What to Look for in a Classroom Observation Bookmark

  Do you know exactly what you should be looking for when you go in the classroom?
Have you ever been in a classroom and it reminded you of the economics teacher in Ferris Bueller's Day Off?

I look for several go-to items when observing in a classroom.  These 12 items are part of my observation checklist.  I also made them in a bookmark size for you. 
Download What to Look for in a Classroom Observation Bookmark  

Let's take a look at the twelve.

1.  Student Engagement-Are the majority of the students engaged and participating in the lesson?  I enjoy observing students while in groups, or completing tasks cards around the room, or involved station activities, etc.  However, direct teach is also essential.  During a direct teach time, I look for students participating in the lesson and how many students volunteer to answer questions.  Another big component of student engagement is allowing students to interact with the lesson.  We don't want to observe "sit and get" type lessons.  We want students thinking, interacting, discussing, and involved in a variety of ways.  Using Interactive Engagement Activities and Strategy Strips, make student engagement easy! 

This resource includes 30 interactive student engagement activities to get students moving in the class and focused on the lesson.  Easy to prepare ready to go!

2.  Instructional Strategies- Instructional strategies are key to reaching all levels of students.  For example, differentiation, class discussions, cooperative learning, Think-Pair-Share, hands-on experiments, and technology, are just a few instructional strategies.  We want to scaffold the lesson to meet the different levels of students.  There are many instructional strategies.  How we teach does matter.  Students learn more when they are engaged and when there are multiple ways to be involved. 

3.  Classroom Management- This not only pertains to student behavior but management of materials and organization of materials.  Are the materials for the lesson ready?  Class time is not wasted because there is a lack of organization.  When class time is not well spent on preparation of materials and organizational skills, then negative student behavior will surface. 

4.  Rigor Rate- Our goal in every school is to have our students learn at high levels.  In order for students to demonstrate their learning at high levels, we must teach at higher levels.  We need to see more instruction where students are evaluating, putting it together, taking it apart, and less of students just gathering information. 

5.  Pacing- Is the lesson moving at an appropriate pace.  We don't want it to move at a snails pace or too fast for students to understand the content. 

6.  Aligned to State Standards- A good lesson begins with standards that are aligned.  All activities and assignments are planned based on our state standards.  We want to lay these out in a way so students can achieve these standards.

7.  Explicit Instruction- I think there is nothing worse when watching a lesson fail because there was a lack of explicit instruction and modeling.  Have you ever observed a teacher try repeatedly to explain but just couldn't explain the content in a way to reach the class?  I cringe and try desperately not to interrupt.  Patience is not an attribute of mine and I don't claim to have it.  Great lessons and great teachers begin each lesson with a prerequisite of learning.  They state the goal or objective of what will be taught and what the students will learn during the lesson.  He/she presents the material in small steps with practice after each step.  The teacher gives clear, detailed instructions and explanations.  Students ask questions.  Teacher gives feedback.  When I see this happen, my heart smiles!

8.  Check for Understanding- Great teachers stop and check for understanding in a variety of ways.  A great way to do this is to use Higher Order Thinking Questions.  These teaching stems remind teachers of higher questions to use during a lesson. 

The hand on the end of each sentence stem indicates what level of question is being asked.  These Higher Order Thinking Questions are easy to use.  Just print and put on a ring. 

9.  Timing- When I speak of timing in this situation, I'm not referring to pacing.  Pacing was mentioned in number 5.  Timing is referred to transitions from one activity to another, time spent on the specific skill or topic and class time getting started.  Use of class time is very important to student learning.  It also pertains to teachers having adequate amounts of instructional time to teach in their schedules.  When timing is interrupted, quality student learning is not taking place. 

10.  Culture- Culture of the class plays a big part in student success. I don't mean ethnicity when I mention culture in this instance.  I'm referring to an environment where students are valued, respected and held to high expectations.  The students are willing to ask questions, seek support and take risks.  The classroom is welcoming.  Student's work is displayed.  Student leadership skills are being shown.  These are all examples of a positive cultural environment.

11.  Feedback- Feedback in the classroom is essential to student learning.  It should not be overlooked.  When students are learning something new, they need some information that tells them whether or not they are doing it right.  A great teacher is specific with the feedback.  The bottomline of feedback is it is important for students to know how well they are doing as they learn.  It gives them a sense of achievement which motivates them to learn more.  Feedback is very important.

12.  Positive Teacher-Student Relationships- The student-teacher relationship is very important.  Great teachers not only know their students academically but personally and socially as well.  You can observe whether the students and teacher connect in the classroom.  Relationships make a difference in the way students perform in schools.  When I'm in the classroom, I can easily spot respect, care and enjoyment.  If we want students to perform in school, we need to build rapport with them.

If you are looking for an easy checklist form to carry with you as you have classroom walk-throughs, here is a notepad just for school administrators.  All of the twelve mentioned above are included on the notepad.


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Two Qualities in a Principal that Get Overlooked

There are two qualities that I believe are under-rated and often get unnoticed or not discussed when you think of top qualities of principals.  Decisiveness and being proactive are two qualities that should be on your top 10 list. 

Being decisive is just as important as high expectations, organization and being a problem solver.  These three I just mentioned are probably the most discussed in interviews or when you think of a good principal.  However, let's not forget about being decisive.  If it takes a principal two hours to make a decision regarding "every day operations of a campus," there is a problem.  Making decisions quickly is key.  Certainly there are times when you need to weigh all the options but for the most part be quick on your feet and make a decision when asked.  It saves you and your staff valuable time.  This time could be well spent on instruction, student achievement or other important situations.  Don't hold your team up because you don't want to make the call on something. 

I could discuss being proactive all day long.  I think this may be what sets a good principal a part from a great principal.  Look ahead.  Plan.  If you can see a disaster coming, make a move to change it before it happens.  Don't wait until something happens on campus to react.  This pertains to everything- schedules, discipline, staff morale, parent situations, instruction, student achievement, and the list goes on and on.  You get the picture.  If you have trouble focusing on the "what-ifs," being proactive might be difficult for you.  Always play it out in your head and see what road blocks you may encounter and plan accordingly.  
Let's all put decisiveness and being proactive at the top lists.  They shouldn't be under-rated.  They are very important in the overall daily operations of a school.

What do you think?

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You Have Been Mugged

Last year, I shared with you my You Have Been Mugged staff morale activity.  It has been downloaded over 13,000 times!  It is such a great activity that you can do at the beginning of the year with everyone.  The best part...It's all free.  It is located in the PREVIEW section of Professional-Development Activities All Year Long.

Check out the blog post below from August 2014

August 2014
Yep, that's right.  A few teachers got mugged this week.  Mugged is a good thing.  It's a fun thing too.  Here's how it works.  I started the mugging and then that person mugs another person.  It's all in the name of fun.  Its a hug in a mug!  Check it out!

I purchased a few mugs and filled them with goodies.  I left them on the desk of a few teachers.  These teachers will enjoy their treats and then refill the mug before passing the mug along.  The mugging continues the month of September.  When a teacher/staff member has been mugged, they put the sign on the door saying they have been mugged.  This lets everyone know they have already received a gift.  It's a simple way to let someone know they were being thought about during the day.

Items I put in the mug:  packet of lemonade mix, candy, crackers, marker, snack bar and a bit of chocolate.  

If you want to start a hug in a mug, you can download the materials here.  Remember to look in the PREVIEW.

If you want to start a mugging at your school by giving a Hug in a Mug, download the packet and get started today.  It's a great way to let others know you care.  There's nothing like walking in your room and finding a gift on your desk.  Share the love.

Just a reminder-The You Have Been Mugged is located in the Preview of the Professional Development Activities located on TpT.

If you like this product, you will also like, Staff and Teacher Morale Activities.  Take a look. 


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Move Your Campus out of School Improvement: 3 Strategies

There are three must haves for all schools, especially so if you are in "school improvement" status. This is Part 1 of a series called Move Your School out of School Improvement.  Part 1 focuses on three strategies which must be in place starting now.  The series of Move Your School out of School Improvement is aimed at giving you ways to move your school out of Requirement Improvement or Low Performing. 

Let's take a look.

1.  Strong Leadership- The leader of the campus is one of the most important individuals in the building.  He/she is the captain of the ship.  The leader steers the ship and maps out the voyage.  The campus leader must be able to articulate their vision for the school year and then have the leadership skills necessary to accomplish the task.  If you were hired to be the leader of the campus, then lead.  There is nothing worse than having someone hired to lead a school who does not have the leadership skills to lead.   

My Advice-Strong leadership drives every element of a successful school.  As the leader of the campus,we must manage instruction, oversee campus operations, monitor student learning and build relationships.  Be an ambitious achiever.  Sweat the small stuff because every detail matters. Every minute matters. 

2.  A Consistent & Constant Focus on Instruction-

I guarantee you there are students who enter the classroom this year without well-developed academic skills.  Many have severe academic gaps and have difficulty reaching basic or proficient levels of learning.   In order to improve student achievement and move your school out of low performing status, you need to improve instruction.  This means being constant and consistent in your efforts.  We must be consistent and constant in looking at student, classroom and school-wide data to accurately identify areas of weakness.  Establish data teams who not only looks at the data but creates assessments to assess students appropriately.  Take the time to review your curriculum.  This should align with state and local standards.  Teaching should be engaging and aligned with state standards.  Provide professional development throughout the year (not just at the beginning of the year).  Professional development should be targeted to instructional needs.    The goal of your professional development should be to make a direct impact on classroom instruction.  The principal should monitor instruction and give feedback to teachers.   

My Advice to Principals- be a role model for teachers by being actively involved in the improvement of instruction.  Spend time in classrooms.  Teach a lesson for a teacher, if needed.  This kind of investment lets teachers know we are not only knowledgeable about teaching but we understand the challenges they are facing.

3.  Committed Teachers, Parents and Administration- The strength of any profession depends upon the degree of commitment of its members.  I guess I should really say, "committed to what."  We all have commitments.  But are we committed to what we believe, our goals, our mission, etc?  A committed teacher, a committed parent and a committed administrator all have a desire to be successful, as well as, for their school to be successful.  We must all be focused on making learning possible in the classroom and committed to making our instruction the best it can be.  We should all be dedicated, enthusiastic in raising the standards and willing to provide our students with a high standard of education.

My Advice: If you want teachers and parents committed, then principals show your commitment.  Shape a vision of academic success for all which is based on high standards.  Create a campus climate that supports teachers to be creative.  Create a campus where students and staff are recognized for their efforts.  Create leadership in others.

You can do it!

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Classroom Observation Youtube Video

I created a YouTube video!  Oh-mmm-gee I think I deleted about 10 of them before I just said..."forget trying to be perfect."  My earring fell off in one of the videos.  I started laughing so hard that I had to just delete that one too.

Here is my YouTube video about Classroom Observation Notepads.  Please be kind.  It took a lot to do this. The video is filmed in my home office which is decorated with oil field paintings and deer hunting trophies.  I share this office with the hubs.  My side is a little more feminine...well just the desk part. 

Great things are happening on Principal Principles!  I hope you continue to follow me along my journey.

Order a Notepad Today on Teachers Pay Teachers or Etsy

The first issue of Principal Principles newsletter went out this morning.  I love it.  If you missed it, get on the list today.  Info on how to get a copy is listed below.

If you missed the sign up or the email when it went out this morning, no worries.  Here is a link to read it.  Don't forget to sign up to get the next one.  


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Principal Newsletter-FREE

I am starting a venture in the digital email newsletter world.  This idea was recommended to me and I think it is a fantastic idea. 

So what is in this newsletter?  My first newsletter is in the making.  I hope to have it all complete by Friday.  My goal is to offer you some quick leadership tips, quotes, products, and time saving resources via your email.  I promise not to bombard you with tons of emails.  I don't like receiving tons of emails either so I won't do that to you.  I'm thinking once or twice a month.

It's free and it is a great way to get updates if you didn't catch a blog post during the month.  

What would you like to see in the newsletter?

Sign up today by texting the word PRINCIPAL to 42828 and enter your email address after the prompt.

I put a link to the sign up on the top-right of the blog.  Just click on that if you want to sign up.  Either way works great. 

Thanks for all the ideas!


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What Works in Writing- Picture Overload

 Writing instruction is crucial.  Students in Texas begin taking formative assessments in fourth grade and again in seventh.  In order for students to be successful on the writing assessments, it should begin early.  Of course, learning how to compose compositions is not just for state assessments. Who doesn't want to be proficient in writing?  It's a critical part of our everyday life.  It is an every day tool.  Writing can also deepen student learning.  Let me explain.

Just as students first learn to read, then read to learn, students then learn to write and then use writing as a vehicle to support their learning.  However, writing can be a hurtle to many students.  I believe in planning and focusing on writing as equal as you would reading and math. 
Ways teachers can incorporate writing components:
1.  Writing aloud- teacher demonstrates writing on chart paper, board, etc... and explains their thinking process.
2.  Shared writing- teacher and students compose writing together.  The students and teacher decide topic, sentences, and word choice together.
3.  Guided writing- can be whole class, small group or individual.  Students write and the teacher guides.  Great to use during mini lessons.
4.  Independent writing-Students work alone using their previous learning.

So how do you get this all started?  Here are 4 ways to start this process.
 Create a classroom environment for writing.  This means resources are available.  In lower grades, a writing center is often seen in classrooms.  The teacher writes often too.   Students should see the teacher write and voice their thinking process.  Establish routines in your classroom and expectations about writing.  Set up writer's notebooks.  Create and explain writing anchor charts.  Supply students with writing tools: dictionaries, writing reference folders, topics, and writing goals or process steps.
 Devote an appropriate amount of time for writing instruction every day.  Writing does not have to always have its dedicated time.  Writing across other core subjects proven beneficial and can be a big timer saver technique.  If you are not a self contained teacher, collaborate on assignments with other content area teachers.  Writing instruction should not be just an after thought.  It is a necessary part of our daily schedules. 
 Plan for writing just as you would for reading, math and other core subjects.  Plan mini lessons that relate to students' needs and or assessment needs.  Use the student's writing pieces as teachable moments.  What are the students strengths and weaknesses?  Design mini lessons as determined by the students writing collections. 

 Provide meaning writing activities by promoting student choice on their writing.  Students can be given topics to write but also allow students to free write.  Topics are always a great tool but allow students to write at least one day in their journal on a topic of their choice.  For example, when I was teaching I gave students the topic 4 days a week and on Friday it was free writing. 

 Do you need writing materials to get you started this year?

Let's Write- Posters (25 posters)

My Revise and Edit posters recently went under a facelift operation.  I think they turned out pretty nice. 

Hope you enjoyed reading about writing instruction today!


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Back to School Professional Development

Repost from Staff Development 2014:

Staff development Day 1 went very well.  My day is not over yet.  I have a board meeting to attend tonight so until then I thought I would share a few pictures from today.  The morning was spent in the auditorium with the superintendent and entire district.  The afternoon is spent on campus in staff meetings.  The first meeting is our "typical" first meeting of procedures, policies and campus information.  Here are a few pictures.  

 Each teacher has their teacher binder with them.  They will bring it to meetings and we will add to it as the year goes on.  If you are interested in starting a binder, you can download it here.  I will give teachers handouts either in person or place in their mailbox.  If it has holes punched in it, then it goes in the binder.

Each teacher has an ipad and they bring it to my meetings.  I do not print the presentation.  They scan the QR code or type in a link to access it.  They follow along with me via the iPad.  Please excuse my messy hair...I have no idea what's up with it. I'm assisting my teacher on scanning the QR code.

I created a popcorn bar for my teachers to enjoy.  I had caramel popcorn and regular popcorn with M&M's and Reese's candy.  Yummy!

 We are all a part of something beautiful.  We all have strengths but we often only see the negative in ourselves.  No one is insignificant in any way.  We all have our differences for a reason.  My weakness may be your strength.  We need to be different to rely on each other.  When we all have different talents we make a very strong team.
I had teachers write their strength on the puzzle piece.  I will link all of these together to show we make a whole.  We all matter.  You are a piece of the puzzle in someone's life.  Bonnie Arbon said, "You may never know where you fit but others will fill the holes in their lives with pieces of you."

 I hope all of you have a wonderful week.

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Visit Stephanie McConnell's profile on Pinterest.

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Comprehension for Young Learners

Rainbow Comprehension is my version of Close Reading.  Rainbow comprehension allows even the youngest of students to begin interacting with text to gain understanding and build comprehension skills.

The goal of close reading or rainbow comprehension strategies is to obviously build strong comprehension understanding.  It also helps build independence.  When educators begin teaching these strategies with young learners, the strategies are then engrained in them as they move through each grade level.

The strategy involved is all about rereading of a text.  We give the students the questions and, they go back and search for the answers.  For young learners, these questions are simple recall-type questions.  I call these type questions "right there."   This means students will not have to infer to determine the answer.  It's all about a process and steps in locating evidence in the text. 

Colored pencils, crayons or markers are a must.  They all work just fine. 

State Standards
Click on the standard to enlarge the photo- Figure 19

 All the Rainbow Comprehension packets are informational text passages.  The packets are science or social studies themes which by nature are harder to comprehend.  These informational, non-fiction texts were chosen to draw student's interests into the topics.  Reading nonfiction has big benefits and pay off.  It not only helps with student interest levels, but it helps build background knowledge on a variety of topics.  Some of these are historical events, winter animals, ocean life, state facts, community helpers, etc...

How it works:  Introducing this process is in a GUIDED small group setting.  It is never intended to be independent for young learners.  The teacher introduces the text and sets a purpose for reading. 
First Reading: Get the Gist-
Students read the passage for the first time and discuss the passage with the group or partner. 
Second Reading: Dig Deeper-
On the second reading, students circle words they aren't sure about and/or underline key words.  Students can mark the big ideas and key details. 
 Third Reading: Put it all together-
After a third reading, students go back through the text and search for evidence.  Evidence is proven with the colored pencils.  Each question is given a special color to use. 

When learning more about these steps, I have noticed there is a variety of ways to approach close reading.  The steps are important but the process of explicitly working a passage with the students on a routine basis is the crucial piece.  This process is not something we should do every now and then.  It should be a routine piece in our classrooms with our young learners. 

If you are interested in getting started on these Rainbow Comprehension Packs, head over to TpT.


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