The need for ongoing professional development of school faculty is ever-present in Catholic schools. One means for better forming our faculty over time is the process of classroom observation and teacher evaluation. In this issue we will consider the various forms of classroom observation and their corresponding best practices.
There are different types of classroom observations an administrator utilizes during the course of the school year to monitor the work of his teachers. A balanced use of each type contributes to a clear picture of the state of the classroom, its students and teacher. These forms of observation include:
- the planned and scheduled period-length general observation, prepared for by a pre-
conference and evaluated at a post-conference
- the planned and scheduled period-length object-based observation, prepared for
by a pre-conference and evaluated at a post-conference where specific items will
be observed and noted during the course of the observation
- the announced but unscheduled surprise period-length observation, that may or
may not be specifically prepared for by a pre-conference, but is followed up with
a post-conference evaluation.
- the announced but unscheduled surprise 10 to 15 minute classroom drop-in.
These observations are true observations in the sense that the administrator is a silent observer of all things and activities present and occurring in the classroom. It is always appropriate for the teacher or administrator to announce to the students at a time prior to the observation (generally a day or two ahead of time) that once the administrator is situated in the classroom, the students may otherwise carry on as though he is not there. It is always a professional courtesy to announce to faculty that they will be observed, even when the intent is to pop in to a class unannounced.
Another form of visitation is the interruptive or scheduled drop-in where the administrator addresses or otherwise interacts with the class for five or ten minutes. Again, it is always a professional courtesy to announce to your faculty that these interruptive drop-ins are going to occur, either at a specific time or within the next week or so.
The best practice for carrying out a formal observation is to follow this five-step process. First, the administrator holds a pre-conference with the teacher, and explains his purpose and objective for making the formal observation. If this is the teachers first observation, it should be explained to him how the observer will silently conduct himself during the class period. Also, schedule during this meeting a post-conference to discuss the observation and subsequent evaluation that will be prepared.
Second, for the actual observation, the administrator should arrive before the class begins and remain until it is finished (assuming this is a period-length observation). If necessary, have someone scheduled to cover office duties while the administrator is conducting the observation. He should be prepared with an observation notebook or form and pen. Record in this notebook or form all activities observed chronologically as they occur and when they occur. Note actual times in the margin. When able, note in a separate area of the form or page of the notebook, static environmental observation, such as bookshelf conditions, bulletin board and blackboard order, desk arrangements, and general classroom clutter and cleanliness. Above all, keep observation notes limited to the objective facts on hand. Refrain from comments which evaluate or make judgment. Instead, simply state behaviors, movements, actions, directions, etc., as they happen. In the classroom the observer is only concerned with data gathering. The administrator is constantly using his eyes, ears and pen.
Third, type up a summary chronological observation of this data.
Fourth, prepare a written evaluation of the class period based directly upon the observations noted above. The evaluation should compare the observation data with some set of officially adopted pedagogical criteria authorized by the school. This could be the NAPC*IS Standards of Excellence for Teachers, or the schools articulation of pedagogical methodology. If the observation was designed to track particular objectives, then the evaluation should focus on those objectives and compare the restricted data to normative school policy or other best-practices criteria.
Fifth, share both the typed summary chronological observation data and the evaluation with the teacher in a post-conference. The administrator may wish to consider the written evaluation a draft copy to be finalized after consultation with the teacher. He may also allow the teacher to submit a written response to the observation and evaluation, which will accompany these documents in the teachers professional file. Be sure both the teacher and administrator sign the final copy of the evaluation.
In planning a years observations for teachers, it is often best to begin with a scheduled period-length general observation sometime in the third to fifth week of the school year. From this initial observation and evaluation certain matters requiring further attention will become evident. These can be followed up with both informal drop-ins and scheduled objective-based observations. When holding objective-based observations the administrator should inform the teacher that he will be looking for two or three particular objectives that they are working on improving together. Over the course of the year it is hoped that those areas in need of professional growth are identified and steady improvements are made through the process of meetings, classroom observations and evaluations.
As with most teachers, but in particular those who are inexperienced, care should be made to pick the areas of growth most in need of focus for the year. Divide and conquer should be the rule here. It is easy to defeat the spirit of an otherwise docile young teacher with too high a pile of improvements to be made. Three well-picked items given prudent attention will gain results that form the teacher and school for the better.
For you consideration, a sample classroom evaluation form is available free of charge here.
In the next issue we will continue this discussion and focus on teacher evaluation.