Tips for surviving your first observation

First off, take a deep breath!  Your principal is not coming into your classroom to try and "catch" you at anything.  An observation should be an opportunity for your own professional growth, and an opportunity to have a dialogue with your principal about your own goals as a teacher as well as your goals for your students.  Remember, an observation is not just about "watching the teacher teach," but also a chance to see what the students are learning.  My principal always chats with a few students about the activity they are working on to see if they have an understanding not only of the lesson itself, but how it ties in to what we have been working on in that subject area. 

Also, whatever you do, keep in mind that an observation is NOT the time to trot out the "dog and pony show."  My principal wants to see what actually goes on in the classroom, not an artificial environment created specifically for her visit.  Keep your lesson simple and effective, with clearly defined procedures and outcomes.  That will be much less stressful not only for you, but also for the students, who may not be used to having the principal sit in on their class.

If your lesson does not go as well as you had hoped, don't panic! Go into your post-conference with your own reflections about how the lesson went, and what could have been done differently.  Most principals have been in front of a class with a lesson that bombed at some point in their careers.  This is not the time to apologize for a "bad lesson"--take what happened and show that you are using it as an opportunity for growth and change.  Your principal should appreciate that effort! 

--Tiffany Back, second grade teacher, Shrewsbury

The important thing to remember is to be yourself.  You've been in this classroom before; you know the kids; you know the material.  The only thing that is different is an extra person to admire your work.  You don't need to have special plans or wear a special outfit.

The post-evaluation meeting can be just a stressful as the actual evaluation.  They usually include some kind of constructive criticism because, really, that's what an evaluation should be.  They should be able to pick out what you are doing well, but also let you know how you can improve.  Some of these might be personal suggestions as to how they want their school to run or some actual teaching methods that might make your classroom better. 

Take these suggestions to your mentor for a post-post-evaluation conference to discuss how you could implement some of them into your routine.  By trying their suggestions, it shows that you are willing to put the effort in to be the best teacher you possibly can.  If it doesn't work, you can at least say you tried and have reasons why it wasn't for you.

--Christopher Saulnier, middle school science teacher, Acushnet

From the February 2007 Just For New Teachers e-Newsletter