education reform, observations, principal, teachers

A Teacher Can Dream

This blog is in response to Tom Whitby’s rally for blogging about education reform.  While this may not be an answer to the major problems, it does serve a purpose in discussing a cornerstore of the misconstrued”tenure for life” debate – observations by principals and how teachers would change those if they could. 

It is time for the observation schedule to start at my school and I know I am on the list, after all, this is only my 3rd year teaching and I am therefore still on probation and under observation.  The first year I was observed twice, last year once, and this year also only once.  While something beneficial always comes out of my observations, here is what I wish they really looked like.

  • I wish there were more.  I am not an excellent teacher, I have many years to grow from, so any feedback is important to me.  However, when that official feedback is only given once a year after a 30 minute observation, major things may go unnoticed or not be discussed at all.  What a missed learning opprtunity.
  • I wish some were surprise observations.  I sweat over my observation, I ponder and torture myself as I prepare only to realize that I am in essence putting on a dog and pony show.  My students act totally different than they normally do, not because I ask them to, but because the principal is sitting in my classroom and that is uncommon.  So therefore my lesson looks, feels and is different.  It is not in order to deceive but an adaptation to the situation.  If observations were more frequent and less formal a true snapshot of my teaching would be gathered much more easily and I could be observed in a genuine manner rather than in a staged one.
  • I wish there were other observers.  Most principals have a view of education that has been set by their own educational experiences as a teacher.  Feedback, therefore, is often derived from this knowledge set.  If others come in to observe you, differing ideas or viewpoints will be brought to light. How amazing would it be if a different principal came in to see you or someone not in administration?  Think of the various feedback that could be given.
  • I wish principals still taught.  In Canada, some principals such as @MrWejr are required to teach a class while working as assistant principals.  I think this is an incredibly powerful idea.  If a principal still teaches, their observations on your teaching will be much more relevant because they are not relying on experiences in their past, but rather in their present.  They become more relatable and also more current in their work and can thus provide up-to-date feedback and encouragement.
  • I wish the conversation continued.  Often a post-observation conference is scheduled, held and then nothing else is discussed until the next year.  In my fantasy, goals are written and discussed throughout the year.  And not loose goals either but actual tangible, observable goals decided in a partnership with the observer.  That way I know specifically what to work on, how to achieve it while being provided a chance to discuss progress and setbacks with someone.  The learning therefore continues after the observation is officially completed.
While these are my major wishes, I wonder what observations would look like if teachers were able to shape them instead of being told how they should look.  Imagine the conversation and reflection that would be gained from such a task.  So fellow educators, what do you wish for, what is your fantasy and more importantly, how do we make it a reality?

3 thoughts on “A Teacher Can Dream”

  1. I have been observed at some schools only once a year and others numerous times. When I was observed a lot it wasn't that the administration was keeping an eye on me in particular, they observed everyone a lot, and it was beneficial. Most were drop in visits and the students became used to it. The feedback was quite useful although it never continued past that one post visit conversation. I like your idea. : )

  2. Besides my formal first year evaluation when you start teaching, you aren't required to be observed in my district. So I haven't had anyone walk in watch, discuss, provide feedback in the last few years. It may vary based on the principal, but it's a shame. Feedback from Principals or even colleagues is part of the learning and growing process.

  3. Great of my favorites! I think a lot of teachers feel the same as you do.Though don't know if you need to really dream for better observation. I've always found that it's something that has to be created by the teacher. If you are looking for someone to observe you for the purpose of feedback, look no further than next door. Surely there are other people in your building who would be willing to do this for you (and may be even willing for an exchange). If you train them a bit, your students also are a wonderful source for feedback. I've found that if you are completely sincere and persistent with your principal about wanting them to drop by whenever, they will eventually do it. As far as feedback goes, I think teachers also need to be more demanding. There is no disadvantage to pushing an observer farther in telling you what they saw. It takes a lot of chutzpah to pull this off. But I've always found it worth the effort.

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