Spark Observations: An Observer’s Perspective

by Jennifer McMullen

As Spark participants, programs have the option to receive an outside observation. This may be for rating renewal, evidence to show how standards are being met, or for continuous quality improvement. The Spark Observation and Assessment Team is available to complete an Environment Rating Scale (ERS) Assessment or a Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) observation for Spark programs as requested. You can find out more about those observations here.

I have been an Observer on the Spark team for just under a year. I know from experience that being observed can feel a little uncomfortable. I hope sharing my experiences will offer some insight. My first observation was many years ago as a Head Start teacher. When I was told I was going to be observed, I didn’t have a lot of information about what would happen. I was nervous. What were they looking for? How would they see my classroom? I put 100% of myself into my classroom, and it felt personal for someone to be watching and evaluating me.

When I was actually observed, it wasn’t as hard as I had feared. Once I could relax and not think so much about the observer in the corner, I was able to go through my day. I got positive feedback as well as improvements to work on. Learning new strategies helped me. It was great to hear new ideas. Over my years as a teacher, I was observed many times. Sometimes, it was really encouraging. An outside observer recognized all the hard work I had put in, and I really felt seen and recognized. Other times, the feedback I received was difficult to hear.

One tough observation especially stands out to me. I had a demanding class that year. Lots of children had challenging behavior in the classroom. As the year went on, I got more and more discouraged. I found myself barely getting through each day. I had an outside observation, and the observer had some feedback about what might be contributing to the challenges I had been facing. At first, this feedback was hard to hear because I felt like I was doing my best. I was defensive, and wanted to dismiss the feedback. After some reflection, I came to the realization that the observer brought a new perspective about what was happening in my classroom. As I started to look at things more objectively, I was able to think about how I could try some of the suggestions that were made. I was able to come up with some new solutions as well. Those changes helped children’s behavior get better. By the end of the year, I felt really good about the progress my kids had made.

Now, as a Spark Observer, I observe early educators full time. I try to bring all my experiences with observation to my work. I want to be like those observers that helped me with my teaching – giving encouragement, positive feedback, and supportive suggestions. Most importantly, I want to remember that feedback can be hard to hear. I want to make sure that I am giving feedback in a kind and compassionate way. I want early educators to know that my goal is to help them, make their jobs easier, and give them more tools to support the children in their care.

Sometimes I wish I could go back to myself as a young teacher and explain what I know now about observation. I would tell myself not to stress out. Observers have the best interests for me and the children in my program at heart. They are not there to judge; they are there to help. I would tell myself that the objective observer in the corner is going to see the things that I’m missing while I’m caught up in the busyness of the day. They might have a suggestion that makes a big difference. Most of all, I would tell myself that they are on my side. We all have the same goal – to give the children in my care the very best they can get.

I can’t go back and change my own feelings about being observed, but I can bring those ideas into every program that I see. I hope I get the chance at some point to come see your program. I hope I can make you feel great about all the hard work and the skills you bring to your children. I hope I can give feedback with compassion and understanding for everything you have already put into your teaching. I hope I can help your observation experience be a positive one. I am looking forward to meeting you!


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