Like clockwork, the bi-annual chocolate/candle/magazine/cookie sale catalog comes home in your child’s backpack. Do you ever think: I get that schools are short on funds, but is this the most important thing they need from me?
As a parent you are part-consumer, part-partner, part-cheerleader of the school. You cannot fulfill any of those roles very efficiently if you don’t give the school some feedback on how they are doing.
The short answer is no. While certainly schools will put your candy sales to good use, they also desperately need something else--and they may not even know it.
As a parent you are part-consumer, part-partner, part-cheerleader of the school. You cannot fulfill any of those roles very efficiently if you don’t give the school some feedback on how they are doing. And I don’t mean ranting or raving on the school Facebook page. I mean the constructive and useful feedback that you can give a school through classroom observations.
There are many reason you may want to observe a class:
Of course, number one is that your feedback is critical to the growth and learning of the school.
Maybe your child tells you she’s confused about why she keeps getting in trouble.
Maybe your child tells you he has a big project coming up but has no idea what he’s supposed to do.
Or perhaps you are trying to make a decision about your child’s education — you suspect she may need additional support or more challenge but you aren’t sure.
Wait, my school doesn’t allow parent observations!
Well, “doesn’t allow” is a strong phrase. The fact is your child’s school may not have allowed them in the past, but that can change. With you. (You can email this article to get the conversation started.)
The latest federal education guidelines, called the Every Student Succeeds Act (2015), support parent engagement in new and exciting ways. The law says that schools should seek meaningful feedback from parents and support them in understanding standards and expectations. What better way to support parents in understanding and give meaningful feedback on their education system than in letting them see it in action? You can read more about it here or here to confirm what you’re proposing isn’t crazy or illegal.
Not only are classroom observations not illegal, they are super valuable to schools. Here are the benefits for the school (feel free to copy and paste these into an email that you send to the teacher or principal when you are proposing this idea).
Classroom observations by parents and community members can:
Build greater trust in teachers and the work they are doing.
Provide an outsider’s perspective that can give teachers new insights in their teaching practice.
Help parents understand what is expected of their children. This will lead to better academic support at home.
Create more informed parents. Parents who know what’s going on in a school are better partners, advocates and supporters.
Ok. I’m ready to do it! But how, exactly, do you conduct a class observation?
Being an objective observer is not easy, especially when it comes to your own children. So consider observing a class a grade ahead or behind your child to give yourself some perspective.
Before going to the observation:
Remind your student that you are going to be a silent observer and you will not be talking or participating in the class.
Schedule the window of time that you will observe and stick to it. 10 to 15 minutes should be good. Arrive early to give yourself plenty of time to sign in and get to the classroom.
Ask the teacher for something specific to look out for.
Consider getting a buddy to go with you. Twice the feedback is “twice as nice” and you can compare notes after you walk out of the classroom.
During the observation:
Turn off your phone and put it away. Seriously. Don’t take pictures or make phone calls or texts.
Stay for the full time you agreed upon. And that's it.
Don’t participate. Just silently observe.
Fill out the feedback sheet. If you child’s teacher didn’t give you a specific feedback sheet, use these prompts: “I notice… I wonder…”
Assume the teacher is doing things for a good reason. Think less, “Why are you teaching fractions like that?” And more, “I notice you explaining things to the whole class, but I wonder if the kids are understanding it. How are you checking? To me, three kids seem confused.”
Stick to giving feedback about the thing you know the most about — the kids. Do the children seem willing to participate? Or are they distracted? Are all the kids engaged? Or do some kids seem bored, frustrated or confused? How do they react to the teacher’s tone? Why? Sometimes an outsider can gauge the emotional pulse of a room more easily.
Remember that children are basically small, unpredictable primates. If they misbehave, don’t assume this is always how they are and the teacher always lacks control over the classroom.
After the observation
Mum’s the word. Respect the privacy of the students and the teacher. Certainly don’t talk about other kids’ behavior and certainly don’t bad-mouth the teacher. How would you like it if someone came into your place of work, watched you for ten minutes and then told everyone on Facebook you were terrible at your job? Constructive criticism has a place and that place is in a private feedback form.
Instead, publish the good news. Don’t keep the fact that you went and supported your school a secret. Post or email something like: “I observed _______’s class today and was impressed by_______. Thank you to the hard-working teachers out there!” If you really saw nothing to praise, give props to the teacher for opening up the classroom and being open to feedback. That kind of risk and willingness to improve will only make the school better.
Send a thank you note. Consider doing this the old-fashioned way with an honest-to-goodness handwritten thank you note. Thank the teacher for opening the classroom to you and describe one specific, positive thing you noticed. While you’re at it, thank the principal, too. This will help make parent classroom observations a regular practice at your school.