Observing other teachers

It’s hard for me to believe, but this school year marks my 8th year as an administrator. For the past 7 years I have had the privilege of observing thousands of hours of lessons taught by amazing teachers. One of the things that I have come to realize is that I would be a much better teacher today than I was when I was still in the classroom. 

Why do I feel that way? 

I have learned more about teaching by watching the amazing things teachers do on a daily basis. It seems like almost every time I walk into a classroom, something happens that makes me pause and reflect on why the teacher made that choice. What does that reflection lead to? Growth. 

When I was still a classroom teacher, I had my daily prep, just like everyone else. I used it for things that I felt were important; grading papers, working on lesson plans, or preparing for upcoming lessons (and sometimes for chatting with my teammates) among the hundreds of other things that would happen during my prep. One of the things that I never did though – observe the master teachers in my building.  

At the time, I probably felt like I didn’t have time to just sit and watch someone teach. After all, I could just talk to them before or after school to get some ideas and resources from them. But the reality is that just talking with someone doesn’t bring in all the nuance that can come from observing a full lesson. Not to mention all the things that teachers do during a lesson that have nothing to do with their content. Things like their use of proximity with a student, the tone of voice when asking or answering a question, or even the way they handle a transition from one part of an activity to another. There is so much that can be learned by sitting and being present. 

So often as teachers, we live in the little bubble of our classroom during the school day. We may know the topic that another teacher said they were covering, and we may share something about a lesson we’re excited about, but there’s no way to really know what’s happening in a classroom until you get a chance to sit inside and observe. We need to be brave enough to break down those barriers that exist and give a little time to observation. 

And I know there’s another side to this coin. What if you’re the one being observed? I think we all get a little bit nervous when there is another adult in the classroom. But here’s the reality, just as King Solomon said, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.”  

As iron sharpens irons, so a friend sharpens a friend.

We all become our better selves through learning from one another. Think of the compliment that is being given to you if someone wants to come to your room to observe. They are giving up one of the most valuable commodities, time, to try to learn from you. We want to create an environment where teachers sharpen teachers. 

I have some ideas about how I may integrate this idea of observing others in my own building, but I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you spent time observing other teachers? What have you learned from that experience? What are your ideas about how you might manage a system for observing one another? Share your thoughts in the comments below! 

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