Classroom Observations — and the Observers

Classroom observations are one tool for providing evidence of a teacher's strengths and areas for development. When done frequently and purposefully, and when coupled with discussion that includes actionable feedback, they are integral to improving instructional practice.

As part of the Teacher Effectiveness Evaluation for 2014-15, classroom observations using the district's Instructional Framework are one of the two components that measure teachers' professional practice. Developed over many months with input from hundreds of teachers, the framework defines what effective teaching looks like and guides the district's efforts to develop and offer high-quality professional development opportunities. Specifically for the purposes of evaluation, the framework guides and focuses school leaders' classroom observations of teachers' practice, enabling them to collect evidence that can in turn be used to connect teachers with professional development opportunities.

The observation component of the evaluation encompasses both formal and informal observations over the course of the school year. 

At a glance

•  Teachers are observed on the nine key actions of the framework's Teach component
•  Teachers receive two formal observations and frequent informal observations during the school year
•  Formal observations are completed by observers who are both qualified under Maryland state law and certified by City Schools

Types of observations

Formal observations are opportunities for

  • Teachers to demonstrate their practice, receive feedback and show what they have learned throughout the year
  • School leaders to observe teacher performance and provide information for the purpose of evaluation

Every teacher receives two formal observations during the school year, one by December 1 and the second by April 1. All formal observations include a scheduled pre-observation conference where the content of the lesson to be observed is discussed and the date, time and duration of the observation are established. It is recommended that the observation last for at least 30 minutes. Observers also must schedule a post-observation conference within 10 days of the observation, to review the evidence collected during the observation and provide the teacher with concrete, actionable feedback on her or his professional practices. Finally, observers must ensure that data from the observation are recorded in the Online Performance Management System (OPMS), by the system close date.

Note that, as per COMAR, a teacher’s evaluation shall be based on at least two observations during the school year.

Informal observations are brief, focused and designed to provide a “temperature check” on teacher growth. Informal observations may range from general “walk-throughs” to extended observations around an identified area.

Like formal observations, informal observations should serve a developmental purpose. They should be conducted regularly throughout the year, but do not require advanced scheduling. As with formal observations, observers should provide teachers with feedback and coaching based on the Instructional Framework and evidence collected during the observation. All informal observers should have knowledge of and be able to provide feedback based on the Instructional Framework. Data from informal observations are not entered into OPMS or recorded as part of the Teacher Effectiveness Evaluation.

Taken together, formal and informal observations should be used to provide ongoing, critical feedback to teachers about their professional practices throughout the year.


To conduct formal observations, observers must be both qualified and certified.

  • In accordance with state law, a qualified observer must hold either the Administrator I or Administrator II endorsement from the Maryland State Department of Education. BTU members cannot serve as qualified observers.
  • To be certified by City Schools, observers must complete a process in which they view videos of several classroom observations, rate the teachers using the Instructional Framework and rubric and pass an assessment demonstrating that they rated the teachers accurately.

City Schools recommends that, whenever possible, teachers receive their two formal observations from two different qualified, certified observers. Having observations conducted by different observers significantly increases validity and reliability of observation as a measure of effectiveness. In schools with only one observer, school leaders can consult their Executive Director and fellow school leaders for assistance with collaborative evaluations.

Note that year-end ratings of  “Ineffective” must include at least two observations, with at least one observation by an individual other than the immediate suporvisor.  
Informal observations can be completed by a school leader, peer or colleague who has knowledge of the Instructional Framework and Rubric.