5 Tips for Good Teaching (and a Good Teaching Evaluation)
by Dr. Amanda Hurlbut, Faculty in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction,
The University of Texas at Arlington
As a former school administrator, I am often asked what constitutes a successful teaching evaluation? I was the kind of administrator that continually walking through classrooms just be with students and to see the innovative things going on my teachers’ classrooms – no judgment, no condemnation, usually positive praise and constructive feedback for improvement. Teachers had no problem with this constant popping in and out until I plopped myself down to complete their formal evaluation. Then we had renditions of panic attacks, nervous hives, and jumbled speech. Why do teachers get so jittery about being formally evaluated by their principals? Now that I have stepped into a supervisory role where I am mentoring new and just-beginning teachers, I thought I would share a couple of things that I have learned from the awesome teachers that I have observed over the years…
These are the top five strategies present in every super-awesome teacher’s classroom (and formal observation):
- Perfection not wanted! I found that most often, teachers wanted me to see them at their absolute best – teachers are natural perfectionists and want to be seen as professionals with high expectations for themselves and their students. The problem with this mindset is that when children are involved things are almost NEVER perfect and almost ALWAYS unpredictable. Students will want to interrupt a lesson to share a story, will get distracted by a noise in the hall or a fidgety child sitting next to them, or more concerning, will come to school hungry and/or sleep deprived and not be focused on learning at all. Therefore, it is completely unrealistic that a teacher will ever have a lesson that goes absolutely perfect with 100% of his/her children on task, paying attention, or learning with accuracy. Instead, I would rather see how the teacher handles off-task students or students who are not understanding a new concept. So many times teachers, in their quest for this “perfect lesson”, will keep going even though the lesson is tanking or completely ignore a disruptive behavior in an effort to keep going with their idea of the perfect lesson (and in hopes that I won’t notice). This was not what I want to see. After all, I’ve been-there-done-that and I know that kids will act up and lessons will not go as planned. I am looking to see that the teacher realizes what’s going on during a lesson and how he/she copes with it. This means if a child is acting out – correct or redirect the child appropriately! If students are giving you deer-in-headlights-looks, don’t keep going – stop and clarify! Most of all I want teachers to know perfection is definitely not what I expect in a lesson and is a rather unattainable goal in the quest for good teaching.
- Classroom management is absolutely vital to master. I do not expect that your kids will always be on task or always acting appropriately. Kids are kids and they like to shout up, get up, be wiggly, go to the bathroom in the middle of a lesson, etc. However, classroom management is evident regardless of these behaviors. Do you have a procedure in class for calling on students? Or do you sometimes let them shout out an answer…Do they ask to go to the bathroom when you are explaining literacy centers, or do they know to wait until they get started? Do students know what the expectations are for lining up to go to specials? Or do they run down the hall yelling? Some of these are extreme examples, but classroom management is very important in being a good teacher. Vital to this point is the relationship you develop with your students and the positive learning environment that you build. The best teachers create an unspoken understanding that it is okay to make mistakes; failure is part of the learning process and students are still loved and accepted even when they mess up. So when you have to correct a student for shouting out in the middle of giving directions, that student knows that you still love him, despite the mistake he made. Do everything you can now to build that repertoire with your students and then stick to it! And remember, that students who are busy and active don’t have time to mess around, which brings me to my next point…
- Students who are engaged in learning don’t have time to be off-task! When students are actively engaged in their learning, they don’t have time to be off task and disruptive. When what they are working on is so interesting and fun and challenging and mind-bending, they won’t tune out or fiddle or lose interest, although you might have a louder volume in your classroom. Think about it. When you are interested in what you are doing, you are more likely to stay focused and attentive on the task at hand. It is the same with students. This is not saying that you have to entertain and be fun and games all the time. But when learning is decidedly planned to be engaging and interesting to students, some of the management issues disappear. Reflect on your own learning – would want to sit and listen to a 45-minute lecture about good teaching practices? No, because that is not good teaching practice. What if Professional Development opportunities were now web scavenger hunts on Pinterest to find innovative strategies for a problem? Or working in collaborative coffee groups with like-minded peers to strategize and compromise? Or visiting places such as wildlife reserves, museums, or gardens to plan active learning experiences for students? I know which learning experiences I would prefer…
- Specific feedback fuels learning! Research has demonstrated time and time again that feedback drives learning. Learners must receive constructive input to help them improve in the learning practice. Both positive (what a student is doing right) and negative (what a student needs to correct) is helpful in this process. In order to grow and master in the learning process, learners must receive specific input regarding what they are doing well and what still needs work. So when a teacher says, “good job” – what exactly does that mean other than to tell the student that they are doing something right? Feedback that is explicit and provides an opportunity to either correct or fine tune a learning task is much more helpful in the learning process and will stick longer. For instance, consider these two examples of feedback during a science lesson where students have to measure a precise amount of liquid for an experiment:
“That amount is not right, try again.”
“When you measure, you are looking at the amount from a top view. To get a better measurement, you need to look at it from the side to get an accurate amount of how much is in the container since the units are on the side.”
Which feedback is more helpful in correcting the learning issue? Teachers are often so overwhelmed with the number of learners in their class or the objective that a single lesson must cover, that they get pressured to “just keep moving” in order to get it all in. Providing immediate, specific feedback is absolutely vital towards facilitating deep and meaningful learning in the classroom and in the long run, will save time since students can quickly master a topic and move on to the next.
- Make sure that students know what they are learning and why. My teachers used to complain about having to write learning objectives on the board each day. But what they didn’t understand is how much it influenced students in driving their own learning process…The best teachers not only wrote the learning objectives on the board, but took time to actually explain what it was that students would be learning and why it was important. These teachers would then expect students to be able to verbalize their own learning objectives as personal learning goals. When students could express in their own words what they were learning and why and how it connected to what they learned previously, it revealed to me so much more about that teacher’s capability to engage his/her students in the learning process. It meant that the teacher had taken time to explain the concept, what it meant, and why it was important to learn. And when students could verbalize their learning, it usually meant they were learning on a very deep, meaningful level. So don’t turn your nose at those learning objectives. Teach students to look for them and as a way to excite them about the learning for the day!
Dr. Hurlbut’s bio: Dr. Amanda Hurlbut is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of Elementary Education at UT Arlington where she teaches Child Development and online Master¹s courses in Curriculum and Instruction. During the summer of 2015, she completed her Ph. D. in Curriculum and Instruction with a research emphasis on elementary pre-service teacher preparation in issues of inclusion and Response to Intervention practices. She spent over 9 years in the public school system as a first and third grade teacher, instructional specialist, and elementary assistant principal.
What are your thoughts on your classroom observation? What fosters great classroom instruction and interactions that help year round but especially when being observed? What are ways you seek feedback for improvement of your practice? We welcome your comments below! -Dr. Semingson