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Don't Let Your Nerves Ruin A Classroom Observation: 4 Tips For The Anxious Teacher

Even if you've gotten through your first year of teaching, having an administrator drop in for observation can be nerve-racking. And if you already struggle with anxiety, this evaluation can be even more stressful. A classroom observation should be a positive experience. This protocol can strengthen the relationship you have with your school's administration and help you improve your skills as an educator. While you cannot control every outcome, you can take some steps to reduce your anxiety so that these observations don't stress you out.

1. Focus on Your Breath 

You've probably heard this phrase in a yoga class, but focusing on your breath can be a coping tool for many situations. According to NPR, deep breathing is an innate stress reliever that has been shown to improve the functioning of the immune system, the brain, the digestive system, and even cell activity. Carve out a little time on the day of your observation to just sit and breathe deeply for 10 minutes. During the observation, have your kids read quietly or work in small groups; this time for self-directed learning gives you a moment to take a deep breath and calm your nerves.

2. Don't Get Experimental--Stick to the Basics

Your evaluation isn't the time to try and fuse a Montessori technique with your public school's curriculum. You may be wanting to dazzle your administrator with a new teaching style or even with new technology that your students don't typically use. While spicing up your curriculum can be fun, you should stick with what you originally had planned for this day. You'll have more time to really prepare and you will be less stressed since you'll be using tools and ideas you're already comfortable with.

3. Redirect Your Attention to the Kids

You know that even if you have a good classroom, kids can act spontaneously. So even if you do have everything planned out, you may still have some hiccups due to your students being silly or even mischievous. Instead of putting pressure on your students and yourself, just assume that the children may not respond as you'd like and go with the flow. You may want to make a big deal about the evaluation, but if your kids know about it, they may become stressed too and act unnaturally themselves. It's easier said than done, but if you really focus on your students' needs that day, the observer at the back of the classroom will most likely fade from your mind since you already have to handle a large group of kids.

4. Consider Therapies that Focus on Mindfulness

If you find yourself obsessing about teacher evaluations, you may want to talk with a professional for more coping strategies. For instance, cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therpaies (ACT) can help you make small changes and be mindful about things you cannot change. One good book that focuses on ACT that you may want to check out is The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling, and Start Living by Dr. Russ Harris.

For instance, if you are nervous about your evaluation and keep having thoughts like I'm the worst teacher in the whole world, instead of focusing on whether not this thought is true or false, ask yourself whether or not it is helpful. It may be true that you aren't the best teacher, but it is obviously an unhelpful thought for your evaluation. So once you've acknowledged the thought, then you just let it float away and move on to actions that will be helpful for lesson prep. In essence, ACT isn't a control strategy (which can sometimes cause more anxiety); it's an acceptance strategy. 

If you are truly worried about your evaluation or if these strategies don't help, be sure to talk with your administrator. He or she may be more understanding than you think and have a way to customize your evaluation so that you can improve your teaching without added stress.