Professional Practice

Taking the Fear Out of Teacher Evaluations (Ep. 106)

Being evaluated can be one of the most nerve-wracking things you have to do as a teacher. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Evaluations and observations are actually a great way for you to improve as a teacher, advocate for yourself, and develop your program. AOE senior editor Amanda Heyn joins Tim to discuss how you can put your mind at ease when it comes time for an evaluation (6:15), where your focus should be when you are being observed (13:30), and how reflection and growth mindset play such an important role in your development as an art teacher (18:15). Full episode transcript below.


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Welcome to Art Ed Radio the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the art of education and I’m your host Tim Bogatz.

I’ve come a long way in my thinking about teacher evaluations over the course of my career. When I first started teaching I had a principal who was not the best to put it bluntly. He never set foot in my classroom the entire year and little did I know that I was supposed to be formerly observed four times that year. With about a week left in the school year he called me down to his office and asked me to sign four blank forms that he would ostensibly fill in later to do my observation. For whatever reason, being a new teacher, and not wanting to rock the boat, I trusted him. I went for it. I signed them and ended up thinking to myself, “Wow, this observation thing is really simple.”

The same thing happened the next year, but he did make his way into my classroom a couple times for informal evaluations, baby steps, I guess. My third year at the high school we got a new principal and that worked out really well for me because he changed my thinking on evaluations. The new principal came in to ask me about my program and he asked to see what I was doing in the classroom. He asked how he could support me and it just blew my mind. I’m like, “Who knew that principals could be like that?” It really helped me come to the realization that your teacher evaluations are more of an opportunity than anything else. They’re not something that you need to be scared of, they are not something that is an inconvenience. They are something that can really help you as a teacher, and really help your art program as well.

I wanted to talk about those ideas and explore those ideas about your mindset when you go into evaluations, and how you can use them for your own benefit, and for your art program’s benefit. I wanted to dive in there at length on this podcast. I think, I have the perfect guest to do just that. It’s Amanda Heyn who is the senior editor here at The Art of Ed. Now, I wanted to have Amanda on the because she just recorded an Art Ed PRO learning pack that is all about teacher evaluations. It’s actually going to be released on Thursday, so if you’re an Art Ed PRO member make sure you check it out. It’s got a lot of great videos and some awesome downloads that can really help you shine when it comes time for you to be observed. You’ll definitely appreciate everything that’s in that learning pack.

Before she comes on, just one quick back story. I have wanted Amanda to come on this podcast forever. We work together really closely, she is amazing. When Andrew and I first started the podcast I kept telling Amanda all the time how she needs to come on, she needs to be a guest, and she always declined. She kept saying, “No, no, no,” and I just dropped it for a good year and a half. Now, I think maybe because I surprised her with the invitation she was finally interested in talking to me and she is finally going to be a guest, so I hope you enjoy the interview.

I am here with Amanda Heyn. Amanda, how are you?

Amanda: I’m doing well. I’m just getting ready to put together the publishing schedule for March and just really excited about it.

Tim: Nice. Love it. Now, you and I talk literally like 10 times every week, sometimes a bunch more than that. Just because of how our jobs at The Art of Ed overlap, but in all this time that we’ve worked together you’ve never been on the podcast. Is that your fault or is that my fault?

Amanda: Let’s think about who’s in charge of booking podcast guests, so I think that would probably be you. That’s said, I am simply excited to finally be here.

Tim: Good. I am excited to talk to you. Now, you just mentioned the publishing schedule and I want to let people have a behind-the-scenes look. Can you talk just a little bit about your senior editor role at AOE? What you do, and I guess when people come to the website what do they see that comes from your work?

Amanda: Ya, sure. I guess, I would say my main role as Editor is managing our team of amazing writers, so 99% of the work you see is theirs. Also, occasional guest writers from our wider team. As a side note, I’d like to point out that I hired you, so that was obviously a great choice, a good decision there. I’m in charge of scouting new talent for the magazine as well. Day-to-day my job looks like any editor, editing the writing for clarity, formatting photos, working with our proofreader, things like that, but I think what’s unique to the position at AOE is that I was an art teacher and a bigger picture I really try and think about what our readers would want to read. I spend a lot of time online, and talking to art teacher friends about the biggest issues in art ed that they either want to help with, or want to learn more about, and just trying to do our best to lead the team to respond to that. Of course, bringing their innovative ideas to the magazine as well.

Tim: That’s really cool. I appreciate you being humble about all this, but I think you have a bigger role than you let on.

For everybody who’s listening, Amanda does an awesome job with just the direction of everything that you see on the website, so if you appreciate anything that goes up there then you can give her some credit for that. I want to dive into the real topic of conversations today. I wanted to have you want to talk about evaluations and observations. Let’s start with this, why do you think people are so apprehensive when it comes to being evaluated? Part two of that, what can people do to put their mind at ease and help themselves to relax when it is time for an evaluation?

Amanda: First fall, before I dive into my answer, it’s okay to be nervous. I think some people think, “Oh gosh, other teachers don’t feel this way,” or, “Veteran teachers don’t feel this way.” I think it’s a very wrong response to the situation. You have someone who is usually higher up than you. I’d probably say always higher up than you, sometimes it’s for all intents and purposes a stranger coming into your room to watch you teach. I don’t know about you or the listeners out there, but put me in a room with 100 kids and I’m totally fine, and you throw one adult, like someone’s grandma comes through the day and I’m like, “Oh my-”

Tim: I know you’re on pins and needles all day. You’re like, “Am I doing this right?” This is the stuff you do every day, but as soon as a peer, or a colleague, or an administrator comes in you’re just panicked. I always hate having people in my room. Anyway, go ahead.

Amanda: Yes. It’s totally true about even a colleague, even someone who might teach the same level as you they don’t know the art room and so there’s this thing like, “Do they get what I’m doing?” You know what you’re doing, but they may not know what you’re doing and it’s very apprehensive. You can feel very apprehensive. I think, the biggest thing is that people feel very judged and, I think, there’s an element of truth to that word. Yes, someone’s watching your teaching and critiquing it, but in order to help yourself relax, I think, one of the biggest things you can do is change the word. Changing the language around something is something that I try to do a lot if I’m in a situation where I feel uncomfortable or whatever because it really changes your perception of the situation.

I may be becoming a little bit of an armchair expert here, but words have power. For example, if you go into a day of guided reading PD and you go in with the mindset that it’s going to be the worst day of your entire life, which it’s probably not going to be great but you’re setting yourself up for failure. Whereas if you go in with the mindset like, “Okay, this is probably going to be pretty irrelevant to me. This happens often, but I can work with it. I’m going to challenge myself to find one take away.” That’s going to set you up for a very different outcome. Instead of thinking of your evaluation as some final judgment day, if you think of it as an opportunity to grow then you’re going to set yourself up for success automatically.

Really, 99% of administrators are not coming in to nail you on every little thing you’ve done. Yeah, I think people are just, they’re just so scared about the outcome, but administrators are not looking for perfection. The whole goal of being observed is to make you a better teacher, and in turn better serve your kids, and so if you can think about that aspect of it, I think, it’s something that really you can learn to embrace. Even if your administrator or your evaluator is not an art teacher chances are they have experience with kids and it can maybe give you an insight that you wouldn’t have had otherwise.

I think part two of that, the second thing is to be as prepared as you can be. You can really only control what you do. You literally cannot control what someone else does or think, but it’s nice to finish an observation and think, “Wow, there wasn’t anything else I could’ve done to be prepared. I literally gave it my best shot,” and I think preparation is key. I just filmed an Art Ed PRO learning pack on the topic of teacher evaluation and it’s coming out in March. There’s a ton of information in there, but my number one goal with that PRO pack was to put people at ease about this situation because, I think, if you can get over that hurdle about not being nervous it’s going to go way better for you. Going in with a growth mindset is really going to guarantee better results.

Tim: I like that a lot. One thing that you said about preparation being key, I want to dive into that a little bit more. Let me just ask you, when you are putting together everything for your evaluation everybody thinks that they have to teach the perfect lesson, and do an anticipatory set, and have their learning goals on the board, and just make sure that you’re perfect step by step, by step all the way through. The question here, I guess, is how much time do you put into planning your lesson? How much detail do you put into that plan?

Amanda: You know me, and so you know I can get a little neurotic. If you’re personally asking me that question, I would say a lot, a lot of time. However, I would say everybody is different. So, this is I would say, I would say prepare as much as you need to feel confident about it, if there’s something that you’re feeling wishy washy about this is not really the time to wing it, I would say. In that PRO pack actually there are two awesome downloads that take you step-by-step through a lesson, and there’s an annotated version, and then a blank version. One has all these great tips and then there’s one you can fill out. I would just say it’s more about choosing the right lesson than planning every last detail, so setting yourself up for success from the beginning is really important.

If you are being observed for kindergarten at the end of the day, just don’t do papier-mâché. That would be suicide. Don’t be afraid to play to your strengths. This is not the time where you have to show off some amazing new thing that you’re trying for the first time. It’s okay to go with what you feel comfortable with because we know kids they’re going to throw you a bunch of curve balls anyway, so you don’t need to throw yourself some as well. It can get a little hard as a new teacher, but the same principle still applies. I would say, go for a subject matter, or a medium, or something that you feel like you’ve got under control.

It doesn’t mean either that you have to write every single thing down, you could. That’s how I work best, but you could just think through it point by point. I would highly recommend having a plan that you feel confident with and at least thinking through it one time. Even doing a dry run after school can be super beneficial just so you know where your materials are going to be, or just even timing yourself. How long is your demo going to take? Of course, kids will throw you curve balls, but a ballpark is nice to have.

Tim: I think that works, but if I can ask you a little bit more about that. Obviously, evaluations are so much more than just planning a good lesson. What do you think teachers need to focus on during their observation? Should it be classroom management? Should it be instructional strategies? How you evaluate your kids? How you assess them? Maybe all of the above. What do you think teachers should try and highlight with their teaching?

Amanda: I think that’s a really hard question to answer because some people think that it’s like how do you be a good teacher? How do you be a perfect teacher, like you said, for one class period? That’s not the goal. I think the first thing that you should do is to look over your framework that your administrator has provided you with whether that’s Danielson, or Marzano, or something else that should help you key into the big things that that framework is looking for, or some specific things even that they may be looking for.

The second thing you can do is just straight up ask. A pre-evaluation meeting should be a part of any formal process and if it isn’t I would definitely recommend asking for one. It doesn’t hurt to get a sense of what’s most important to your evaluator. Those things said, I think for me classroom management is number one. The reason is, is it directly influences everything else you do. If you don’t have control of your classroom you are not going to be able to showcase a cool instructional strategy. You are not going to be able to run a critique if kids are running around your room. I would say, before your evaluation I would definitely revisit your rules, your routines, your procedures, and just see if anything needs a little shoring up before that big day because if you have kids running wild that’s going to reflect poorly on you no matter how cool your lesson is.

Tim: I think that’s a really good point. In that answer, you touched on actually what I wanted to ask you about next, which is the pre-evaluation period. If your administrator is doing an evaluation the way they should, which we know doesn’t always happen, there should be that pre-evaluation meeting, and also a post evaluation follow-up. I guess, my question is what kind of things would you want to talk about or what would you recommend people talk about with their administrator in those meetings? And where do you think they should try and put their administrator’s focus during their lesson, their teaching?

Amanda: That’s a great question. I think a lot of people overlook those meetings because they’re so nervous about the observation itself. These are really important conversations and really important opportunities for you because when else do you have your administrator’s undivided attention? You never get that. Here, you are potentially getting it twice within a really short period of time. I guess, the first thing I would say is these meetings are as much for them as they are for you. Yes, they’re probably going to be sharing some things with you, but they’re also going to be looking to you to share some things with them. Traditionally, the pre-observation meeting is to go over your lesson plan and anything else you want your observer to know about your classroom. This might be where you tell them what a typical day look looks like or feels like in your classroom. It may be where you give a little bit of philosophy into why you do things the way you do.

For example, they may not be used to students talking during work time, like in a math class, or an English class, or something. Or if you are in a choice based space they may never have seen anything in education that resembles the beautiful, sometimes chaotic nature of those spaces. Unfortunately, yes it would be great if they realized all the cool stuff going on in your room, but chances are they don’t. It is your job to let them know what they’ll be seeing and why. Not just, “Oh, I let my students talk during work time,” but they’re bouncing ideas off of each other, or we have a really collaborative group, or kids are critiquing each other, or whatever it is. Whatever the why is, I think, it’s really important to let them know before they come because otherwise it’s going to seem like a defense thing if you bring it up in a post-observation meeting.

This is like we front load with our students all the time about new things coming up, or changes, or just background information. I think it’s really important to provide your administrator or your evaluator with a bunch of front loading about your room and how great it is. It’s also a great time to give an elevator speech because it’s short, it’s to the point. We have a super great article on AOE that was published within the last few months about exactly how to do that, so I would suggest checking that out.

Then, also in the pre-evaluation you have equal opportunity to position yourself as a really reflective teacher because you might want to ask for something specific. So if you’re heading into this with a growth mindset yes, they have things that they’re looking for, but you might have something that you’re looking for. Maybe you’re struggling with transitions, or they’re coming to observe a class in which this one kid you can’t hook them, or you can’t get them on task. So, you can ask them to watch for specific things and they will be super impressed if you do that.

In terms of post-observation, the basics are that you’re going to debrief, you’re going to come ready to discuss what happened. Again, I think this is probably the most important meeting or place in the observation to put on your growth mindset hat as hard as that can be because you’re probably going to get some constructive feedback. Really try not to get defensive and really try to take whatever nuggets that they can give you about how you can improve. Most administrators, I really believe, do have your best interests at heart.

It’s a really good idea to jot down a few thoughts right after they leave that day, that moment because you know administrators can get busy and so you may have your evaluation, and then it might be four days later that you have the meeting, and that meeting might get rescheduled. It’s two weeks later and you’re trying to think about the nuances of this great lesson. I would definitely try to take … I know I’ve been there with back-to-back classes, but if you can find some time that hour after you do it and just jot down a few things that you want to remember for that meeting I think that would be really great.

Then finally, I would say that last meeting can be a really good chance to advocate for your art program because, again, you have their undivided attention. Plug your upcoming art show, ask if you can do an announcement over the loudspeaker, go big and see if there’s any left over budget money for a special project. I think the key in both of those meetings is just to remember you’re talking to another human being. Again, words are power. If you can remove that big scary administrator title and just see it as two people having a chat, I think that will go a long way in making you feel more relaxed.

Tim: I think that’s a lot of really good advice. I think, the biggest thing I can say about that is just look at your pre- and post evaluation meetings as an opportunity because so many people look at it as something scary, like you mentioned, or something extra that they have to do. It is such a good opportunity not only for you to grow as a teacher, but also to help grow your program, to help advocate for your program. I think that’s something that’s really vital.

Just one last question for you here, just any last words of advice for people? Can you share a couple tips to help people find success when it comes time for their observation or their evaluation?

Amanda: I guess, I would say that my biggest piece of advice is to take control and empower yourself by changing the language around evaluations. I’ve been there with a really intimidating administrator and freaking out beforehand, but instead of thinking of it as this harsh judgment of your teaching if you look at it as an experience, as a way to grow, and better your practice for yourself and your students it makes the whole process a lot more enjoyable to go through. Like you said, if you think of it as not something you have to go through, but something you get to go through it really changes your mindset about the whole process.

The second piece of advice I would have is to just really focus on the preparation phase. Again, spend that time upfront educating your evaluator, spend that time upfront preparing your lesson, and those two things are going to go a long way in making it an overall positive experience.

Tim: That is some really good advice and I think that’s a good place to wrap it up. A good set of words for everybody to go home with and take with them. Amanda, thank you so much for joining me. It was great to finally have you on and good to talk to you. Hopefully, we can have you back on some time and not wait two years to do it.

Amanda: I would love that. Thanks, Tim.

Tim: Thanks. We’ll talk to you later.

Amanda: All right. Bye-bye.

Tim: A lot of great advice from Amanda during that interview. I really like what she had to say about a growth mindset and looking at evaluations as an opportunity, and really also the importance of classroom management, and how that plays into everything else that you’re doing with your teaching.

Now, if I can just expand on one of her thoughts. She talked about how you can ask for help with something that you’re struggling with or you can ask for advice on something that maybe isn’t a strength of yours in your teaching. I think, that is incredible advice. I always like to bring up in my pre-evaluation meeting something that I was worried about and I think the benefits of that are twofold. First, it helps someone experienced, your evaluator, your admin, whoever it is coming in, it helps them keep an eye out for ideas that they can offer you and suggestions that may help your teaching. That’s a win-win for everybody involved.

Secondly, if they know that it’s something you’re trying to improve or an area that you want to get better with your evaluator’s probably going to be less likely to downgrade you for that, if they see you struggling with presenting an anticipatory set, or getting your class together, or if you’re struggling with formative assessments during class they’re much more likely to be thinking about how they can help you rather than why they need to lower your score in that area of the evaluation. I know you can’t worry too much about the score and that’s not where your focus should be, but anything that can put your mind at ease is going to help.

Overall, I guess, that’s just a long way of saying that you really do need to embrace the growth mindset when it comes to observations and evaluations. Don’t worry about the score, don’t worry about having somebody in your classroom that’s usually not there. Just worry about what you do best as a teacher and what you still need to improve. If you can show your evaluator that not only are you doing great things already, but you’re still trying to get better they can’t ask for anything more.

Art Ed Radio is produced by The Art of Education with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. One last thing before you go, I talked in the intro and Amanda talked in the interview of Art Ed PRO, if you are a member make sure you go check out her learning pack, it comes out Thursday on observations and evaluations. Or, if you can’t wait until Thursday, she’s got one that was already been released about Developing a Growth Mindset in the Art Room. If you are not a pro member you can start your 30 day free trial and see what it’s all about at Thank you for listening and we will be back next week.



Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.