a blog for teachers who follow the Master Teacher
In an ideal world, “I’m being observed tomorrow” wouldn’t be the cause of emotions ranging from slight anxiety to full-out dread. Presumably, this spectrum of responses comes from the fact that observations in an educational institution are sometimes used as the basis for merit pay or promotion, or may figure heavily into annual performance reviews, or might even be required by administrators whose responsibilities and/or experience preclude them from being wise observers.
But what if observations were genuine tools for professional growth and development? What if they were a means of seeing with the intent of seeking the greater good of our students? Can we find benefits in observations, regardless of the scenario? I think so, if we choose so.
Preparing for an observation requires us as educators to stop and think, in the busy-ness of daily life, and to re-examine why we’re doing what we’re doing. Even for a veteran teacher, there is value in thinking through a lesson and how we sequence content and activities. I have found that this exercise can result in either sending me in a panic to find some better (and much-needed) activities or can bear the fruit of a pleasant reminder to my soul (also much-needed) that the way I’ve been approaching a task is, after all, quite okay.
In preparing for this observation (that we may not have chosen!), we can pause to remember what we know about the individuals who do so much more than simply “sit” in front of us day after day. Perhaps by preparing with extra diligence, we can see them anew. Just as the Master Teacher saw beyond the visible reality and into the deeper realms of life, so we, too, can strive to use this extra requirement of being observed to do some observing of our own.
Even in the best of our situations, being observed doesn’t always equate to being truly seen. Did my observer see how hard I worked to prepare this lesson? Did she see that my students were unusually talkative today—almost out of control—because they thought it would make the teacher look good to answer all the questions? Does he know how very far this class has come in terms of working together and helping each other? Does she know that I strive with fierce diligence to know these students so that I can serve them? Does my observer really see me?
And so from understanding the degree to which I myself desire to be seen and known, I am reminded of how truly invaluable it is to offer this gift of seeing and knowing to my own students. Do I understand that a reticence to work in a group may be the result of hurtful classroom experiences in the past? That deep fear of failure may be the reason for copied homework (not laziness)? That feeling like a child linguistically is a soul-felt challenge to an older learner?
As teacher, this kind of sight, with its potential to yield a harvest far beyond any grade that I pen at the top of a test paper, takes time and intentionality, but will undoubtedly result in the greater good of students and can be, perhaps, the most treasured windfall from an observation.
We welcome your comments on any of the ideas in this post or in answer to the questions below.
Invite someone to come into your classroom and observe you. Before the observation, negotiate what s/he will be seeing. (You could even adapt–from the resources listed above–or design an observation form together.) Afterward, discuss the observation. What do you see about your students from the observer’s perspective?
Julie feels most at home with world travelers or international students, and no wonder since she lived in China for 17 years. She taught university students in the capital and beginning level students in one of Western China’s most out-of-the-way places. Now back in the town where she received her MA TESL, she tutors and teaches those the Master Teacher sends her way. Outside the classroom, she enjoys reading, relaxing in nature, and resting in His presence.