Wide Open: Making the most of your time to observe
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.