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NYC Helpline: How To: Eyes Wide Open

Eyes Wide Open:  Making the most of your time to observe  Sarah Picard

During my first year of teaching, I worked like a sponge.  I was lucky to be in a school where I was released from my classroom to observe colleagues weekly.  I collaborated with colleagues while I planned my lessons, visited classrooms to observe masterful teaching, and spent time after school talking with teachers about what I could do to make my teaching feel more like their smoothly managed classrooms and refined lessons. 

Although I was exposed to many amazing ideas and lessons, I often felt like my observations were lacking a focus; I collected too many ideas at once (not necessarily a bad thing). I often felt like I was scrambling to try each new idea, before I gave the previous idea time to gel in my own classroom. 

After a few months, I began to learn that I could not become one of those masterful teachers in a few quick weeks.  I needed to give myself time to find my way, find the techniques and management systems that worked for me and for my students.  I still felt a sense of urgency to become a better teacher, but I used that urgency in a different way.  Namely, I used that urgency to observe my colleagues in a different way. 

Here are a few helpful hints if you are feeling overwhelmed with observations, collaborating, and reflecting on all the things you need help with in your classroom:

  1. Go into classrooms to observe masterful teaching with a focus.  Know what you need help with and go in to observe that one thing.  If you are unsure about what you are supposed to do during a reading or writing conference, go into a colleague's classroom to observe two or three reading or writing conferences.

  2. If you are going in to observe, OBSERVE!  Carry your notebook and follow the teacher around closely.  If you want to learn about reading conferences, then write down everything the teacher says in the conference.  After you listen to a few, you will begin to hear the prompts that the teacher is giving, and in turn, you will have some things to take into your classroom and use in your reading conferences. 

  3. Dive your notebook page into two columns.  One side can be titled, "What I see and hear."  This is where you write down the prompts or phrases you hear the teacher saying, perhaps visuals s/he is using, and body movement and physical space of the lesson.  The other side of your notebook can be titled, "What I think."  In this space you can write your reflections on what you notice in the lesson.  I have found that this organization keeps me focused on what I originally came in to observe and makes me think about the effectiveness of the teaching in front of me.  It also makes the conversation with colleagues after the observation much easier.  You will be able to point to specific times or conversations in the lesson and ask the teacher about those moments.

  4. Ideally, you would get the chance to try a similar lesson in your on classroom with the teacher you observed now observing you and giving you feedback.  Remember to stick to the one thing you need feedback on and ask for your colleague to observe you doing that kind of lesson.

If you continue to follow this pattern of identifying needs and focusing your observations, you should begin to feel more organized in your planning and in your actual teaching.


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