At my school, new teachers are observed by administration twice a year, in two different classes at a time. This means that either the principal or the assistant principal observes you a total of four times during the year.
When I got to school Monday morning, I saw the familiar observation paperwork lying in my mailbox.
I don’t normally feel nervous when these observations happen. I am excited to have my lessons watched and I try my best to hear and welcome all criticism. After all, I still am a new teacher and I still have a lot to learn. It is important to have feedback on your lessons and your students because this additional perspective can be invaluable.
Part of the requirements for observations is that the teacher has to meet with the administrator for a pre-meeting to go over lesson plans and discuss any issues that may be observed. It is a time to talk about yearly goals and progress in the classroom and share any information that might not be visible during an observation. This includes things like assessments or activities that will not be a part of the actual observation.
I view lesson plans as essential to the classroom experience. Preparation is key to making the average lesson better. In my opinion, the three most important components of the lesson plan are objectives, differentiated instruction and assessment.
Lesson plans must begin with clear learning objectives that align with the classroom’s actual curriculum so that what is supposed to be taught is what is actually taught during the lesson.
Second, a good special education teacher must make a commitment to successful differentiated instruction that meets individual student need while also maintaining an effective classroom lesson.
Finally, assessment has perhaps the most prominent place in the lesson plan. All forms of assessment are pertinent to the lesson plan. The pre-assessment determines the starting point for the lesson, the formative assessment determines if the lesson is successful throughout the teaching process and the summative assessment determines if the teaching objectives were met.
These three components determine the success of a particular lesson plan. There is, however, there is a fourth component to effective lesson planning and teaching that I have not yet mentioned: flexibility.
A good teacher must recognize when a particular lesson plan is not working in a classroom. We must make this observation and then have a reserve plan in order to get the instruction back on track. Sometimes this simply means adjusting a particular topic or technique, but it could also mean abandoning a lesson altogether. While thorough preparation is very important to teaching, the ability to make seamless shifts while in the middle of a teaching moment is essential to being an effective teacher.
Sometimes, these moments – the ones that call for flexibility are the best moments of teaching. Sometimes, they are among the most stressful. Just yesterday, an administrator popped into my room during math class. We had been practicing simple division story problems. The third example was not so simple and required some creative problem-solving for the kids. At that moment, I sort of wished he hadn’t just appeared in the classroom. I was afraid he was going to see something unorganized, unclear or ineffective.
I took a deep breath and tried to guide the students in the right direction. I tried to help them find the way to explain their ideas on how to solve the problem. I knew he was watching, but I had to keep reminding myself that he was not judging. The difficult moments with kids are sometimes when their best thinking happens – when the pressure is on.
In the end, they solved the problem. I know that they all did not fully understand what they were doing, but they were confident and brave and tried their best to find the solution. In this case, the ability to be flexible was one of my better moments of teaching.