Thursday, December 26, 2013

Using Informal Observations to Gather Teaching Data

In Ohio, many districts have adopted into their teacher contracts the new Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES) developed by the Ohio Department of Education.  The evaluation system definitely has its positives and negatives depending on who you speak with.  In my opinion, one of the positives of the new system is the significance of informal observations (also known as a "walk-through").

At NLHS, Assistant Principal Jay Young and I try to get in as many informal observations per week as possible.  The number that the we accomplish fluctuates from week to week due to our daily schedules.    It is important to be visible and present in classrooms to see what students are learning, the different teaching methods that teachers are using, and to gain the pulse of the school environment.  During our informal observations, we use data collecting forms that enable the administration and teaching staff to see the different types of formative practices that are used, how often they are used, and any additional comments that we add for recommendations and/or encouragement.  The data is distributed at the end of each quarter and the staff can see how the building as a whole is doing regarding methods & strategies.

Before OTES, the informal observation was not applied to the teacher observation or evaluation process.  Now, OTES includes the informal observation process as another form of observing a teacher's body of work in the classroom.  An outsider may think this is a bad thing for a teacher; another chance for administrators to play a game of "gotcha!", but this is not the case.  It is a plus for teachers because it allows the administrator to see different types of teaching methods & strategies over a number of times during the evaluation cycle.  Teachers demonstrate to administrators their classroom abilities on a daily basis.

Some key aspects to include in order to have efficient, data retrieving informal observations:
1.  Create a schedule of whom you plan on visiting each week
This way, you are organized and can visit the teachers that you need to see for contract obligations.

2. Have access to mobile, wireless devices.
We use iPads for our informal observations, but you could use phones, laptops, etc.  It is important to have some type of device.  That give you the ability to supply immediate feedback to staff members.  This type of feedback is imperative for administrators.

3. Create a form for your data collection
Having a form to gather your teaching data (using surveymonkey, Google Forms) is important to figure out what is going well and what is not going well in your building or district.  Using a device and a form allows you to gather your evidence at the end of each quarter and deliver the data to the staff with feedback regarding practices.  We mirror our form with the OTES Informal Observation form.  This way, the staff knows what they are being evaluated on and how it will affect their evaluation.

4. Offer immediate feedback to staff
The staff loves to get feedback regarding their teaching methods and environment.  Even if your feedback is critical, many if not all teachers will use the feedback to get better.  That is the point of conducting informal observations.  Help teachers get better and give them encouragement, support, and recognition when they are doing things well.

5. Keep your observation time standard for all staff
We try and conduct our informal observations in 10 minute segments.  We remain in each room 10 minutes so we do not give preferential treatment (regarding time) to one teacher over another.

6. Make sure the staff knows what is expected of them in the classroom
If staff members are clear on their roles, they will know what is expected of them.  Having professional development on informal observations and the expectations of using different teaching methods & styles is extremely important.  At NLHS, we offered professional development to our staff on the OTES procedures, what is expected on teachers, and what we would be looking for during informal & formal observations.

Informal observations will offer you great insight into your classrooms.  Make time during each one of your days to get in the classroom and see what is going on.  It is an expectation of effective administrators.  Use the data that you accumulate during the observations to help your teachers and building grow.


  1. Great post, Bobby. Frequently, teachers tell me about something going on in their class within the next few days, when I visit their classroom. Sometimes, I'd like to see it because it is a great summative assessment (student presentations) and sometimes, honestly, I'd like to see it because it is an example of an instructional approach that the teacher hasn't previously demonstrated ("Yes, I'll actually be using the SmartBoard interactively tomorrow"). Do you re-arrange your plans to account for these later visits when the situation arises? I've found that doing so has a positive impact on teacher morale and improves communication between us. With that said, I guess it does open up one to charges of favoritism -- something you mentioned above...

  2. At times we re-arrange our plans, but not often. If a staff member mentions we should try to stop in that day, we do. We have not had a large influx of this occurring, so our informal observations for staff members are pretty even across the board. I agree with you, with the new evaluation system put in place by the state, we visit more classrooms and see new instructional practices and methods each day.