How to observe teachers in the classroom

Educators likely stress at the mere thought of someone observing their teaching, but it’s an important part of their professional development. New teachers especially may spend hours preparing their lessons every night, but if someone doesn’t give them a proper evaluation, they might never know if they’re successful in the classroom — aside from monitoring their students’ performance.

Teacher observation is an important process in many schools, sometimes due in part to state teacher tenure laws. Because many teachers rely on getting a satisfactory observation report, it’s essential that the process is fair, accurate, and helpful.

As an administrator, you may wonder how to observe teachers in the classroom in a way that’s productive for your teachers and, by extension, for their students. Determining if students are getting the most from a teacher’s instruction should be your number one goal. After all, the purpose of teaching is to benefit students. But until you’re in a classroom and ready to grade the teacher, it can be tricky to decide what you should focus on.

Here are some tips when it comes to observing classroom instruction.

What to consider when observing a teacher

While there are many different areas to observe for a teacher evaluation, they are often broken down into the following (or similar) categories:

General knowledge

When you’re observing a teacher, you should first get a sense of their depth of knowledge in the subject they’re teaching.

They should not only be familiar with the subject matter but also be able to grasp newer topics that have been added to the curriculum over the years. For example, a biology teacher may be able to fall back on knowledge they’ve had for decades to explain some topics, but to explain a new breakthrough in gene editing, they will need to stay abreast of new developments in their field.

This category becomes more important for more advanced class levels, but there are a few basic questions to consider when evaluating a teacher’s general knowledge:

  • Is the teacher able to answer student questions accurately?
  • Is the teacher able to elaborate on topics and incorporate their own knowledge outside of the textbook?
  • Does the teacher seem confident in their knowledge of the subject?
  • Does the teacher display any gaps in knowledge of an essential topic?

Lesson plan

Talk to any teacher, and you’ll learn that lesson planning takes up a significant portion of their day. Though many schools give teachers a short “prep period” during the school day, it’s rarely enough time to plan an entire day’s lesson. A survey from the National Center for Education Statistics found that on average, K–12 teachers spend around 52 hours a week on everything related to their job — that’s in school and at home.

The lesson plan is the meat of any instruction; it’s essentially how the teacher passes along their knowledge. The most effective lesson plans incorporate different methods of learning, as students absorb information in different ways.

Students also do best when teachers give them a combination of passive and active learning scenarios (lectures and reading plus hands-on labs and challenges). It’s also important to remember that our brains search for patterns, so relating the subject to something the students are already familiar with will help make the information stick.

Here are some questions to consider when evaluating a lesson plan:

  • Does the teacher cover all aspects of the subject as outlined in the text or school requirements?
  • Does the instructor make the subject matter relatable and incorporate real-world examples?
  • Does the teacher’s lesson plan incorporate varied methods of instruction (e.g., visual, auditory, hands-on, etc.)?
  • Does it seem like the teacher carefully thought out the overall flow of the class?

Delivery of information

Developing a lesson plan is only half of ensuring successful instruction. To drive home the subject matter, a teacher must also follow through on the plan and deliver the information efficiently.

Some pitfalls you may observe related to delivery include veering off track from the subject matter, explaining topics in the wrong order, or failing to cohesively wrap up a topic at the completion of the lesson. Here are some questions you may include on your evaluation related to whether the teacher successfully delivers the subject matter to their students:

  • Does the teacher speak clearly and loud enough for everyone in the room to hear?
  • Do the students seem to understand the material better at the end of the lesson?
  • Are there any aspects of the class that are hard to follow?
  • Does the teacher mostly stay on track when explaining subjects and keep tangents to a minimum?

Response to students

Teachers not only have to efficiently explain a topic, but they also have to respond to any questions and eliminate confusion. We’ve all been in one of those unfortunate courses where the instructor drones on in front of the class while the students are either half asleep or completely lost. The way a teacher delivers their instruction can show how dedicated they are to their job by demonstrating awareness and flexibility, or a lack thereof.

When a student asks a question, notice whether the instructor gives a clear explanation, regardless of whether they’ve already covered that information in the lesson. You may consider using the following questions to assess how effectively the teacher responds to their class:

  • Is the teacher checking for understanding throughout the lesson?
  • Is there a designated time during class for students to make comments?
  • Does the teacher respond to questions with patience and understanding?
  • Does the instructor leave room for questions before completing the lesson?

Teaching environment

The last category you should consider while observing a teacher in the classroom involves the general vibe of the class. This can include everything from how the teacher carries themselves to how effective they are at controlling the class.

If a student feels uncomfortable in a classroom, that will immediately affect their ability to learn. This can include tangible things like whether they have enough desk space or the proper technology or resources, but it can also be emotional discomfort, like whether they’re able to open up and feel included in a classroom.

The teaching environment of a kindergarten class will certainly be different from a community college course, but in general, you should be able to gauge whether the classroom environment is conducive to learning by asking the following questions:

  • Does the instructor keep distractions to a minimum by handling any disruptive students?
  • Does the class feel comfortable enough for students to speak up and be heard?
  • Does the teacher use inclusive and inoffensive language?
  • Are there adequate supplies, space, and other resources for students to learn?

Completing a classroom observation with JotForm

Now that you have some of the basics for observing the classroom, you need a way to record all of the data you’ve collected. JotForm’s classroom observation survey template makes it easy to answer all the relevant questions, including topics related to classroom environment, student behavior, use of technology, and more.

JotForm also makes observations more convenient by storing all your evaluation forms in a single, easy-to-access online database. Plus, with JotForm’s easy-to-use Form Builder, you can make any necessary changes to the evaluation form accommodate your school’s evaluation process.

The classroom evaluation process is just that — a process. But if you’re equipped with the right questions to consider and you have an effective method for conducting evaluations, you’ll be on your way to a successful classroom observation.

AUTHOR
Teacher, sister, mother and ass-kicker. Experienced teacher with a digital twist. Outside the classroom? She lives on the dojo.

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