlling behavior issues that you forget to smile and enjoy the lesson. No matter how you feel in the pit of your stomach, let your positive energy rub off on students and the observer.
6. Structure the Transitions: Transitions between activities are the most chaotic part of most lessons. While a minute or two of chaos does not bother me on most days, when I am planning a formal observation, I make sure that my transitions are even more structured than normal with explicit instructions and time limits.
7. Pick Engaging Lessons that are Appropriate to the Unit: You know yourself and your class best. I don’t think that you have to include teacher centered lecture or collaborative group work, but you should play to your strengths. If you have an amazing lecture on the Trojan War that precedes the Odyssey unit, a group of students who shine in Literature Circles / Socratic Seminar, or a technology that engages students in meaningful learning, then go for it! However, make sure that your lesson fits into the unit or flow of your curriculum schedule. It would be really embarrassing for students to point out a lesson that doesn’t seem to flow with non-observed curriculum!
What are your questions, tips, or experiences with formal observation? We’d love to hear them in the comment section below!
As teachers, we all know that we tend to be so much more than curriculum delivery people. We are nurses, counselors, food distributors, cheerleaders, disciplinarians, parental figures, and so much more. As a collective, we know that effective teaching and learning can only happen when the classroom is a safe and healthy environment. Today, let’s talk about ways to help our students stay healthy. Of course, we will not irradiate the common cold before our next Chaucer lecture, but we can take some steps toward healthier students without taking too much time out of our already packed agendas. Below are a few tips that I’ve put together. Feel free to add your tips in the comment section!
1. Clean the room. I like to stock up on the disinfecting wipes from costco or target when I see them on sale. Then, I set a routine to clean at intervals. Some years I have required detention students to wipe down my room and other years I have given myself the task for Friday mornings when I am less motivated by piles of paper and so a little grunt work and mental reflection time does me well. Areas to be sure to clean:
Phones/iPads/etc (If you have a class set of devices, it is a very good idea to clean them regularly- I read somewhere that our phones are usually dirtier than a public toilet! I also encourage students to clean their own devices, especially when the cold and flu season hits. Be sure that whatever you are using to clean is approved for use on electronics.)
2. Encourage good habits. We are busy with teaching, testing, and other daily classroom chores, but teachers can make it a habit to encourage healthy behavior through a quick announcement routine, poster, or a tip of the day on the board. Some tips to include for high school students include:
Washing hands: This is not just a rule for the preschoolers!
Drinking water: Consider allowing and encouraging students to drink water in class.
Eating right/Exercising: Teens probably hear this from their parents all the time, but we can be another voice in their heads working for good.
Getting enough sleep: Staying up all night is main stay of teenage life whether they are texting, gaming, studying, or doing anything else. Help reinforce the value of a good night’s sleep. Some of them may hear you.
Coughing/Sneezing ettiquette: In my son’s preschool class, the students are well trained to avoid coughing and sneezing on each other or on their own hands. In my high school class, not so much. I think overall high schoolers just need a gentle reminder here and there.
3. Be mindful of stressors. We see in study after study that stress has a negative effect on health. We cannot eliminate all stress from teenage life, but we can be mindful of the things in our control that may exacerbate the problem.
Homework: I saw this CNN article recently that looked at the issue of homework and sickness in students. Homework is inevitable in most secondary classrooms, but as teachers we can still be mindful of the quantity and timelines of assignments. I do my best to give students a schedule of homework with advance notice so that they can plan their schedules accordingly.
Missing class: When students need to miss class for illness, sports, clubs, or other reasons, it can be very stressful to catch up on all 6 subjects while staying up on current work. For these students, communication is key to keeping them on track. Posting assignments on a calendar/website/social media account or answering emails in a timely fashion can keep students from falling too far behind and then falling into the cycle of stress and sickness.
Big projects: Some students make themselves sick with worry over big projects. Ramping up to a major presentation or giving small steps for a larger research paper can help students manage the stress.
What do you do to help students stay healthy? We’d love to hear from you in the comment section below!
By third quarter, the pencils are wearing down, the pens are running out of ink, the students are getting antsy for spring break, and the teachers are starting to burn out. It is the perfect time to remember why we do the job we do! Here are some tips to fall back in love with teaching this Valentine’s Day!
1. Remember what teachers make. Most teachers have seen this viral video or read some version of it, but I think that February is an ideal time to hear it again!
2. Have patience. Remember that teaching is not usually a game of instant gratification. We must trust that we are helping students build skills and we are making a major difference in their lives. Sometimes they don’t realize our impact for many years to come. To maintain patience in difficult times, I keep a file of student notes and emails from over the years, which sometimes come months or years after graduation. When students tell me that my work impacted their lives, I cherish those documents and pull them out when I need a little pick me up.
4. Send positivity. After progress reports, parent conferences, and intervention sessions, parents and students have heard your suggestions for improvement. This month, try to send a few notes or emails to let parents or students know that you have noticed their hard work or success. Your LMS may allow you to make email templates to easily send emails to praise a great test score or note improvements. It will feel great for all parties involved!
6. Treat yourself. Maybe it is time for that pretty new iPad case you have had your eye on. Maybe a new outfit is in order (check out this tumblr for ideas on great teacher fashion!). Whether you need a good massage or a little retail therapy, you’ve made it through the 20+ weeks of teaching this year, you deserve it!
7. Keep learning. Sign up for a workshop, read some blogs, get around to opening that teacher book that has been sitting on your desk for months! Learning a new teacher trick or finding new ways to think about your classroom philosophy will help productively push you past the third quarter blues!
What do you do to fall back in love with teaching? We’d love to hear from you in the comment section below!