Student Teaching Right Now? To Ask or Not to Ask Your Principal to do an Observation… That is the Question.

EDU Edge friend (Melissa) at Penn State sent us a question via email … “I’m presently doing my student teaching and a few people have suggested that I should ask the principal of my school to do an observation of me before I leave.  Why should I do this?  Do you think this is a good idea?”

Melissa, what these people are getting at is that having a formal observation done by the principal of your school would:

A. be excellent feedback and benefit your personal and professional development
B. be an excellent artifact to put into your interview portfolio
C. could potentially result in the principal being a quality reference on your resume. 

At first glance, appear to be some pretty reasonable assumptions here, but are they valid?  To test drive them, we forwarded your questions to the school administrators in The EDU Edge consortium.  We received mixed responses with mixed emotions.  Half responded that it was perfectly fine, but the other half worried about their own professional time constraints to do this for student teachers. 

The principalship is a very demanding position.  Time is always scarce and if classroom observations are done well, they take time.  For a typical observation, the principal would have to:

  • schedule a pre-observation conference
  • review your lesson plan
  • take the time to discuss it with you
  • actually observe you in action for at least a class period
  • write up the observation itself
  • give you specific written feedback
  • meet with you afterward to discuss the lesson
  • suggest how it could be improved upon, etc, etc.

Our point is that you need to know that, as a student teacher, you are not a permanent member of the principal’s faculty yet.  With all the other responsibilities the principal has to take care of, this is asking a lot, even of the most willing and generous school leader.  That doesn’t mean that you don’t ask (we’ll get to that in a second) but please know that it is not a small favor.  The fact that you are questioning the advice that you are getting, shows us that you are considerate and respectful and we commend you for this. 

With the input of our EDU Edge colleagues, a quality answer on whether to ask or not hinges on a couple variables:

1.  Do you know the principal?  Not just who he or she is, but do you know and have a relationship with them?
2.  How comprehensive and time consuming is the school’s/district’s teacher observation process?  The process that we described above is an example of the process that principals work with in many schools and districts across the country.  Not all are this time consuming though.  If they are check boxes or your school has a process that can be done more efficiently, this definitely helps.
3.  How large is the school?  Our EDU Edge consortium members state that a 200 student K-3 Elementary building is going to have a much more intimate feel and be easier for that principal to do a full-blown observation than a high school of 3000 students and a faculty of 200 teachers.  We’re not saying one job is easier than the other, simply stating that the ability to extend this opportunity to a student teacher may be different.
4.  How are the responsibilities of the administrative team divided?  If there is an assistant principal for curriculum and instruction or one who supervises all of the teachers in your content area, then asking the principal is unlikely to produce the best observation or one at all.

Many people may disagree with us on this one Melissa.  But our advice comes directly from the consortium of administrators that make up The EDU Edge so it is important to weigh these variables in your specific situation and then go from there. 

Another option suggested by The EDU Edge consortium, was to plan an innovative lesson and invite the principal to come by to see their students in action.  If you decide to go this route, you want to ensure that the principal is seeing you at your best.  With an advanced invitation, the principal can easily add the visit to her normal walkthroughs observations.  Once she’s seen you in action, you can then more comfortably ask her to be a phone reference for you.  Ultimately, this is a much less time consuming option for the principal and you don’t put them in a tough spot.  At the same time, you get an administrative reference on your resume.  Chapter 4 of The Insider’s Guide to the Teacher Interview ©2012 discusses selection of appropriate teacher references in detail as well as how to keep them useful for your job searches during many years to come.

Good luck to you Melissa!  And, good luck to all of you following The EDU Edge.  Please come back and let us know how it went so we can all learn together. 

Yours in a Partnership in Learning,
The EDU Edge

(Please feel free to contact us with additional questions … we’re on Twitter, Facebook and you can email us at info@theEDUedge.com  Tell us what interview obstacles you’re dealing with and trying to overcome.  We’ll do our best to respond and we welcome dialogue from others going through the same process.)

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