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The One Lesson Observation Tip That Would Never Occur to You

It's called a "hairy hand."

teacher teaching an engaging lesson

Every year I wonder what lesson I should teach for my formal observation.

When I first started teaching, I wanted my lesson to hit it out of the park. I wanted to impress my principal, to have her see me as an experienced educator, rather than a newcomer who was just learning her craft. So I spent hours — HOURS — writing a lesson plan, justifying my activities, and providing “artifacts.” I created lessons that used all the educational “buzzwords.” Never mind that I put far more time into that one lesson than for any other lesson of the whole school year.

I continued to dedicate inordinate amounts of time developing lesson plans each year that I hoped would convince my principals into thinking they were smart for hiring me. These types of lessons would pop up in my Instagram and Pinterest feeds, which would confirm my use of them.

"It wasn’t until a conversation I had with a colleague who had worked in marketing before changing careers caused me to come to my “ah-ha” moment."

It wasn’t until a conversation I had with a colleague who had worked in marketing before changing careers caused me to come to my “ah-ha” moment.

It was about a “hairy hand.”

I’ll get to the hairy hand, but the story actually goes back a little further.

As I progressed further through my career, I became more comfortable in my abilities. I continued to seek out advice, look for inspiration, and learn as much as I could through graduate and post-graduate studies, as well as through professional development activities. In short, my day-to-day lessons used best practices, so why shouldn’t my formal observation lessons value them?

I realized that the dog-and-pony show lessons I was writing had all the bells and whistles but little else. And I do not believe in pedagogical gimmicks.

So I began using the lessons I teach each day as the basis for my observations. Guided reading, guided math, text mapping, close reading. These are the heart of best practices, and they are what I feel most strongly about in my teaching.

So what about that "hairy hand"?

My colleague told a story about a marketing campaign she was working on that just couldn’t seem to please her boss. He’d find something wrong with all parts of it, to her immense frustration. Each time she’d have to go back to square one. On her last attempt, she decided to intentionally add in something she knew he would find fault with but could be easily fixed. She literally added a photo in the campaign that included a man with a particularly hairy hand. As expected, he pointed it out, she removed it, and he finally approved her project.

What does this have to do with teaching?

Let’s be honest: no administrator is going to say his teachers’ lessons are always distinguished. “No one lives in distinguished,” a former principal was fond of saying. They’re required to find some area for teachers to improve. The solution? Just add in a small “hairy hand” to your lesson. Something that can be easily “remedied” on future lessons. Silly? Maybe.

But when you work so hard on your best practices, an algorithm designed to evaluate your teaching shouldn’t keep you from being recognized for it.

How do you approach formal observations? Share with us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.

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Want to read more from this author? Check out Amy's tips for managing student behavior, dealing with difficult parents, building a positive classroom community, learn what special education teachers wish "regular" education teachers knew, or find out how to implement guided math.

Author Bio:

Amy McKinney, M.Ed., is a third grade teacher in Pennsylvania. She has been teaching for eleven years, eight of them in special education. Her experience working with students with special needs has helped form her philosophy on teaching and collaborating with her colleagues. Follow her on Instagram: @theuniqueclassroom.

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