Using Quality Feedback from Teacher Evaluations to Become a More Effective Teacher: A Brief Review of the Book The 5-Minute Teacher

As an active duty spouse, I’ve had to adjust to new school cultures, administrators, and communities five times throughout my teaching career. Moving to a new school makes me feel like I have something to prove, even though my best bet would be to let my teaching practice, relationships with kids, and professionalism speak for themselves. The first evaluation cycle at a new school can be nerve-wracking, as I haven’t learned the evaluation look-fors and probably am still developing a relationship with the administrators. 

My first evaluation at my current school was like a steeplechase of chaos. One of our support staff brought in her therapy dog about five minutes prior to my evaluator arriving, which was a welcome distraction for me and my students. After they settled in, my evaluating administrator approached the door…just as one of my students, who is on the spectrum, dropped his entire bento-box style snack pack on the floor about 3 inches away from the therapy dog. He froze, with a look that said, “I just made a huge mistake!” As I went over to support him, emotionally and with the snack-clean up, I thought to myself, “This is not how I wanted to kick off my first evaluation!”

I’ve been teaching at that school for six years now and I’m not nearly as hard on myself about having the perfect conditions for an evaluation. The truth is that classrooms are chaotic, it is how you handle the chaos that matters. 

For my evaluation this year, one of my areas of growth was “maximizes available instructional time.” This growth point has been on my list more than once, and I usually shrug off this suggestion, thinking to myself, “The evaluator just doesn’t get how I build relationships with kids.” Like almost everything else about My Pandemic Teaching Year, though, I had a completely different perspective after reading this suggestion this year. I decided to first, ask myself what it would mean to maximize instructional time, then took a deep dive into the literature. 

As an initial move towards changing my perspective, I asked a colleague if I could observe him. I’ve “stolen” so many techniques and tips from highly effective teachers over the years that I can scarcely remember how my teaching style evolved. It’s the beauty of teaching: We’re all in this together to make great learning outcomes for kids. After watching my talented coworker, it occurred to me that I needed an effective time-management structure for my classwork that organically dovetailed with my own style. Students can sniff inauthentic structures out from a mile away, so it was critical to me that changing anything within my teaching framework had to also match my existing teaching practice. 

While bowing to the search engine gods for articles on maximizing effective instructional time, I came across a book title from ASCD, one of my most trusted sources for all things teacher-y: The 5-Minute Teacher: How do I maximize time for learning in my classroom? by Mark Barnes. When I received the book, it was so small and thin, barely larger than a robust pamphlet. I wasn’t hopeful that this book would give me what I needed until I read 1-2 pages and then I was hooked. 

Here’s what got me about The 5-Minute Teacher: author Mark Barnes provides a one-page schedule that includes a rough sketch of how many minutes a teacher should plan for the different activities in his/her/their classroom. According to Barnes, the majority of the activities should be student driven with very short instructions in between each activity. Looking over that time schedule, it was clear to me that I was spending too much time talking at students and too little time letting students lead their own learning. I also like the flexibility of the schedule. I could start my class with a 1-3 minute instructional time, then I could spend 5-8 minutes having students watch a video independently, could assign a 10-12 minute lab experiment, or spend 3-5 minutes on a reading. My main roles as the teacher are to a. make sure I don’t talk too long and b. make sure the majority of my class activities are student-centered. 

There was something about the simplicity of this plan that sparked a new understanding about my role. I’ve felt like a student-centered teacher for many years, but do I walk the talk? To hold myself accountable, I am working on my beginning of year curriculum and am designing my lesson slides in a way that follows the 5-Minute Teacher structure. 

While it seems shocking to me that such a short book is having such a large impact on my teaching practice, I’m also relieved that the author kept his message short and to the point. What books are driving your summer inspiration this year? Contact me on Instagram or in the comments below!

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