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Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Observation

This afternoon I found out that the superintendent and math director will visit my class during the last fifteen minutes of  math class. Originally teachers were invited to volunteer for the visit, but that changed, and I was assigned the visiting time.

I was surprised to read the schedule in the email this afternoon and have been fretting about it for a few hours. Why the fretting?

First of all, tomorrow's lesson is not a showcase lesson. It's an important lesson, but one that's not shiny or glamorous. Essentially children will create fraction models together in order to build language and visual representations that we will use and refer to as we embark on the fraction unit. It's important to lay a foundation for unit study at the beginning of the unit, and this isn't always the kind of teaching you want to showcase for those who don't spend their days working directly with students.

Next, the short notice means I'm not as prepared as I would be. It's kind of like having your husband call you in the afternoon after a busy day of teaching to tell you that you are having guests for dinner the next day. Of course when you have guests, you like to make the home or room look extra special. I'll go in early in the morning to tidy up and make the room look as good as possible.

Third, I'm not a big fan of drive-by observations. So much goes into lesson planning and execution, so much that is not visible during a 15-minute visit. Visitors who don't know about the focus, past efforts, plans, and focus are likely to focus on aspects of the learning or lesson that they may not understand since they don't know the context of the class, teaching, and decisions made.

We prepared today for this lesson. I'll encourage students to do their best and provide the rationale for the lesson. Then we'll embark on the learning endeavor together as our guests watch.

Teachers everywhere are observed often. It's likely that these observations are often conducted by people who may not have discussed the lesson with the teachers or have a deeper sense of the focus or effort involved. As the book, Intentional Interruption, describes it's not unlikely that observers leave classrooms with conclusions that are not true or well supported since observations only provide a quick snapshot of classroom effort and investment.

Ideally drop-ins would mostly occur with professional staff that are familiar with the educator and students. For example when the principal observes the class, the students and I welcome him. He knows all of us well and is a full member of our teaching/learning community. It's a pleasure to have him and then to later talk about the teaching/learning. On the other hand, when people visit who don't know us or what we do well, it's daunting and worrisome--what will they see, how will they judge, and do they understand what our goals and aims are, educators may wonder.

I'm sure the observation will go well, and I'll be happy when it's over.