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4 Tips to Help Teachers Bounce Back After a Tough Observation

A less-than-stellar observation can be discouraging, especially for new teachers. Here's how to bounce back and regain your confidence after a stressful evaluation.

It’s your first year teaching.

You are trying out a new strategy in your lesson plan today, and you’re not sure how the students will react. You are also balancing some difficult behaviors and trying to keep everything running smoothly. Just as you launch students into the activity, your principal walks in and your knees begin to shake.

a rocky observation or poor evaluation can shake a teacher's confidence

You'll likely receive frequent observations during your first year at a new school (especially if you are a true first-year teacher).

If you're like me during my first year, your stomach knots up when your principal strolls in for a formal observation or even just a quick stop-through.

However, the more your principal visits during your first few years, the better!

By making your classroom an open book, you’ll build trust with the school administration. You’ll have more opportunities to grow and improve. And if your principal is visiting often, one rough lesson will be less likely to negatively color their view of your abilities.

Try to think of it this way: if your principal is a frequent visitor, lucky you!

Now, you'll be hard-pressed to find a teacher who was never observed during a rocky lesson, resulting in a stressful evaluation meeting. It can be hard to get back in the classroom with confidence after you principal systematically breaks down all the areas where you can improve your lesson structure, behavior management, classroom routines, and student engagement.

Here are my four tips for "bouncing back" even better after receiving a critical evaluation.

1. Remember their job description

One of the most important parts of a principal or vice principal's position is fostering teacher development! It's their job to look for areas of potential growth and bring them to your attention.

If your principal gave no critical feedback after an observation, they would not be meeting their job description. A principal who gives you concrete actionable feedback every time they observe is doing what's best for your development.

2. Keep reaching out to build the relationship

When your principal lets you know that you are not meeting expectations, you might feel hurt or embarrassed. You might even (irrationally) fear that your principal doesn't like you. It is tempting to retreat and avoid them. You may find yourself hoping they don't visit your room and get nervous during conversations with them. This is natural, but it's not in your best interest — or your students'.

Here's the thing.

In addition to evaluating you, it's also the job of your principal to give you support and resources you need to make the improvements they want to see.

It's okay to ask them to fulfill this part of their job description. In fact, when you refuse to shy away from constructive criticism and ask for help, you are strengthening your relationship and showing them what kind of teacher you are willing to become.

If you get critical feedback, keep an ongoing dialogue open! Change the narrative away from "boss evaluating employee" and shift it to "experienced educator collaborating with a novice." In order to create this new narrative for yourself and your principal, try some of the following:

  • Send a lesson and ask for feedback (around whatever area of focus you've been asked to address);
  • Set up a follow-up meeting for a few weeks after the initial feedback to review strategies you've been trying;
  • Ask for a consult on curriculum you are developing;
  • Invite your principal to visit your classroom a few weeks later to provide more feedback on your focus area;
  • Invite your principal to visit your classroom to see something really awesome the students are working on

Principals don't expect perfection from a new teacher (or from any teacher).

However, they do expect continual improvement and a desire to seek out new and innovative methods.

If you reach out and ask your principal to work with you to solve a problem, you show them that you're the kind of motivated teacher they need on their staff long term. You'll also show them that you are more concerned with becoming an excellent teacher than getting a good "grade" on your evaluation.

Again, all new teachers struggle. Above all, your principal wants to see you apply a growth mindset to your practice. We teach growth mindset to our students — why not use it ourselves?

3. Identify the two or three biggest takeaways and document them

After an evaluation meeting, make sure to narrow down the key points your principal made. What are the areas where they most want to see growth? Write these goals down as action steps and start documenting as you go!

There are two main reasons I recommend that you narrow your focus and document your journey.

First, documenting will give you a sense of control and allow you to see the progress you're making (and yes, you are definitely making progress).

Second, you'll be able to provide this documentation to your principal during your next meeting. Even if you have not yet "fixed" whatever area of focus you've been given, you'll be able to demonstrate that you are making a real effort that is sure to soon pay off.

You'll be most successful if you chose just a few focus areas. During your first year, you won't "fix" everything, but you can make great strides in key areas that impact student learning.

4. Ask for peer support

During my first year, I had a fantastic mentor who told me what to expect in evaluation meetings. In fact, many of the more experienced teachers on my team ended up sharing their own evaluation experiences. They'd all had "tough observations" and survived to become better teachers.

Because of this, I knew going in that I would receive some critical, painful, and highly useful feedback. I also knew that this was normal. I was able to enter evaluation meetings during my first year with appropriate expectations. This allowed me to actually focus on the feedback instead of being distracted by fear and embarrassment. (Of course, that's not to say I wasn't very nervous!)

My suggestion is that new teachers build open honest relationships with more experienced colleagues in their school. They can help you understand what to expect from your principal in advance. You'll then be able to measure your experience to that of other teachers and determine if the level of critique you receive is typical. As a bonus, after your evaluation meeting, you’ll have someone to vent to and decompress with!

Every teacher has experienced cringeworthy observations. Every new teacher becomes filled with nerves when their principal walks through the door.

But the process of observation and evaluation is intended to help you grow. It’s your process, so use these tips to take control and make yourself the best teacher you can be.

 

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Want more from this author? Check out Nicole's 6 reasons to use project-based learning in diverse schools, her advice on how to avoid the 5 pitfalls of project-based learning, or her steps for facilitating a productive current events discussion with students.
Author Bio:

Nicole Nicholas is a urban public school teacher who is passionate about designing curriculum that is rigorous, engaging, inquiry driven and socially conscious. She loves learning about and discussing creative ways to support and differentiate for students with a wide spectrum of needs.

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