I gave up putting on a dog and pony show for my observations several years ago. I had reached the pinnacle of coaching, asking my students to please be on their best behavior as I was being observed, bribing them with treats if they would just be great when my principal walked in. After that observation, where I received nothing but accolades for my classroom management – yeah for bribing – I realized that I had to change. My attitude had to change, at least when it came to being observed.
Yesterday, I invited my phenomenal principal into my craziest class. Not as a stop by visit, but as my second official observation for the craziness that is Educator Effectiveness, or the way my teaching quality will be known here in Wisconsin. I invited her in to see how I am trying to harness the energy of these students, how I am trying to wok with their behaviors, tap into their quirks, rather than smother them by yelling. And yet, I wanted throw up before she came into the room.
Even after 7 years and some months of teaching, having a principal in my room makes me so nervous. I thought of calling in sick. I thought of changing the time of the observation so she would see that one class where all of the kids need little direction, that one class where every plan always works out. That class that makes you look like an incredible teacher even though you know that it is not really because of what you are doing but because the kids are so well-behaved. That’s the class I would have been observed in a few years ago. And I know exactly how that observation would have gone; great praise, little feedback on what to work on because everything was so wonderful, meaning no growth for me.
But I didn’t, I forced myself to follow through with my plan, hoping that things would work out alright. Hoping that my students would at least attempt what we were doing not just give up, settle in after only about 5 minutes, and perhaps even have a great discussion. I held my breath the entire time. Yet, as I sat teaching the mini-lesson, noticing how a kid that should have been writing was instead tapping his pencil playing songs, another kid had their head down, and another kid would not stop talking, inwardly cringing as I saw my principal noticing too. I realized something; all the other students were working. The 5 that sat in front me coming up with such great ideas. The 2 that sat and whispered together pointing to their paper. The kid with the pencil listening in to what I said in my mini-lesson and yelling out “Now I get it!” and then started to write. I noticed those moments too. I noticed our classroom functioning in its typical way, and I noticed that for those kids, the tapping, the whispering, the staring blankly; it works.
So the next time I am observed, I will invite once again to the class that hangs by a thread. To the class that I know pushes me the hardest. To the class that keeps me up at night. My principal is here to support me, to guide me on my journey, not to just clap her hands and tell me “Great job!” If I don’t invite her into the class where I need her ideas, then I will not grow, and growing is what we all need to do every day, every opportunity. Never will I go back to bribing a class. Never will I prep a class beforehand. Never will I ask a class to please behave because I am getting observed. I will instead teach my heart out and wait for the feedback, hoping that among the chaos, my principal sees the greatness that I see, and can help me further my teaching. Will you?
PS: I was worried my students thought they had to put on a show until a kid asked me if he could please continue to work on the science project he had been working on instead of reading. Nope! They hadn’t changed even though the principal was there.
I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark, who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade. Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day. The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” will be published by Routledge in the fall. Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press. Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.