Do you consider teacher observation by the school principal as a positive or negative practice? Can it be developmental as much as it is evaluative?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

School leaders such as principals have one of the most important jobs in successfully facilitating teacher observations.  It is an essential means for educator growth.  It should be both developmental and evaluative.

From a theoretical perspective, teacher observations conducted by school principals should be an enriching practice. They allow an educational leader a chance to offer feedback to a teacher.  Teaching practices are rich and varied.  The things that a teacher does when they are instructing students in the classroom setting have so many moving parts.  A principal observation enables the teacher to break down what is happening in such a pressure-filled situation.  A dialogue can take place. This developmental discourse can consist of analyzing what is successful and how to remedy that which was not as beneficial.  The teacher should be an active part of this theoretical discussion.   As a result, teacher effectiveness and empowerment will increase, while students become the ultimate benefactors.

As with so much in theory, I think that you can point to several instances where reality falls short.  There are school leaders who either choose to or are forced to embrace observations as strictly evaluative tools. The observation becomes a stressful situation in which observers are looking to ensnare or trap teachers.  In this manner, observations are not helpful.  They deny teachers the chance to express their ideas and to feel empowered.  They create anxiety and help drive teachers away from the profession. 

There is enough evidence to suggest that the moments that fall short of theoretical ideals are not mere outliers.   However, this does not mean that principal observations are not worthwhile.  Rather, they are essential to teacher practice.  I think that leaders such as principals have to embrace the idea that observations can be evaluative as well as developmental.  This is what we do with student instruction. We create instruction that enables students to developmentally advance while being simultaneously evaluative.  The best instruction does not trap students.  Rather, it allows them to grow, embracing success as much as failure.  It allows them to get back up after they have fallen down.  We should strive for that same standard in assessing teachers.  When we look to create teachers who learn and developmentally grow, better instruction emerges.  In this light, I think that teacher observation from a principal is a necessary practice.  It must embrace the capacity to be both developmental and evaluative.  It should emphasize the reflective dialogue that embodies the essence of teaching and learning.

omconnelly eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Teacher evaluations in the form of observations are necessary because they benefit students, teachers, and administrators.The purpose of an administrator observing a teacher is to enhance instruction and maintain a positive environment. The key to a positive observation is communication between administrator and teacher. 

When an administrator observes a teacher, the administrator should have knowledge about the teacher's curriculum and learners so the observation and subsequent evaluation is relevant and useful. Ultimately the administrator should seek to improve the teacher's instruction by commending best or innovative practices and identifying areas that need improvement. 

Administrative observations may also be used as an opportunity for teachers to pilot new programs or strategies in the classroom. Again, by maintaining open communication between an administrator and a classroom teacher, the teacher may receive invaluable feedback. The administrator may offer sage advice based on his or her previous experience and can offer a second set of eyes in the classroom to praise or make recommendations about student participation and comprehension. 

Lastly, administrative observations should enhance the overall learning environment. Students will benefit because teachers may improve their instructional approaches, may be encouraged to try innovative approaches, and may receive assistance in areas where they may be struggling. When a staff feels that administration is willing to keep lines of communication open and observations are not a means of merely identifying weak and strong teachers to reprimand or reward, a more positive and collaborative work environment is established. 

Administrative observations can be a meaningful experience for all parties involved. The key is using the observations in a purposeful way to augment the positive instructional strategies already in place in the building or district. 

mkoren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In theory, principal evaluations should be a positive event.  By observing a teacher, the principal can see what is occurring in that teacher's classroom.  The principal can offer tips, ideas, current research, and other constructive comments.  The whole purpose of the evaluation is to help the teacher which, in turn, will benefit the students.  The evaluation can reinforce the good practices that a teacher is doing.  It can also provide constructive comments to help teachers strengthen areas which may need refining or improvement.  It also is a way to remove a teacher who is not improving or doing well as a teacher.  While hopefully there are few teachers in this last category, it is a necessary part of supervision.  Sometimes, things just don't work out after many attempts have been made to help the teacher.  They key part here is that a legitimate attempt has been made to help the teacher.

If evaluation or supervision is going to be used to control or threaten teachers, then it is not a good thing.  There is no acceptable way evaluation or supervision can be justified if used in this manner.  Unfortunately, this is how it is used by some leaders which enhances the stress level of teachers toward evaluation.  In this case, there really won't be an professional growth if that is how it used.  Any good principal and effective instructional leader should understand this is not the proper way to use an evaluation tool.

If used properly, evaluation enhances a teacher's toolbag, reinforces what is being done properly, and therefore, benefits students and their learning.  Everybody can use positive, constructive comments, and supervision is a one way for this to occur.

mizzwillie eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This answer will be a bit different than the others as I taught in many school districts because of my husband's jobs, and therefore had many different principals.  Some of them were wonderful people who tried to help their staff grow, and while it was a bit intimidating for beginning teachers, it was truly a positive experience.  A few were of the negative variety, using the observation as a true negative for the teacher.  There ARE two kinds of principals, and staff are naïve if they think all of them are of the positive variety.  I find it interesting that the "teacher-leader" finds fault with the teacher being observed and believes that they need to "reflect on their way of facilitating instruction" as if they are not good teachers, not following the current trend or best practices of the moment, or not willing to listen to her advice.  I agree with the answer by mkoren, who believes observation is used both ways.  Observation should be a positive experience, but in my experience, it truly depends on the principal, some of whom should no longer be in education.

amck16 | Student

     Teacher observations are an important tool, but there are many other ways to assess quality teaching.  Daily walk throughs, co-teachers and teaching coaches can help to lessen the anxiety of a principal visit.  Using the various models, like Danielson, allows the teacher to see exactly what is expected for different scores.  Although, there is a lot of room for interpretation, a teacher can see how to grow and advance on the scale.  

     Being rated as partially or highly effective and given a score may make teachers feel competitive towards each other.  When teachers compare scores and realize they aren't "highly effective" negatively affects teacher morale.  A principal may tell you what you did well, but the emphasis is mostly on what could be better.  Why isn't each lesson good enough?  

     In the field of special education, the evaluation of teachers has many gray areas.  Working with students who are already below grade level, with the expectation that they need to get to grade level, the stakes are much higher. These teachers should be evaluated on a different scale as different strategies are used and learning tends to happen much more slowly.  In any case, teachers have always been evaluated and having a model that is intended to help, is something both parents and teachers will have to get used to.




mrsmcbride | Student

     Principal observations are unnerving to many teachers in the classroom.  This has developed as an intimidating experience over the course of the last decade when the evaluation systems, that school administration has been required to implement evolved into a tedious process.  Many teachers feel less empowered in their classrooms because they feel there are "so many guidelines" and they are "constantly being tested."

    The outcome of a principal's observation should be constructive criticism and positive feedback in order to insure that the students in that particular class, a teacher's main focus and responsibility, are receiving the best quality of instruction.  I have found that a good portion of teachers whom fear observations are teachers whom feel they are not facilitating instruction at their highest potential.  This, in turn, yields not so perfect evaluation results and causes these teachers to resent the process as a whole. 

    With this being said, principal or administrative observations' sole purpose must be focused upon what the students are doing the classroom.  If the teacher facilitates instruction in the most effective way, students will be doing the majority of the "work."  At this point, a principal should not base his or her observation on critiquing only the teachers' behaviors in the classroom. 

    As an innovative educator at the high school level, I enjoy when my principals or colleagues visit my classroom to observe what I am doing. I take it as an opportunity to show them what my students are capable of.  Although I am not an administrator myself, I am a teacher-leader and I am involved in the administrative dynamics of my school.  When I have spoke with principals about the observation and evaluation process, they also feel that it should be a positive experience.  Again I will state, teachers who feel that getting observed and evaluated are negative experiences may need to reflect on their way of facilitating instruction and stray away from taking every piece of constructive criticism as a detrimental occurrence.  It does not matter how long a teacher has been educating the youth, there is always room to grow. 

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