7 Things Principals Can Do to Make a Teacher Observation Valuable

It’s all in the detail and care.

teacher observation

As an English teacher, I love thinking about the meaning of words. The definition of the word observation is the action or process of observing something carefully in order to gain information. I am struck by how literally my current principal takes this definition and uses it in positive ways to make my work feel valued. Here are 7 things my principal does before, during, and after a teacher observation that can help you make a huge difference for your teachers:

1. Make teachers feel valued

My principal approaches me in person to schedule a time to visit my class, rather than sending a request via email. He greets me with a smile and says he’s looking forward to seeing my classroom firsthand. He might mention that he respects my work and is excited to see me in action. I fully believe his comments are genuine.

2. Hold purposeful pre-observation meetings

My principal has pre-observation meetings that always take place before the teacher observation. Often, administrators fill out pre-forms after the fact as a technicality. In our pre-observations meetings, he asks thoughtful questions about what led up to the lesson he will see and where we are headed. He makes it clear that he understands this is only a little glance into my classroom and he wants as much context as possible.

3. Pay attention to lessons

My principal pays attention to everything we do in class without multi-tasking. He does not try to answer the questions I pose to the kids as if he is a member of the class. And he does not ask them any questions himself. He observes.

4. Thank teachers publicly

At the end of the lessons he observes, my principal thanks me for the opportunity to spend a period in my classroom. He does this in front of my students.

5. Follow up quickly and kindly

He follows up quickly with a post-observation conference and a copy of his report. The first line of his email reads something like, “Thank you once again for having me in class today.”

6. Show you paid attention

When we meet to talk about the lesson he observed, my administrator generally has thoughtful follow-up questions and a remarkably good grasp of what transpired. He does not simply read off of his report. Instead, he leads an interesting conversation between colleagues.

7. Take time to learn from teachers

One of my fondest memories is when my principal asked me for the title of one of the poems I had mentioned in class because he was interested in reading it himself. He wrote the title down, found it, and read it.

Teachers don’t get merit pay, bonuses, or fancy office parties—we do get observed. Observations offer one of the few moments of feedback in what can be a relatively isolated field. School leaders have this time to show teachers how much they value their work.

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Posted by Jeremy Knoll

Knoll is a public school English teacher of nearly two decades. Outside of the classroom he spends his time working as a freelance writer or exploring the outdoors with his wife, two boys, and dog. He loves the subject he teaches so much that he named his dog Atticus and got a half-sleeve tattoo depicting a scene from Maurice Sendak's WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE to celebrate the birth of his kids.


  1. Jeremy, I like the idea of classroom observers thanking the teacher in front of the students. It seems like an excellent way to show appreciation for their dedication. I’d also assume that it would help to warrant more respect from the pupils as well.

  2. Thanks for the feedback, Chris. It does indeed go a long way.

  3. It’s good to know that when someone preforms a classroom observation on a teacher, there are somethings they should do to make it a success. I like how you pointed out the one doing the observing needs to pay attention to the lesson going on, and just take into consideration how the students and teacher interact through it. To me, I feel this more beneficial because it will give that person a better understanding of a normal day to day of what happens.

  4. My mother is a teacher and she always mentioned how intimidating observations can be in the classroom. I think they are necessary but there are certainly better ways to do it than others. I love your suggestion on asking about the lesson and not just reading the report. It can make a difference knowing you were paying attention.

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