Important “Look-Fors” when Choosing an Observational Instrument 

You have high expectations. You recognize that teacher observations have the potential to be much more than a step in the Annual Professional Performance Review, APPR (3012-c and 3012-d)All teachers, not just those on Teacher Improvement Plans (TIPs), deserve professional growth feedback. You are searching for the best observational instrument because it is an investment in student learning. Moving the needle on teacher effectiveness improves student learning.  

Observing for Teacher Growth and Teacher Evaluation 

Professional growth and teacher evaluation are not the same. The Regents Teacher Evaluation System demonstrates minimal educational standards. Professional growth focuses on effective teaching to maximize student learning. New York State mandates two annual observations by trained observers, often the principal.  Most district leaders agree that teacher growth requires more than two observations per year and that the act of focused observation is itself a teacher growth opportunity.  Using the same observational tool for both purposes provides improved data reliability and trust in the system. 


Observational Instrument Look-Fors 


1. Practical and Easy to Use  

Administrators are more likely to observe teachers frequently with an observational instrument that is easy to use. Frequent observations give administrators and teachers a richer body of knowledge about teacher needs. Each observation and the accompanying feedback provide a snapshotWith regular observations, patterns emerge that help administrators distinguish between an anomaly and an ongoing opportunity for growth.  

Frequent observations also lower the stakes for teachers for individual observations. The difference between regular informal observations and only two formal ones is similar to the difference between formative and summative assessments for students. In addition, frequently observing and identifying evidence of learning promotes a growth mindset culture. 

Ease of use is also essential for districts using observation for peer learning and growth opportunities. It should be so intuitive that teachers learn to use it with a short tutorial.  

Look for these practical and ease-of-use features in an observational instrument:   

  • Evidence of learning and instruction such as pictures, notes, responses, and timestamps all in one place. 
  • Drafts are auto-shared until the observer finalizes the observation 
  • Automatically shares the completed rubric after observer takes it out of draft mode  
  • Pre-created “quick sentences” in the scripting area 
  • Can upload pictures and activate the camera from within the rubric 
  • Has video tutorials on the website 
  • Great customer support  
  • Web-based interface 
  • All elements have an intuitive design for quick learning 


2. Based on Best Instructional Practices 

Observational data and feedback must align with state and district expectations. New York State uses various editions of the Danielson Framework for Teachers (FFT) and other well-known rubrics. One observational tool used to have exclusive rights to the 2013 edition, but that is no longer true. All education partners, including eDoctrina and eWalk, now have access to all editions, including the 2013 FFT.  

Look for this foundational feature in your observational instrument:  

  • It complies with the framework edition that your district uses.  
  • Time and date stamps included in scripting area to gauge lesson pace 
  • The script is easy to add as evidence to the observable components section 
  • Embedded descriptions of rubric ratings   


3. Enhances Collaboration 

You want an observational tool thaintegrates the collaborative process into its platform. Collaboration promotes trust between the observer and the teacher and in the system itself. Immediate feedback allows everyone to respond when everything is fresh in their memoriesThe tool should use the common language of your district culture to foster in-depth conversations about research-based practices.  

Look for these collaborative features in your observational instrument:  

  • Automatic email delivery when the observer is ready to share 
  • Embedded response section 
  • Ability to control the level of access for specific observations to allow for conversations and protect privacy 
  • Ability to choose which observation events count towards the evaluation. 
  • Includes a streamlined electronic signature capability 


4. Reflects District Values and Priorities 

Just as every student and teacher is unique, so is your district. Your district’s leadership and accountability team have carefully crafted priorities based on specific demographics. Your observational rubrics should reflect this hard work.   

Look for these differentiated features in your observational instrument: 

  • Administrators able to add customized quick sentences for scripting 
  • Fully customizable rubrics and calculation methods 
  • Ability to have multiple rubrics 
  • Ability to integrate with assessment tools and data  
  • Back-end calculations made according to your district’s specifications 


5. Helpful for Making Data-Driven Professional Development Decisions 

Perhaps the most appreciated use of a superior observational instrument is feeling confident that you can provide teachers with proper support. You will have easily accessible data supporting which teachers would make great mentors and who would benefit most from having a mentor. You want to choose professional development that moves the needle in student engagement and learning.  

Accurate data is critical to the APPRAutomating the calculations improves trust in the evaluation system because it removes the possibility for human error. It means you provide an accurate end of year report with your district specific calculation to NYSDOE.  

Look for these data features in your observational instrument: 

  • Automatic back-end calculations 
  • Links with SLO tools 
  • Evaluation dashboard where all components are managed on a single screen  
  • Ability to see individual teacher growth 
  • High-level data reports about groups of teachers 
  • The ability to quickly drill down for more detailed information  
  • Data presented visually for straightforward interpretation 
  • High inter-rater reliability with built in calibration instrument 


Making the Final Decision 

If you are looking for the best teacher observation instrument, take a moment to watch a video about using OBSeRVEIt is part of the eDoctrina Accountability Suite that you can take for a test driveOBSeRVE checks all the boxes for a quality instrument and integrates seamlessly with eDoctrina’s other great products. We built OBSeRVE because we believe that the best observational instrument makes implementing MTSS with fidelity feasible.  


Data tells us that district leaders agree. Among districts that use eDoctrina for multiple education solutions, we have a renewal rate of almost 100 percent because principals and teachers love being able to access all information from one cohesive system. As one satisfied user put it, “The power of the data is incredible. eDoctina satisfies our needs and goes above and beyond.”

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