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Classroom Observations: Examples of Best Practices in Structure, Type, & Method

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Classroom observations are meant to help teachers improve their instructional practice and improve learning outcomes for students. 

But for many educators, traditional, in-person classroom observations can not only be difficult to arrange but difficult to truly gain valuable feedback from when teachers can’t see what was happening in the moment. 

Thankfully, as technology advances, so can classroom observation techniques. 

Continue reading to learn more about classroom observation examples and best practices your district can utilize to improve educator performance and learning outcomes.

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What Are the Types Of Classroom Observation?

There are several different types of classroom observations that educators are familiar with:

  • Formal evaluation
  • Peer-to-peer observation
  • Outside coaching

Formal Evaluation

Formal evaluations in the classroom are often used as part of job performance evaluations. 

A formal classroom observation example might involve an administrator dropping in on a teacher’s classroom during a specific lesson. Normal evaluation observations are generally done once a year but may be done more often.

For some teachers, this type of evaluation is when they thrive. For others, this type of evaluation can be stressful and intimidating — especially when things don’t go as planned. 

Peer-to-Peer Observation

Peer-to-peer observations are generally performed by other teachers. The goal of these observations is to provide the teacher with feedback on … 

  • Teaching methods
  • Student interactions
  • Instructional technique
  • Classroom management

Peer-to-peer observations can be an excellent tool for teachers to learn from and support each other.

Collaborative Coaching

Classroom observations may also be done by instructional experts with the intent of supporting teachers in improving their practice and growing in their career. These observations are lower stakes than a formal observation by a school administrator. 

Today, these observations may occur asynchronously rather than a coach sitting in a classroom watching a teacher deliver a lesson. Instead, using a professional learning management system like TORSH Talent, a teacher can record a lesson or part of a lesson using their phone and share it with their coach. The coach can then, at their convenience, watch the video and provide specific, time-stamped feedback. observation. 

Together, the coach and teacher can discuss the teacher’s strengths, challenges, and effective (and ineffective) behaviors in the classroom. From there, teachers can work with their coaches to refine their practice, try new instructional approaches, and see their impact and growth through another recorded lesson. 

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Classroom Observations: Examples of What They Have Traditionally Looked Like

Traditionally, classroom observations looked something like this: 

A coach, peer, or administrator sits in the classroom during a lesson. Sometimes this observation is set ahead of time, with the teacher aware of what’s to come. 

Other times, administrators set a window of time that they will be in the classroom to observe. These observations are typically done to evaluate teachers’ performance for a grade or formal job evaluation. 

Traditional classroom observations often leave teachers feeling nervous, which is why the word “observation” often comes with a lot of emotional baggage for educators.

These reasons alone are enough for any district to want to make a switch on how classroom observations are done — especially when the end goal is always the same: improving learning outcomes for students. 

6 Pillars: The Ideal Example of Classroom Observation Structure

So, if a traditional observation isn’t ideal for every teacher? What other options do districts have? 

TORSH Talent allows districts to utilize technology and the power of video for observations. How do recorded classroom observations work?

In the sections below, we provide an ideal classroom observation example utilizing video and TORSH Talent. 

#1: Pre-Observation

A pre-observation conference is a critical component of any classroom observation when the observation is for the purpose of professional learning. During this conference, coaches get a clear picture of what the teacher’s goals are, the areas in which they want support, and what type of feedback and guidance they’re seeking. A coach may also meet with district or school administrators to align with them on standards and organizational goals.

Essentially, a pre-observation conference builds trust between coaches and teachers and sets the foundation for a productive relationship. 

An example of an ideal classroom pre-observation may look something like this: 

Ms. Grey is a third-grade teacher. She has only been teaching for a few years and is struggling to keep her students engaged during math lessons using the district’s curriculum. 

Ms. Grey has her first coaching session coming up and her pre-observation is scheduled. During Ms. Grey’s pre-observation meeting, the conversation goes something like this: 

Coach: “Ms. Grey, I know you said you’re still fairly new to teaching. What are some of your goals for your third grade class?” 

Ms. Grey: I’d love to help my students understand that math isn’t just about math on paper in the classroom, but that we use math every day in the world around us. Some of my students grasp the idea, while others struggle to move past things like dividing numbers on paper.” 

Coach: “Can you give me an idea of what the outcome would look like in your upcoming lesson? What expectations do you have”

Ms. Grey: “My next math lesson is going to be set up in a ‘real life scenario’ at a grocery store in my classroom. I’m going to set up a “percentage off” sale for the students to do mental math to figure out what they will be paying for each item. Some of my students excel at this level of mental math, while others are struggling. I would really like this to be a fun learning experience for all my students. ” 

Now, Ms. Grey’s coach has a very clear idea of what Ms. Grey needs coaching on, what to look for with her students, and how her metric of success.

Ms. Grey can choose the lesson she’s going to record and which clips to send her coach — feeling confident and comfortable that her coach is on her team, looking for ways to help her improve her students’ experience with this lesson. 

#2: Observation and Evidence Collection

TORSH Talent provides administrators and coaches with a simple way to observe lessons and collect the evidence and data they need to help teachers meet their goals. 

This observation and collection can be done in two ways:

  1. Observing the class in person while taking notes on the observations made in real-time, or 
  2. Using a video recording to observe asynchronously 

Using a tool like TORSH Talent to upload a recorded lesson and securely share it with a coach, gives the teacher, and the coach, the ability to watch, listen, and re-watch the lesson as needed to pinpoint moments where the teacher needs guidance. 

Let’s look at Ms. Grey’s classroom again as an example. 

Ms. Grey knows that she loses her students’ interest in math when she tries to apply it to a real-life situation — even when she decorates the classroom as a grocery store for roleplay learning. She’s chosen to record the activity for her coach. 

The video inarguably captures evidence that her students aren’t uninterested but confused. 

The coach now can dive into the recording without worrying about missing a key moment where the teacher excelled or where the students lost interest. 

Not having to rely on memory in an active classroom situation enables coaches and teachers to see exactly what happened at each stage of the lesson. Now, the coaching conversation is based on a shared understanding and can focus on providing productive feedback for the teacher.

Video also allows teachers to see themselves in action and reflect on their practice. 

#3: Observer Analysis

Once the data collection is complete, observers can begin addressing, analyzing, and sharing feedback about the lesson. 

Once a teacher is aware of the need for change, it can make all the difference in giving them the motivation to make those changes. A coach performing an analysis of video recordings can provide feedback on specific moments.

With TORSH Talent, coaches can watch videos and provide meaningful feedback using built-in rubrics and frameworks that the district or school has uploaded to the platform. This ensures all observations occur through the same lens and recommendations align with agreed upon standards and evidence-based practices. 

Video allows coaches to pinpoint specific moments in the lesson and prompt teachers to reflect on what occurred and offer their own suggestions for improvement. The best way to do this is to provide the teacher with the opportunity to answer questions about the recording. 

Here are a few examples:

  • I see from minute five to minute seven you realized your students weren’t as engaged as you were wanting. Next time, how could you help keep them engaged?”
  • “In the clips that you sent, you did a wonderful job of connecting with your students, where do you feel you need to make improvements?”
  • “You seem to have felt frustrated in minutes eight through ten when you couldn’t get your students back on track as quickly as you were hoping, what steps can you take in the future to help get them back on task?”

#4: Teacher Self-Analysis

Feedback is the catalyst to awareness, so, while an observer’s analysis of a lesson is important, more growth is typically accomplished through a teacher’s self-reflection.

The role videos play in classroom observations is incredible. Teachers analyzing videos of themselves during the moments they feel they need the most improvement can harness a lot of power. 

One example of a successful teacher analysis is to have the teacher “self-evaluate” during classroom observations.  

Have the teacher ask themselves the following questions: 

  • Did everything go according to plan during the lesson? If so, why do you think the lesson went so smoothly?  If not, did you adapt your lesson to conquer any unexpected moments?
  • Were the learning outcomes you expected met during the lesson?
  • If you feel like you could have done things differently, what would you have done? 
  • Could you have boosted student engagement? Explain.
  • What opportunities did you give students to expand their learning outside of the classroom?

#5: Discussion of Observation Outcomes

When done correctly, data collected and discussed during a teacher evaluation can help educators implement new strategies in the classroom. 

In an ideal classroom observation, an example might look something like this: 

After spending some time helping Ms. Grey reflect on her recorded lesson, her coach asks how Ms. Grey thinks she can get the outcomes she’s looking for in the future. 

Several things are mentioned during this discussion: 

Ms. Grey decides she is going to talk with her students to learn if they find the “real life” classroom scenarios fun and engaging. She tells her coach that she realizes that there may be better ways to approach teaching math in a way that makes sense to her third graders. 

Ms. Grey also mentions she knows that one of the best ways for students to learn real-life examples is to have families help their students. She decides that every Friday she will send home a newsletter with a quick activity for families to do with their students that will enhance their math skills while they’re having fun. 

#6: Goal Setting

At the end of their coaching session, Ms. Grey and her coach set achievable  goals to ensure the recommendations from the observation happen.

Ms. Grey has made a weekly goal to make sure that newsletters go out every Friday. 

She’s also started shifting how she teaches math to help her students stay engaged. Some weeks they’ll go outside to learn on the playground. Other weeks they’ll still have classroom “market days” to shop sales and practice real-life scenarios. 

Classroom Observations: Examples of What They Can Look Like Using TORSH Talent

Video can take the pressure out of classroom observation for teachers and also enables more meaningful and specific feedback from coaches. Additionally, coaches can observe more lessons because they do not have to be sitting in a classroom for each one. Sustained, frequent coaching is a key factor in improving teacher practice and video makes that cost and time effective. 

However, video can raise concerns about student privacy and security as well as add one more file and technology for coaches and teachers to deal with. The TORSH Talent Coaching and Professional Learning System consolidates and streamlines all coaching and professional learning activity into a single FERPA compliant platform. 

  • Teachers choose the lesson they want to record then upload the video to TORSH Talent using a secure app on their phone.
  • Teachers can provide notes and questions to their coach about specific moments in the lesson or about what they thought went well or needed work.
  • Coaches can view the video on their own time from home or school and provide time stamped feedback and recommendations based on a standard rubric.
  • Coaches and teachers can communicate and share ideas asynchronously through TORSH Talent or schedule a one-on-one meeting using the platform’s video conferencing tool.
  • Coaches can provide teachers with exemplars, readings, and even self-paced courses through the TORSH Talent resource library.  

From utilizing video technology to recognizing “hinge-moments” in the classroom to providing teachers with the ability to look at their coaching sessions any time they need to, TORSH Talent provides schools with a “one-stop-shop” for all their professional learning needs. 

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