7 Tips for Acing a Formal Observation

My school is in an accreditation year. So we have been preparing in many ways for formal observations. (I’m on the west coast, so we are governed by WASC.) I usually really enjoy informal observations by department members and colleagues because I find that they are a great feedback tool for my 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 prefer 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. You want to knock these observations out of the park with a home run. Below are seven tips for acing a formal evaluation. I’d love to hear your comments or concerns in the comment section below.

1. Practice the Strategy: When trying to guarantee an observation win, it is best 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 only stay for part of the lesson. I like to include the entire 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 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 by 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 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 Appropriate to the Unit: You know yourself and your class best. I don’t think that you have to include teacher-centered lectures 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 technology that engages students in meaningful learning, then go for it! However, ensure 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!


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