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Guidelines for Informal Classroom Observations

Thanks to its partnership with publisher Eye on Education, EducationWorld is pleased to present this tip from Informal Observations On the Go: Feedback, Discussion, and Reflection (3rd Edition), by Sally Zepeda.

This article provides school leaders with several helpful guidelines for conducting efficient and effective informal classroom observations.

Informally Observe All Teachers
All teachers can benefit from informal classroom observation. Refrain, however, from “overobserving” particular teachers (e.g., only teachers having difficulty, beginning teachers, teachers who teach subject areas that are heavily tested). Informal classroom observation should last between 15 and 20 minutes; therefore, conduct only as many observations in a day as can be followed up on with a postobservation conference either the same day or the next day. Teachers need and deserve some type of immediate feedback.

Informally Observe as Often as Possible
The presence of a principal, supervisor, or coach in classrooms sends a positive message to teachers: the leadership of the school cares. Including informal classroom observation as a school-wide initiative requires consistency and frequency. Become opportunistic in finding time in the day to observe teachers, and vary the time of day in which observation occurs. What occurs in the morning is much different from what occurs in the afternoon.

Given that informal observations are relatively brief (15–20 minutes) compared to extended classroom observations (30–45 minutes), data from a single focus will make richer conversation during follow-up discussion.

Make It Obvious That You Are Having Fun
An observer’s demeanor sends strong messages: either the principal, supervisor, or coach enjoys being out and about, or he or she grudgingly engages in informal classroom observations. Let your body language and facial expressions communicate that you are enjoying the time in the classroom. Think about how you want teachers and students to view you.

Catch Them in the Act of Doing Something Right and Applaud Efforts
Look for victories, rather than failures, and applaud them. Work to create an ethos of sharing. Teachers especially adept at a strategy or technique need time and opportunities for sharing their expertise with others. For example, a certain amount of time at weekly or monthly faculty meetings could be set aside for teachers to share insights or techniques with one another.

Make the Time to Follow Up
Follow-up communication to informal classroom observation is a critical component. Through conversations and reflection, teachers better understand the complexities of their work. Feedback and dialogue form the cornerstone of all supervisory activities.

Follow Up with Resources
After feedback, an effective observer also makes available resources that teachers need to refine practice. The observer’s efforts to return for a follow-up informal observation might be one such resource.

Make Informal Observations Invitational
Encourage teachers to invite you to observe them. Teachers experimenting with novel instructional approaches or whose students are making presentations would welcome the opportunity for the principal, supervisor, or coach to be present (FutureCents, 2005).

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