being a teacher, new teacher, observations

But How is it Different this Year?

Being in my final year of probation as a new teacher means that I will only be observed once officially this year. That is not to say that I have not been observed on other occasions, but only once will I have to fill out the paperwork and set up a formal meeting to discuss the results and feedback of this observation. So I wonder, how will my classroom be different than previous observations to the casual observer?

1. I will not stand at the front of the room. In fact, the front of the room changes at all times so that students never feel pushed to the back or to the side.

2. I will move more. Since there is no front of the room, I move more around, engaging students in small discussions, keeping an eye on behavior, as well as trying to facilitate more interaction through my own movement.

3. I will not do all of the talking. This year it is not about me but about the students, so I need to facilitate and then get out of the way.

4. Students will move around. I was never a fan of desks, they stifled me as a child and I still lie down on a couch to read a book rather than sit, so my classroom reflects that; students should be able to be in positions where they can access learning the best way possible, whatever that may look like.

5. Students will have a voice. No longer am I the end all of all information so while I know the path my lesson will take, how we get there and what we end up exploring more deeply may change.

6. The end results may differ. Before the students would all produce a single product to show off their knowledge, now I realize that students can show learning through many different methods and will therefore be open to all of these.

7. Evaluation will be ongoing and never combined with a percentage or letter grade. While I may still have to produce a letter grade for my trimester report cards, these will not be part of our learning. Grades interfere with the real goal of the lesson which is to learn, not to receive an A or score 100%.

8. Mistakes will be encouraged. Instead of prepping my students beforehand to ensure no mistakes will be made by them or I, we will simply explore together and that means also embracing any mistakes or mishaps that come up naturally. After all, life mostly consists of lucky mishaps that shape our decisions and thus creates our futures.

9. Homework will not be assigned. Learning is extended beyond our classroom hours through discussion, blogging or reflection. Worksheets or packets are rarely used to practice a skill and instead students are encouraged to enjoy time outside of school so that they may be more productive learners in school.

10. This will not be a dog and pony show. We often discuss how an observation can become a stilted affair, created solely for the purpose of observation. I would rather have my observation be unscheduled or a surprise so that the real lesson can be viewed and discussed. I know I will be prepared for it since I have to be prepared every day to teach.

How different will your classroom be this year?

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?