In the Classroom

Teacher Evaluation Support: Effective Systems for Success

If you’ve ever wondered if your administrator has a distinct plan for what to look for when doing a lesson observation or teacher evaluation, you’re not alone (even if you’re not a new teacher). Sometimes they are very specific in their “observing teachers in the classroom checklist” and their expectations, and other times, you are left in the dark, just hoping what you are doing is scoring brownie points. There are some basic classroom observation tips that will not only score big but will also have you wondering, “Why didn’t I think of that?!”

Make it easy for an administrator to know how to write a classroom observation for you with these ideas and generic classroom observation tips that will work in any type of classroom. These classroom observation tips will make all the difference in your level of confidence and sheer performance in the classroom.

As a hint, the best teachers find that these strategies are a great way to showcase student achievement and student learning on observation day….and they’re easy to implement (even for a veteran teacher well versed in the observation process).

The Reality of the Classroom

I found something way too real on my Instagram page (Wait….you don’t have a teacher Instagram?! You need to change that ASAP!). I came across a graphic and I pondered it for a while since it was so on target, it was a little unnerving. While there are a ton of classroom observation tips out there, the fact that this struggle is SO REAL is very telling of the current system in place:

classroom observation tips

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As teachers, we constantly worry whether or not we’re doing enough for our students and if we are truly following through with effective teaching. We know about their side stories, their home lives, and the struggles that they have, be it learning or family or whether they have enough to eat for lunch. Most teachers try to take each and every one of these issues into mind when drafting a lesson or reacting to a student in the classroom.

We know our students, inside and out, and we know that some of them are going to naturally have a more difficult time than others.

But we think if we can come up with a good idea when lesson planning and it happens to be what the principal wants to see, it will prove our worth as a better teacher.

While that may be true, a good teacher doesn’t only reach those students who are struggling.

Reaching ALL the Students

On the other end of the spectrum, we know we have the “high flyers” who also must have their needs met with effective teaching methods in order to keep them challenged. It is a balancing act to make sure everyone is getting what they need in the classroom, us as teachers included. This is why these classroom observation tips matter so much in our own teaching and when thinking about future observations

However, there are teachers out there that don’t do any of this. Just as in any profession, there are bad eggs out there that make a bad name for the rest of us. You can give them classroom observation tips for days and it wouldn’t even matter.

Fortunately, you’re not that teacher.

No, you’re here specifically for those classroom observation tips so you can improve your teaching skills. You want to be the best teacher you can be so your students get the most out of their classroom experience. You don’t want to miss out on any teaching opportunities, which is why you’re here looking for effective teaching tips.

The best thing that you can do, for starters, is to try to stop being your own worst critic. Finding ways to reach your students while doing awesome for both formal and informal observations is a great opportunity, but the best lesson in all of it is to give yourself grace (and to accept constructive feedback….especially if it’s from peer observation).

We know that some days in the classroom will be harder than others (and yes, Murphy’s Law suggests that it will be on these days that your administrator pops in), but those moments don’t define your teacher effectiveness. You might think that as an experienced instructor, you should be able to handle anything that comes your way. While yes, you may have more of a handle on things than in your first year, we are always finding new best practices and sometimes reverting to a solid backup plan to see good things come out of your classroom…and that’s okay!

So, think of this article as a little professional development: you can use these effective teaching methods in your own classroom so you’ll know exactly how to respond when an administrator walks through the door during a lesson.

Let’s provide you with some effective teaching tips and strategies so your administrator will always have wonderful things to say about you after his or her classroom observation.

A Change in the Expectation of Instructional Strategies

About a decade ago, it was unfortunate but not much could be done. Then, education, as we know it today, began to surface. Classroom observations and teacher evaluation procedures changed and, even though it was great to pinpoint those teachers that are not keeping up-to-date with their practices, it also dumped heaps of undue stress on those who are doing their best for every student.

Traditional instructional strategies simply weren’t cutting it anymore.

While one administrator might give you some classroom observation tips for next time to fulfill a vision of effective teaching, the next administrator might not think those are as important during your teacher evaluation. How is it possible to register on the same page with everyone?

It’s no secret that the role of the teacher has changed. Many things that used to be expected to be taught in the home are creeping onto teachers’ plates as expectations of lessons that should also be taken care of in the classroom…all this on top of an ever-growing content-based curriculum as well. This is why these classroom observation tips are so important.

There used to be an understanding that there was a responsibility on the student to perform at an appropriate, grade-based level. Somewhere along the line, it became a direct reflection on the teacher if that performance was not where it should be.

While yes, there are certainly teachers out there who are not effective in their execution which is clearly visible during any type of teacher evaluation, there are many more who are and are doing the best they can in a system that expects a teacher to do it all with however many students are staring back at them (and in some places, like what came to surface in Los Angeles, can be as many as 46 students!).

On top of the stress of this, now it is required for administrators to come and do extremely detailed observations within a stringent teacher evaluation system, often unannounced, but only for a set period of time (which is often not terribly long). While these classroom observation tips help with that, there’s still a bigger elephant in the room.

Creating a Student-Centered Environment for Teacher Evaluation and Professional Growth

In recent years, teacher evaluation systems have undergone significant reforms in order to foster teacher quality, improve student success, and enhance overall education quality. The U.S. Department of Education, along with organizations like the Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Education Association, have recognized the need for a shift toward student-centered evaluation processes. This shift acknowledges the equal importance of teacher performance and student outcomes, aiming to create a supportive and growth-oriented environment for educators. In this essay, we will explore how teacher evaluation systems can be transformed to prioritize student-centered approaches and provide meaningful feedback to foster professional growth.

The traditional teacher evaluation model often relied heavily on test scores and a value-added model to assess teacher effectiveness. However, the new evaluation systems focus on a broader set of factors, including student learning objectives, formative assessments, and student feedback. These changes reflect a deeper understanding of the multifaceted nature of teaching and the need for more holistic measures of student learning.

One critical element in creating a student-centered environment for teacher evaluation is the frequent observation of classroom teachers. School administrators, assistant principals, department heads, and even teacher leaders play a crucial role in this process. Ongoing feedback, provided through video observations and reflective practice, allows teachers to continually improve their instructional practices. These observations should be more than just a box-ticking exercise; they should serve as opportunities for professional growth and dialogue.

Moreover, involving students in the evaluation process can lead to positive results. Collecting student feedback and assessing student progress can provide valuable insights into teaching practice. While students may not be experts in pedagogy, their perspectives on the classroom environment, teaching style, and their own learning experiences are invaluable.

Class size and the school level also play pivotal roles in teacher evaluations. Smaller class sizes allow for more individualized instruction, while evaluations conducted at the school level consider the unique challenges and opportunities that each school faces. District configuration administrators can design evaluation processes that reflect the specific needs of their schools, enhancing the relevance of teacher evaluations.

In addition to classroom observations, teacher reflection is another important aspect of evaluation. Teachers should be encouraged to critically analyze their instructional practices, set professional goals, and engage in professional learning opportunities. The process of self-assessment and continuous improvement is at the heart of teacher growth.

To support teacher reflection and growth, evaluation tools should align with high-quality teaching standards. These standards should encompass not only instructional practices but also the ability to adapt to diverse student needs and effectively employ formative assessments to gauge student progress. High-quality evaluation should focus on instructional leadership and teacher training to ensure that educators have the knowledge and skills necessary to provide a high level of student support.

State laws and state boards of education play a significant role in shaping evaluation reforms. They can set the framework for teacher performance evaluations, ensuring that they promote positive student outcomes and meaningful feedback. By emphasizing professional learning opportunities and providing support systems for educators, states can encourage high-quality teaching practice.

To measure the impact of these reforms, evaluation systems should move beyond summative conferences to consider the overall progress and development of individual teachers and groups of teachers. These evaluations should take into account student growth, as well as measures of student learning, beyond just test scores.

Creating a student-centered environment for teacher evaluation is essential for improving teacher quality, fostering professional growth, and ultimately enhancing student success. These new evaluation systems prioritize the ongoing development of educators, provide high-quality feedback, and focus on the needs of students in a way that traditional models did not.

By embracing a holistic approach that values both teacher performance and student outcomes, we can work towards creating excellent schools that benefit all students.

For further reading, educators, school administrators, and policymakers should explore resources from organizations like the GTL Center, the National Council on Teacher Quality, and intermediate school districts dedicated to supporting the evolution of teacher evaluation processes.

The Issue with the Current Teacher Evaluation System

While I understand that an unannounced observation and teacher evaluation can “catch” a poorly planned teacher, it can also be a “gotcha” moment for a teacher who was taking some time to do something off-task for their class or maybe addressing an issue that isn’t on the lesson plan.

While there are many administrators out there who would be very understanding of this, there are also plenty that are not, and a teacher’s rating can suffer because of what a few unannounced minutes looked like.

Is it really an effective teacher evaluation system if it’s not a true indicator of what happens in the classroom?

Those minutes might be at the beginning of something that will have a glorious, tie-it-all-together ending, but the administrator already left. I was told by an administrator once that sometimes parts of lessons can’t be rated highly because it is just a snippet of the bigger picture, but that is what is observed.

That’s all well and good, but what if it just so happens that those “snippets” are the only times an administrator sees what is going on in a classroom? What if the only teacher evaluation comments that someone receives are during these unfortunately timed snippets of teaching?

It doesn’t look good.

A teacher evaluation form should take this into account, but so often, it doesn’t.

I am HOPING most of you are reading this and are astounded to hear that there are some administrators out there who only pop into a classroom to do an observation. I am HOPING that most of your students don’t find it odd that there is someone else in the classroom and that it is normal. I am HOPING that most of your administrators have a really good grasp on what you do in the classroom from multiple encounters they have had, not just what is “formal”.

The reality is, there are many, MANY schools where that is not the case…and that is something that needs to be addressed beyond just some classroom observation tips.

We are at a really interesting time in the educational field. I like to think the pendulum has swung as far as it can go in this “teacher-bashing” system and is peaking and about to start swinging back. There are many signs that this is the case. However, there are also many places that are very antiquated in their systems, and that is concerning.

No matter what end of the classroom observation spectrum you land, the reality is that teachers should be checked in the classroom to make sure what they are doing is okay. There is nothing wrong with an extra set of eyes making suggestions on how to make something magical even better.

I hope that most of you are in a positive environment where this is the case. Either way, teacher observations are stressful, and sometimes, all you can do is laugh about it…..

Classroom Observation Ideas

Unfortunately, when it comes to teaching, we can’t just read a how-to book like some genres of the corporate world (ad). However, there are some classroom observation tips that you can incorporate in your classroom that make it a little less stressful when an administrator does pop into your classroom to do a formal teacher observation.

Having your students trained to be self-directed is a really great start. While it might be daunting at first, creating a classroom environment where the students know they need to be on task at all times in order to get the job done automatically guarantees that when you are observed, you will get marks for your students being engaged and working.

Hands-on activities being normalized in the classroom will make it just any other day when an administrator walks in, not just lucky timing for a dog and pony show. Believe it or not, I have had times when my students were so involved with what they were working on, that they didn’t even realize there was an administrator in the room until she walked over to them.

Because of this very fact, my students were able to explain, in detail, what they were doing and why they were doing it (which also scored big points).

As a matter of fact, one of the best teacher evaluation forms I ever had returned to me was a day when I had students teaching students. I was just a facilitator that kept the momentum going through the class period.

It’s the Relationships (all of them)

It’s in these moments that you absolutely must make sure you are showing the relationships you have with your individual students. We are supposed to be differentiating in the classroom, so making sure your administrator can see that you have those relationships is incredibly beneficial.

Remember, student-centered learning allows you to have those little conversations throughout the entire day without taking away from anything else, so be certain to showcase this. It’s also awesome if you can show that you can have those conversations and the other students stay on task without thinking they have an “opportunity” because you aren’t looking.

If this is normal for your classroom management, it will look seamless…and rather impressive.

When you know your students are on task and you’ve made those connections, you may also want to casually ask your observer if they have any questions. Though it will be obvious that the students are working, as an outsider who may not have a full grasp on what they are completing, they may have some questions that need clarification at the moment. They may say no and then ask them during your post-observation meeting, and that is fine. 

A successful teacher observation with teacher smiling

I have found if you have a 30-second conversation with them and help them with anything that seems confusing at the moment, it helps them have some more clarity as they finish watching what is unfolding in your classroom.  They will certainly be impressed with these basic classroom observation tips in action.

Remember, no matter what your administrator’s agenda is, they all want to see the same features in any classroom they go into:  use of time, use of space, differentiation, questioning techniques, rigor, and participation.  In a student-centered classroom, all of these elements are innately built in.  If you can show that your students are used to tackling ALL of them, you will be showing your elements of being a highly effective teacher.

Listening to these classroom observation tips might seem like a pipe dream. On the one hand, they may seem a bit vague. However, it is important to understand that everyone’s classroom is different because the dynamic of YOUR students is different than anyone else’s. The vision and implementation of student-centered learning in your classroom will be just slightly different than mine because it will naturally differentiate for each and every one of your students as individuals.

I am not saying this is something you can try to set up when you hear the whispers that the admins are going to be coming around later in the week. This is a classroom culture that needs to be created. It takes some time, but once it’s set, it runs on autopilot.

If you’re doubting the process, I PROMISE you that it can work in your classroom.

These aren’t just classroom observation tips that will help you do a little dance in front of someone who is deciding your merit as a teacher; it is a culture shift in your classroom that will help you land the observation scores you desire and will have a classroom that is functioning in the 21st century.

5 Specific Teacher Evaluation Tips to Remember

So to summarize, here are 5 specific classroom observation tips that you can begin practicing in the classroom tomorrow before your administrator even enters your classroom:

#1: Create engaging lessons that naturally differentiate

This immediately looks overwhelming, but when you do it right, it takes no longer to develop lessons that naturally differentiate than a more traditional lesson would. The important thing is that you are determining the level of differentiation BEFORE you complete your lesson. You do NOT want to work backward and try to create activities to meet each differentiated goal, because it will take exponentially more planning time!

#2: Develop flexible seating arrangements that can be adapted based on student needs

Flexible seating arrangements are possible in any room and can be created in your specific classroom. If you need ideas, please feel free to email me!

#3: Incorporate a variety of assessments that do not require pencil/paper or a one-time use Scantron sheet

I have several posts on this blog already about how to develop quick but rigorous classroom assessments, so again, please feel free to contact me if you need some specific ideas! Google Forms is an excellent option for paperless assessment.

#4: Utilize wait times and silence periods before class starts or between activities without lecturing students constantly

This can be more of a struggle than it sounds like because we naturally want to lecture our students and explain everything we do (it’s how we were taught, after all), but this is one of the most important ways we can differentiate for our students and free up more time during your day. In terms of classroom observation tips, this is one to really concentrate on long-term.

#5: Develop a culture of care and respect in your classroom by getting to know each and every student

The key to accomplishing classroom observation tips like this one is to make sure students have a common purpose and goal to work towards. If your class is working together as a team, then each student will naturally want to do their best and not let their teammates down. Working in this student-led manner will also give you the opportunity to get to know your students on a personal basis.

One final quick note: I would like to mention that the time period we teach in is an arbitrary time frame given by our administration, and is not a reflection of how much time we should spend on a particular topic. So if you feel like you need to spend more or less time on some of these activities, it is completely up to your discretion!

In short: there is no one-size-fits-all lesson plan that works for every teacher and student in the classroom. It is all about finding what works best for you and your students. These classroom observation tips are a great start to the next chapter of your teaching journey (which will be less stressful than those in the past!).

Although observation day is stressful, and we can have the most detailed lesson plan known to man, it really comes down to showing that we are subject matter experts to our school administrator. One of the best ways to do that during your observation lesson (and every lesson, truly, not just your observed lesson), is that move to a learner-centric approach. Classroom rules are great and individual lessons may vary, but focusing your students’ attention on a daily basis is going to make your best efforts in the classroom pay off, especially during the evaluation process.

So whether it’s your first observation of the year and you’re an experienced teacher trying to hone in on your craft further, or you’re new out of the gate and are trying different ways to create the perfect lesson (that maybe a fellow teacher or your assistant principal will have some interest in observing), or ANY scenario in between, just remember that a successful classroom observation comes from a teaching style that gets your students excited about learning on a regular basis, not just when someone is there to give you constructive feedback.

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This article was originally published on November 14, 2018

After moving from a teacher-dominated classroom to a truly student-centered one, Jenn found herself helping colleagues who wanted to follow her lead.  In 2018 she decided to expand outside of her school walls and help those out there who were also trying to figure out this fantastic method of instruction to ignite intrinsic motivation in their students.  Read more about her journey with Student-Centered World at


  • Shannon

    These are wonderful tips, no matter how long you’ve been teaching! I like the idea of asking if they have any questions, definitely gives you a chance to clarify anything they might be wondering about. Thanks for the insights!

  • Laura

    Thanks for sharing these tips! It’s always nerve wracking whenever admin walks into your classroom – I’ll definitely be keeping this in mind!

  • Nicole

    These are great tips for teachers. Sometimes it is intimidating to be observed but these tips will give teachers the confidence in their abilities and lesson.

  • TheIntrovertedOnlineTeacher

    I completely agree with these tips! Incorporating hands-on activities before the observation is especially important to help students get used to the flow of any particular activity.

  • Tara

    Formal observations always make me nervous. These are great tips for preparing! I know my principal is always looking for differentiation and student engagement.

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