By Tom White
Anyone who’s ever watched the tail end of a close football game has probably asked themselves the same question, “Why couldn’t they play with this intensity for the first 57 minutes?”
The answer, of course is simple: they can’t. No one can go all-out for 60 minutes. It’s like asking a marathon runner to sprint for 26.2 miles. It’s just not possible.
Teaching is a lot more like a marathon than a sprint. We have to get up and perform in a sustainable way for 180 days over the course of a 40-year career. You can’t do that at a sprint. Trust me.
So here we are in the throes of “formal evaluation season.” Your principal or assistant principal has either scheduled or will schedule a visit. They’ll sit in our room and watch us teacher for up to 60 minutes, write up a summary and compare it with Marzano’s or Danielson’s rubric. Then they’ll sit down and help us grow.
There’s always a temptation to over-plan to over-perform. To sprint. To bring your A-game. You want to show your evaluator your very best teaching so you’ll get the very best evaluation. And it’s certainly understandable. After all, the evaluation goes into your personnel file. It’s kind of a big deal.
But on the other hand, I think there’s value in showing your evaluator how you teach on a regular old day-to-day basis. To show how you teach when it’s just you and the kids. To leave the dogs and the ponies at home, plan the lesson you’d normally teach and teach it the way you normally would. To show ‘em your B game.
Why? Because that’s how you and I usually teach. And if you want feedback on your teaching, why not get feedback on how you usually teach? Seems a lot more valuable.
So that’s what I did this year. I found out when my evaluator was coming and figured out what I’d be teaching at that time on that day. And I just planned and taught. It was a writing lesson, focused on “specific transitions;” using “five minutes later” or “the next morning” instead of “then” or “next.”
I started by showing an excerpt from a story I’ve been model-writing. I showed it with specific transitions and weaker, general ones. We discussed the advantages of being specific. I gave them time to go through their own stories to find places where they could revise to add more specific transitions. We followed with sharing and discussion led by a few students who showed the changes they made, and finished the lesson with some workshop time.
It was a perfectly ordinary lesson. No dogs, no ponies, no fluff. It was exactly the lesson I would have taught with or without an evaluator in the room.
And it went well. My evaluator had a lot of great things to say about what she saw. She also had some excellent suggestions to try next time. And the feedback was valuable because it was based on the way I usually teach, not the “formal observation version.” In short, she saw me teach, she told me what she liked and told how to make it even better. I came away feeling successful but knowing how to improve.
And that’s what observations and evaluations are supposed to do.