K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

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  • 'Tis the season...for observations: When you're facing an observation, keep your focus on your students, and think of it as an opportunity to work with administrators and gain a new perspective on your teaching.
  • An introduction to teacher research: Every day, teachers develop lesson plans, evaluate student work, and share outcomes with students, parents, and administrators. Teacher research is simply a more intentional and systematic version of what good teachers already do. This article explains the basic process of teacher research, including formulation of a research question, data collection and analysis, and writing up your findings.

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A good teacher is always becoming a better teacher. One of the most powerful ways to do this is to observe other teachers. You should observe teachers who teach your grade level or subject. You should watch those you have heard are “good” teachers. And you should look to learn from experienced teachers. But you can also learn from teachers who teach outside of your area, from teachers with less-than-perfect practice, and from other new teachers. Even if you have to leave a stack of ungraded papers to visit another class in your one free half-hour of the day, it should be one of your highest priorities. You will learn something every time you do it.

Observing within your school

The easiest way to see other teachers at work is within your school. Your school might already have a system set up to allow you to do this. Your administration might even arrange for a substitute and suggest which teachers you should observe. But even if you aren’t so lucky, you can usually arrange it yourself. Just ask! You might ask your mentor or principal whose class it might be good to watch, or you can just go to someone you would like to observe and ask. More often than not, teachers will be more than happy to welcome you into their classrooms.

You can use this practice of observation to learn more about particular instructional styles, class types or students. For instance, if you are interested in doing more group work with your class, but have felt nervous about it, ask around and find out who does a lot of group work and arrange to see a lesson that uses groups. If you have an especially large or small class, observe one like it. If you are having difficulty relating to a particular student, ask to observe a teacher that seems to have success with that student. And of course, if you know of a teacher whose style you admire, you should ask to observe him or her.

Observing in other schools

This can often be arranged, especially if you are the only one who teaches a particular subject at your school. It usually requires missing more than a single planning period, unless another school is very close or has a much later afternoon schedule than your school. Ask your principal if she or he could help with this. If not, it might be worth using a professional leave day to do so.