Classroom observation is a necessary part of evaluating teacher performance. As a classroom observer, your job is to be as unobtrusive as possible so that you can see how class progresses in as organic a matter as possible. Being a classroom observer is kind of like being a nature photographer; it is your job to observe and report without disturbing any of the natural going-ons of the classroom.
Good administrators are primarily good observers first and foremost. As such, there is a set of classroom observation etiquette rules that you should try to abide by when performing observation. The goal of these 7 rules for classroom observation etiquette is so that your observations can be as accurate and effective as possible.
1. Be On-Time
First things first, you should always be on time for your classroom observations. Arriving late to a class that you are observing is not only disrespectful but can also be very distracting when you come in. Ideally, you should try to be about 10-15 minutes early. That way you can converse with the teacher and find a good place to sit and observe. It is always bad etiquette when the professional observer comes to class later than a student does. So before anything else, make sure you are on time for your appointments.
As far as how long you need to observe for, you do not actually need to stick around for the whole class. For a standard 50-minute class, all you really need is about 10-20 minutes to get a good scope of what is going on.
2. Wait a Few Weeks to Observe
It is generally not a good idea to observe a course in the first couple of weeks of class. The main reason why is because teachers need a chance to get the class at a solid pace. Anyone who has ever taught a class before knows that the first few weeks can be a bit rocky and less productive as students are still getting used to the teacher and vice versa. You can get a very different assessment if you observe a class after only 2 weeks vs. if you observe it after 6 weeks.
In some cases though, observing a classroom in the early stages might be important. For example, if you were focusing on how different teachers develop a rapport with their students, you might want to observe once near the beginning and again near the end.
3. Meet With the Teacher in Advance
If possible, you should try to meet with the teacher a few days in advance of your observing session. Often, teachers like meeting with observers beforehand so they can discuss any specific issues that they want you to focus on. They can also provide handouts and any relevant class information. Meeting with the teacher beforehand also gives you a better perspective for observation as you can determine what the goals of the course are, what the teacher’s lesson plan is, and the complexity of the material. Sometimes, teachers will not be able to meet in advance whether it is because of scheduling or some other issue, so make sure you check with them first.
4. Actively Observe
Despite what you might think, observation is not a passive process. As an observer, you need to practice skillful observation which requires a substantial amount of cognitive engagement. Every 5-10 minutes, you should be asking yourself questions about what you are observing and actively looking for criteria you want to analyze. Taking notes is an integral part of the experience. Teachers can tell how engaged you are in observation by reading your body language. You should not let them catch you sending emails, checking your phone, or gazing off into the distance. No-verbal communication is key to express that you are engaged and interested in what is being said.
5. Be as Unobtrusive as Possible
Unfortunately, as a classroom observer, there is no way that you can observe and not disturb anything 100%. Simply your presence in the classroom will slightly change the dynamic. However, that does not mean you should not try to be as unobtrusive as possible. When choosing a seat, try to find somewhere in the back, out of the way of students’ line of sight, and you should try not to interact with the students during the lesson.
There are a few exceptions to the unobtrusive rule. Sometimes, you will have to engage in classroom activities if the point of your observation is to see things from a participant’s perspective. You should always get permission from the teacher first before you start to engage in any classroom activities. Otherwise, try to focus solely on observation.
6. Give Feedback
After the course, you should provide the teacher with any relevant feedback from your notes. When it comes to feedback, the more specific the better. Teachers want to have specific ideas about what they can do better. Notice that there is a world of difference between just saying “You need to engage with students more” and “You need to engage with students more, specifically when you are discussing concepts in class. Here are a few ways you could do better in this area…” Specificity is key and teachers will appreciate that you took the time to give concrete, actionable advice.
It is also important to keep this feedback completely confidential. You should not go around discussing your time in the observation either, except with the teacher you were observing.
7. Say Thank You
As is always the case, expressing thanks is an important part of classroom observation etiquette. Make sure to thank the instructor for letting you sit-in and observe the class. It does not have to be anything extravagant; a simple thank you email would be just fine.
Classroom observations are an important part of being an administrator. Observation has its own special code of conduct. Above all, the key element is respect. When observing a classroom, you are a guest first and an administrator second.