Accountability

An Unlikely Yet Welcome Classroom Observation

I get lots of emails — me and millions of other people. Most of it is trash and I spend way too much of my time cleaning out my inbox to make room to take more pictures or to download a new app (don’t judge me – lol!). So I was pleasantly surprised when, in the midst of my trash-purging, I came across this email:

Dear Vivett,

We know how much time and energy you put into your teaching, and it would help us a lot if you’d let us come visit one or two of your classes to see how you teach with Upfront!

Since we’re based in New York City we’d love to visit your class in person: Our plan is to quietly sit in the back of the classroom without interrupting the lesson and just watch you do your magic. (Of course, we’re happy to open it up to a Q&A at the end!)

We know that the end of the year is a busy time for you, but we are pretty flexible through May and would be happy to accommodate any schedule that might work best for you. Please let us know, either by email or at the phone number below. We hope to hear from you soon and thanks in advance for your time!

Regards,

Lucia

Lucia DeStefani is an Assistant Editor at the New York Times Upfront Magazine. I’ve used Upfront as a resource in my classroom since 2012. Last year, I was honored to have one of its editors observe me and a class of my eighth-grade students at the Eagle Academy for Young Men of Southeast Queens as we conducted a Socratic Seminar. What was super-special about that experience was having the students share their ideas with the editor and seeing those ideas turn into actual feature articles in various Upfront magazine issues this year.  To have them visit me and my students again, this time at a different school teaching a different grade, was really cool!

I share this experience as a shout-out to my students for demonstrating effectively how seventh-graders use a text geared towards ninth through twelfth graders, as well as how they pulled knowledge they’d learned earlier in the year in social studies to help them read a challenging, inter-disciplinary, informational text. Truly, teacher expectations can push students to higher heights. When our students see that we believe in them and their abilities, they rise to the occasion.  My students have proved this time and time again this year — talk about being a proud teacher!

I also share this experience to draw attention to the impact of a meaningful classroom observation. In my career, I have unfortunately experienced observations that felt rushed, staged, perfunctory, punitive and ill-informed. These observations, though few and far between, factored into my overall professional rating as a teacher — a status that is part of my permanent record as an educator within the New York City Department of Education.

Observations are an aspect of our professional lives as teachers that literally make or break our careers. As such, they require our thoughtful and collective input. The assistant editor of Upfront magazine knows  the vision that she and her team have when they create the teaching materials that accompany the magazine each month. To see the interpretation of that vision put into practice by an educator and received and interpreted by students is something they don’t often get to see. It’s a mutually beneficial process and one that I recommend other curriculum developers and educators consider trying together. No Danielson rubric. No checklist of metrics. No highly effective, effective, developing, or ineffective rating. Just an informal observation in the truest sense of the concept.

At this point in the school year all of my official observations are completed and entered in the Advance rating system. My fate as a teacher for the 2016-2017 academic year in terms of my administrator’s view of my classroom practice is sealed. While I’m pleased with what my students and I were able to showcase during those three informal and one formal observations, as well as with the authentic, documented growth we’ve made as both teacher and students, I am glad that my direct administrator, upon invitation, took the time to co-observe me with the Upfront magazine editor, and even came back the next year at my new school.  It sent a strong message that my administrators have a genuinely vested interest in what takes place in my classroom, not just for the DOE’s purposes. That’s huge.

After her most recent observation, Ms. DeStefani sent this email. I think she sums up well what I’ve discussed in this post today — but I’ll let you observe and be the judge of that.

Dear Vivett,

You beat me to the punch of sending out my thank-you!

I was honored to attend your class, it was a wonderful visit for me—I truly loved meeting you and your clever, dynamic seventh-grade students at Queens Collegiate! Thank you very much for having me.

It was a great learning experience to see how you use the magazine with your class and how your students respond to the lessons. We’re glad if Upfront can contribute to your teaching and their learning experience.

The pictures from today’s visit are attached. What a wonderful memory!

Thank you again, and have a wonderful weekend.

Best,

Lucia

Pretty cool — if I do say so myself! I even received this school-wide shout-out from my admin and colleagues alongside the picture featured above.

  • Shout out to Ms. Dukes for her innovative work with the NYTimes UpFront.  She was recognized by their editor for innovating in education.  

It might not seem like a big deal to some; I mean, after all observations are commonplace for just about all educators. Still, there’s something about being recognized for the hard work we do as educators that is deeply gratifying. I’m grateful that my students and I had this experience.

As we close out this school year and rest up for the upcoming one, I encourage more educators to create their own observation opportunities. Get even more comfortable having others  — unlikely observers, if you will — see the great things that we, America’s educators, are doing with our students each day.

What do you think?

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