Best Practices for Teacher Observations

With so many different frameworks and models for classroom observations out there, it’s no wonder why a large number of educators expressed confusion and frustration with classroom observation and teacher evaluation processes in a 2016 report from the Network for Public Education.  The U.S. Department of Education also indicated as much in their 2015 report on classroom observations to improve teacher practice. Evidently, some educators even need a support group!

Surviving Teacher Observations and Evaluations

The truth is that best practices for classroom observations can be condensed into a concise and practical list of core features essential for reaching the intended outcomes.  This is not a one-size-fits-all approach, but rather a core set of practices to ensure your time is well-spent and delivers results.

  1. Streamline your observation domains and rubrics to your state teaching standards.
    • Domains and rubrics should use clear, observable, and explicit language.  The rubrics/forms should be concise, or they will be cumbersome to both the evaluator and the teacher. Clarify vague content and eliminate redundancies or indicators that are not related to student outcomes.
  2. Observations must be anchored to a strong conversational process such as reflective dialogue or cognitive coaching.
    • The observations must engage evaluators and educators in dialogue that strengthens the knowledge and skills of professional educators in a culture of trust and support.  It’s all about professional growth!
  3. Consider differentiating your observations for entry level teachers and experienced teachers.
    • One-size fits all approaches will not work. Entry level teachers and experienced teachers are in different phases of their professional journey as educators. The types and number of observations for these groups should be different to reflect their different professional needs.  For example, consider more peer-based observations for an established, highly effective teacher.
  4. Develop a variety of observation forms and tools from which to choose (formal, informal, long, short, walkthroughs, co-observations).
    • Every situation is unique, so you need to have a fluid process with a variety of observation types to be flexible and adaptable to the unique professional needs of your staff. Maybe a co-observer is needed at times, especially for ancillary staff (e.g., school psychologists, speech and language pathologists, special education teachers, social workers, guidance counselors).  Maybe frequent, informal walkthroughs are needed to complement the longer, formal observations.
  5. Ensure classroom observations are used for both formative and summative feedback in teacher evaluations per the recommendation of the National Education Association.
    • Formative feedback should be ongoing and assist teachers in real-time regarding their goal-setting and professional learning.  Observations should also contribute to summative feedback to help determine whether standards of practice have been met and to help guide employment decisions.

To the extent that different states allow it, picture your district as a center of innovation to try new observation strategies, produce observation forms that benefit observers and teachers, and even create new observation frameworks.  Remember, your classroom observation and teacher evaluation process shouldn’t make your evaluators’ and teachers’ heads spin causing confusion and frustration.  Stick with the core best practices listed above, and you’ll develop a culture of meaningful and manageable classroom observation and teacher evaluation processes!

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