Universal Techniques for Top-Notch Observations


Universal Techniques for Top-Notch Observations

By NAfME member David Potter


Teacher: In music, if f means forte, what does ff mean?

Student: Eighty.

Observer: (sigh)

In an era of scrutinized teacher evaluation and observation, it is important for teachers around the country to find ways to model success in the classroom regardless of who comes in to watch. This session at NAfME’s National In-Service Conference will identify the commonalities found in teacher evaluation rubrics in every state around the country. The session will also provide Orff-based model lessons designed to succeed in any school district observation in the United States.


iStockphoto.com aleksei-veprev



Most music teachers are required to participate in observations by administrators, both announced and unannounced.

Observations are important in many cases as they can account for up to fifty percent or more of a teacher’s total evaluation.

Evaluations are in many cases linked to salary, tenure, and leadership opportunities.



Most music teachers use the same rubric as classroom teachers.

Many observations are evaluated by administrators with little or no music background.

In other words, music teachers may find it difficult to teach to a classroom rubric, while administrators may find it difficult to interpret the effectiveness of a music lesson.

Many music teachers that I have spoken with respond to this lesson in one of two ways. The first is that teachers attempt to take no notice of the observer and teach the way they normally would. However, after one of my colleagues received the lowest score possible on an observation (in spite of being a highly qualified teacher for over thirty years), I considered otherwise. The other response I received from teachers was to completely change my lessons so that there was less of a focus on music and more of a focus on reading, writing, and arithmetic. As a music teacher who conducts fifteen musical programs at my school per year, I believed that this option was not empowering either.

This session seeks to provide music teachers with simple tools that will prepare them for any observation at any time without having to compromise their own music teaching.

iStockphoto.com filo

Four Components of Teacher Evaluation

Looking at evaluation models across the country (especially the Danielson model), four components of teacher evaluation come to the surface:

  • Planning
  • Environment
  • Reflection
  • Teaching

While this session will focus on teaching, it is important to be aware of the other three components as they can affect overall teacher effectiveness.

When planning a music lesson, there should be measurable goals that are standards-based, sequenced, built on a foundation of knowledge, relevant, and age-appropriate. They should also allow for accommodations, encourage higher-order thinking, have variety, build literacy, and inform future instruction. Please note that ALL music lessons build literacy, but it is our job to explain how. For a simple breakdown of college and career readiness standards for literacy, click this link.

A learning environment should have high expectations, and allow students to learn from their mistakes, ensure that everyone is successful in some way, allow for student initiative, and optimize instructional time. There should also be clear rules. Ideally, the environment models positive behaviors without disruption, is welcoming, organized, displays student work, respectful, positive, and features individual/group learning.

As music teachers we are teaching students a whole plethora of things every day, but when an administrator is in the room, they need to know your precise focus for the day.

Reflection should be thorough, address every standard used during the lesson, inform an observer, and provide reinforcement of what you have taught. This is most important, because your reflection may change your observation score for the better.

While this will be covered in depth at the session, the most important technique to be discussed at the session is this: When being observed, focus on ONE OBJECTIVE. Make the objective clear. Have students state the objective, and have students model the objective successfully. As music teachers we are teaching students a whole plethora of things every day, but when an administrator is in the room, they need to know your precise focus for the day.

Lastly, I have compiled a set of thirty questions that I keep posted around my classroom. These questions have helped me to get perfect scores on all of my observations for several years. To access them, click this link.

The Orff process is a great way to feature student creativity, one of the highest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. I look forward to seeing you in November as we engage in this highly effective approach to musical success.


About the author:

David Potter photo

NAfME member David Potter is currently the Orff Music Teacher at Levi Elementary School in Memphis. In over five years at Levi, he has received the New Teacher of the Year award, the Teacher of the Year award, and several Teacher of the Month Awards. He is the recipient of the 2016 Tennessee Music Education Association Outstanding Young Music Educator award for outstanding service to the field of music education. During his tenure, he has secured grants and donations for the music program in excess of $25,000.00. Mr. Potter’s dedication to partnerships include working with the Junior League of Memphis to premier Levi’s first Disney musical and collaborating with the Memphis Symphony to pilot the first side-by-side concert where students in K-5 performed in concert with the orchestra.

Mr. Potter is a co-writer of the new TN State K-5 General Music standards and is a peer reviewer for the TN Fine Arts Portfolio. He currently holds a Bachelor of Music in Music Education from the Eastman School of Music, a Master of Music in Music Education (with distinction) from the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam, and Certification in K-12 Music Education in New York and Tennessee. Mr. Potter received Orff certification in Levels I, II, and III from the University of Memphis, where he also works as a Pre-service Instructive Mentor. Mr. Potter serves as Treasurer of the Memphis Ch apter of the American Orff-Schulwerk Association. He is also the Director of Music at St. Luke Lutheran Church in Cordova.


David Potter will be presenting on his topic “ORFF-ervations: Universal Techniques for Top-Notch Observations” at the 2016 NAfME National In-Service Conference this November in Grapevine, TX! Register today!

music education

Join us for more than 100 innovative professional development sessions, nightly entertainment, extraordinary performances from across the country, and tons of networking opportunities with over 3,000+ other music educators! Learn more and register today: http://bit.ly/NAfME2016. And follow the hashtag #NAfME2016!

Did this blog spur new ideas for your music program? Share them on Amplify! Interested in reprinting this article? Please review the reprint guidelines.

The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

Brendan McAloon, Marketing and Events Coordinator, October 24, 2016. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org).