Friday, April 8, 2011

References: Inviting the Principal to Observe

Teacher job applicants often wonder, who are the best people to serve as references?

An important decision in preparing job application materials is identifying your references. Many employers require applicants to list 3-5 references. Clearly, your cooperating teacher and college supervisor know you best, but also consider the principal or building administrator as your third reference.
Principals are experienced evaluators. Principals know other principals and administrators who may be hiring. It’s a great way to expand your network.

Building administrators are really busy people. Some administrators have a policy for not observing or writing a letter of reference for student teachers, especially if there are several student teachers in the building or large school such as a middle or high school. Observing student teachers is not required nor is it expected of a principal.

To serve as your third reference, your principal needs to know you better and observe your teaching. So, if you haven't done so, invite her/him to conduct a formal observation. You have nothing to lose by requesting a formal evaluation from the principal. She/he will recognize your effort to improve your teaching through observation and feedback. Every principal was a student teacher at one time. He/she may appreciate the invitation to observe and want to give back to the future generation of teachers.

Schedule the observation well in advance at a time - when you are more comfortable in your role and teaching full-time. When you first meet with the principal, set a positive tone by recognizing your cooperating teacher’s contributions to your growth as a teacher and how much you enjoy working in this school. Next, explain that you are seeking additional feedback – insights to your teaching. Then, identify a specific day/time for a formal observation - when it's convenient for the principal. Consider using the school/district teacher evaluation model (i.e., present lesson planning in advance, identify desired teaching behaviors to observe related to a specific professional teaching standard, and reflect together after the observation) or your college’s student teacher evaluation model. Schedule a time to meet briefly before the observation to share your lesson planning and discuss what the principal could focus on while observing. Email the lesson planning materials before the meeting. Write a formal, detailed plan and include other high quality instructional materials such as a PowerPoint and handouts for students. Be sure to proofread your materials. Finally, schedule a time to meet briefly after the lesson to debrief, reflect, and receive feedback.

After the debriefing, send a thank you card. Explain one or two significant things you learned from the observation/feedback. If the observation goes well, ask if she/he will serve as a reference and request a letter of recommendation.

In addition to observing a lesson, you could invite the building administrators to special events or performances by your students - such as a classroom “learning celebration.”

What NOT to Communicate:
-Don’t say to principals that you want them to observe so they can write you a letter of recommendation. Every principal understands the reason, but it’s not tactful.
-Don’t recommend a “drive by observation” (dropping in anytime).

BOOKNOTE: For more advice, see “Contact References” in The Guide. You can also view models of a letter requesting a person to write a letter of recommendation and a thank you letter.