What’s the Problem with Teacher Observations?

Anxiety and fear are some of the emotions that are aroused in many teachers of the mere mention of  the words “Teacher Observation”. While for others, observations are just another day in the life of a teacher.  Nothing to stress about.

Every teacher can recall an observation where all the dots connected and the lesson ran smoothly. Then there are those memories of students zoning out, and a change of plans mid execution.  There are always surprises!

Observations usually range from 15 minutes to an hour depending on school, and model adopted. Teacher observations usually take two forms. They are either formal or informal.  In the formal model the observation is scheduled and the administrator observing is aware of the lesson plan prior to witnessing.  This model has its advantages. The teacher can highlight certain strengths and tailor the lesson for effectiveness.  A major objection to this model is that it is usually rehearsed, and lacks authenticity .  The other model is the Informal observation.  The observation is a total surprise.  The administrator walks in and observe exactly what is happening at that moment.  Many administrators prefer this model.  It is unrehearsed and gives a real snapshot.  The problem with this model is that it gives a snapshot.  Lessons have a sequence and the snapshot may be at the beginning, middle, or end of the lesson. The observation may occur at at time when active teaching is not occurring. This model may give a skewed view depending on the sequence.

There are a few problems I find with teacher observations. Being judge by someone else can cause fear and anxiety in many. Why are teachers fearful?  Observations are high stakes. This is a teacher’s rating for the whole school year. Usually there isn’t an opportunity for a do over.  It is your one shot at a satisfactory rating.  This in itself is problematic.  One view should not account for 10 months of work.  Often after an observation, the feedback given is not useful. There is usually limited opportunities given to teachers for development based on the observers feedback.

Then, what is the answer!  I believe there should be more visits from Administrators. I think many visits are necessary to fully understand a teacher’s style and execution.  There should be an open door policy everywhere.  This will reduce the anxiety and fear felt by many teachers.  Visiting often with an authentic interest in developing strengths in teachers will eventually lead to trust. Teachers need to feel that administrators are there for support and guidance.  Administrators need to view themselves as Educational Leaders, with a hands on approach to curriculum and learning.  There should be no questions of what is happening in every classroom.

Observations are necessary, they provide vital information necessary for growth.  Growth in student and teacher learning potential. What’s needed is more conversations and collaboration among all stakeholders.


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