Navigating a New Role

This year, as a science supervisor, I will be observing teachers. I’m not sure whether I should interact with them during classroom visits if I see something that could be improved. How involved should I be? —J., Pennsylvania

You have a wonderful opportunity to observe (and learn from) a variety of teachers and share your expertise.

Discuss with your administrator what your role(s) should be: evaluator, mentor, observer, or coach. How often are you expected to visit each classroom? How long are your observations (a whole class period vs. a brief walk-through)? Are there protocols or procedures you are expected to follow? These parameters can determine how involved you become, and your rapport with the teachers will depend on whether they see you as an intrusive administrator or a trusted colleague.

When you’re in a classroom, intervene immediately if you notice a safety issue. Otherwise, be discreet. You don’t want to undermine the teacher or react to an event without knowing the context. You can call a teacher’s attention to something without interrupting the class. Perhaps while students are working, you could have a quiet chat with the teacher or give the teacher a note.

Afterwards, reflect on your observations before meeting with the teacher. How will they help the teacher improve instruction or relationships with students? As an observer/evaluator, I would debrief with teachers with discussion-starting questions: How did you know that students were engaged? What would happen if…? Did you notice that…? What happened right before I came in? What happened after I left?

The supervisory process is time-consuming, but reflection and face-to-face discussions can make it worthwhile for everyone.

[The article, “Should Supervisors Intervene During Classroom Visits?” (Kappan, October 2015) has a good discussion on in-class coaching.]


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  1. Rustina DT Sharpe
    Posted September 25, 2016 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

    I love getting positive feedback after observations. After observations. One of the things that fall into pet peeves is when the observer interrupts an activity I am doing. I get that it is for best intentions, however, once interrupted, I find there is difficulty in getting the children’s attention back on track as well as my own thinking. Usually observers do not know my teaching style; they may misinterpret my pausing to allow children to think and answer as I am the one stuck. Or, they feel that I am not providing enough activity for the children waiting in line, which just lined up, when I am waiting for them to solve a simple question, such as “How many cups do we need for outside?”
    If you can, talk to the teacher before hand, I have a friend who loves it when someone interrupts and has a better way of teaching something. You need to figure out what type of teacher you are observing- someone who appreciates teachable moments from peers or someone like me who prefers for you to wait.
    I hope that makes sense. Good luck.
    (Oh, and if it is a prekindergarten teacher, be sure that you understand how prekindergarten classrooms work, how children learn through play, what is meant by developmentally appropriate procedures, how to relate prek curriculum to your state’s teaching objectives/common core, and be willing to be patient and play.)

  2. mary B
    Posted September 26, 2016 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    Hi Rustina — Your comment is spot on! You make a great point in your last paragraph about the observer understanding the subject or level of the class being observed. One of my principals had been a high school English teacher, and he did not really understand the hands-on nature of inquiry science education at the middle level or the responsibilities of managing/organizing science laboratories! — MsMentor

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