Principal Helpline: How Do I Observe Teachers with Way More Experience Than I Have?

Being confident and prepared can go a long way.

observe teachers

Q.

I taught for five years before becoming an assistant principal in a middle school. I am expected to formally observe teachers throughout the year. How do I evaluated teachers who sometimes have a lot more experience (12 years, 15 years) and probably more expertise in the classroom than I do?

A.

The attitude you bring to an experienced teacher’s classroom will make a huge difference in how your leadership is perceived. The fact that you recognize the inherent problem with someone with five years’ experience evaluating someone with 30 years’ experience is a very good start.

First of all, let’s acknowledge that despite the difference in experience, you may very well have some good insights into the improvement of instruction. You will be a fresh set of eyes, and you may have information about new trends or best practices in the classroom. How you conduct yourself with the veteran teachers, however, will make all the difference between whether they think you know what you’re talking about or are just pretending to know.

Here are some tips that can make the classroom observation a good experience for the teacher and for you:

  1. Be on time and stay for the entire period. Take a seat in the back of the room and do not participate. Take copious notes using whatever device and method you prefer.
  2. Set up a time after the class ends to meet with the teacher. Do it as soon as possible – that day or the next if you can. Plan to meet in the teacher’s classroom, not in your office.
  3. Come with questions about the lesson, and let the teacher do most of the talking. Say, “Tell me about how you decided to …” or “How does this lesson fit into the unit?” or “How do you usually deal with Sam, the kid who can’t stop talking?”
  4. Give praise where it’s due: “I thought you did a great job of including as many kids as possible in the discussion.”
  5. If there’s a problem you have to address, do it, but say, “I wasn’t sure that kids really understood the directions at first. What do you think?” Teachers will be much more receptive to this approach than they will to your saying, “Your directions weren’t very clear.”
  6. Ask if there’s anything the teacher wants to add.
  7. Complete the written observation form within 3-5 days after the conference while it’s still fresh in your mind. Do not put anything in writing that you didn’t talk about in your post-observation discussion. Never complete the formal written observation form before the conference. Doing so destroys the possibility of working collaboratively with your faculty to improve instruction.
  8. Remember, you are coming in as a new set of eyes, not the expert who will tell the teacher what she should be doing. Instead, as colleagues, you can discuss what you saw and together talk about what went well and what could have gone better.

As teachers get to know you and trust you, the difference between levels of experience will become less of an issue.

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Posted by Suzanne Tingley

Suzanne Tingley has been a middle/high school teacher, department chair, principal, and superintendent. She taught graduate classes in education administration for the State University of New York. She developed a series of education videos and has been a Scholastic Administrator blogger.

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