Saturday, January 18, 2014

Unannounced Observations

A strange phenomenon is occurring in my school at the moment surrounding unannounced observations. This year, the NJDOE has instituted a new teacher evaluation system for all teachers. One component requires at least one unannounced observation of the three required for tenured staff. This is a departure from past practice in our district. We have generally scheduled our visits. There was never a real sense of urgency to do unannounced observations because administrators work to be in classrooms for walkthroughs anyway, so "unannounced" informal observations were happening fairly regularly.

Our first round of observations completed before the New Year were all announced, but our second round of tenured observations have all been unannounced. This has created a different vibe in the building than I have been used to for the last 11 years. I remember back when I started teaching 20 years ago in a different district where all observations were unannounced; the principal would walk out of his office with his leather portfolio and news would spread like wildfire through the building that he was on the move. It was crazy because usually when he came to your room, you were already teaching and never got the message in time anyway, so you just did your thing and got observed.

Now, I am the principal and over the past several weeks every time I leave my office, I notice people looking to see if I have my iPad in my hands. It has actually become somewhat of a joke where I either hold up my hands to show that I am not "carrying" or I politely remind the teacher looking at my hands that, "my eyes are up here:-)"

Here is the crazy part, I am seeing some great lessons!! I am beginning to think that when teachers have advanced notice of observations they tend to over-think it. I have a wonderful staff who are dedicated to student learning and success every day. Conducting unannounced formal observations has only served to reinforce my belief that our staff "gets it" and that our children are being served well through their efforts. Can all of us improve in some areas? Yes, and that goes for me, the teachers, and anyone reading this post; however, I think that the shift to including an unannounced component to our observation system has been a positive one. I realize this may not be a revelation for those who have always conducted unannounced observations, but it was a wonderful reminder for me!

What do you think? Are your observations announced or unannounced? Which do you prefer? Why?

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  1. We are only doing unannounced this year. At first I think teacher's were uncertain but now everyone has gotten used to it. More importantly, the great discussions and ideas that have come from being out there more and talking about learning is helping make our school stronger.

  2. Amy, thank you for your comment. I agree that the conversations that have taken place this year surrounding observations have been of a better quality than in the past. I think that supervisory conversations are helpful and the work we are doing to increase the conversations about learning between teaching colleagues is also ultimately a benefit to our students.

  3. It sounds like you have a good rapport with your staff and they trust that you are doing the right thing, for them & for kids. Unfortunately that's not the case in all districts. I think evaluations should be used to help teachers become better in their craft and not used to try to "get" teachers. When it's done from a place of support, then teachers will rise to the occasion. When it's not used for support, then teachers may very well be uncomfortable regarding unannounced observations.

  4. For the past ten years I've always been in a school with unannounced observations. For some teachers these types of observations can bring fear and anxiety, especially if they are evaluative and a relationship hasn't been established between the teacher and administration. Unannounced observations have value If the intent in having them is to improve/affirm teaching practices in a school. Communicating that intent to staff in a transparent way is especially important.