Why I Asked My Principal to Observe My Craziest Class

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.

17 thoughts on “Why I Asked My Principal to Observe My Craziest Class

    • That is so true! I have a lot of faith in my current principal and truly care about what she has to offer, that speaks to the type of relationship she has created in the building! Unfortunately, not everyone has that type of administrator.

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    • Its great to see someone who has the courage to use observations for what they should be used for (a chance for growth) rather than what they can become (a false image of perfection).
      This was also timely for me as it was a perfect illustration of Teacher/Administrator trust for my post on Trust above.
      Joseph

  2. Thank you for being a teacher in Wisconsin. I wish you all the best. You ARE brave, and hopefully the longer you teacher, the more students you will reach. NOT all lessons are easily learned and teachers receive little support even from one another in most schools, because we think COMPETITION is important in motivating students to learn. Some kids just need a nap. Some need to fiddle.

  3. As part of my Educator Effectiveness last year I invited my principal to see me teach the boys human growth and development unit. Being a woman who had never taught this before I wanted her to see me outside my comfort zone. At the same time I was teaching boys from the same grade level but not my class. It really was a great experience overall. I had no hesitations.

  4. Recently had my colleague’s class for SS. Everyone told me I shouldn’t let my administrator observe me with someone else’s kids. She ended up giving me a horrible observation because the kids were confused about how to access a site on the computer. I knew they would be, but I refused to change my lesson because I was being observed!No discussion or feedback, just “Basics”. Good thing I don’t let those things bother me, I just keep teaching!:)

  5. Great blog – and an enjoyable refresher on remembering the opportunity to learn from (what we might view as) the chaos of our life

  6. Reblogged this on Stephanie-isms and commented:
    This is inspiring. As a teacher, so often we pray and hope for our observations to go smoothly…for people to see the best that we have to offer. We forget that when that happens, there is less room for our own development as teachers. This can be a really big problem. When we are willing to showcase our struggles, we allow ourselves the opportunity to grow and develop as teachers. Subconsciously, I’ve invited my principal to observe the class that I find the most challenging to reach. Hopefully, I will be able to learn and grow from this observation!

  7. This is great, Pernille. Honesty is so important to teaching. It is a brave but honest thing you did, and more importantly, you gave yourself an opportunity to learn. When your students saw that you were honest enough to be yourself, they were able to be honest in their responses and behaviour also. It reminds me of many years ago when I was a beginning teacher and we used to have visits from regional inspectors once a year. Many teachers used to put on a “show”, sprucing up their rooms and getting children to produce special work. I blogged about it here: http://wp.me/p3O5Jj-8P My belief was that if what I did on a daily basis for the children wasn’t good enough, then so be it. I worked hard to do my best for the children every day. 🙂

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