Thoughts on School Observations

Observations in the classroom and in other settings can provide valuable information about your child’s ability to learn. If you are concerned about behavioral, emotional, or academic issues with your child at school did you know you are allowed on school observation during the school day?

Now I realize many schools may not just roll out the red carpet for you. It is important to be respectful and not accusatory in your written request to observe. It would be helpful to explain your concerns and the purpose of your request to observe. Furthermore, you must follow the school’s visitation policy so be sure to check with your school’s administration office on their specific policies.

Elementary and Secondary Education of Act (ESEA)

If you get pushback, advise the school that under the Elementary and Secondary Education of Act (ESEA) of 1965 (Sec. 1116), schools shall allow reasonable access to staff, opportunities to volunteer and participate in their child’s class, and observation of classroom activities. The purpose of this section is to improve student achievement and develop the school-parent partnership. ESEA applies to regular education and special education alike.

Before jumping on that written request for a school observation, be sure to ask yourself what you hope to gain and whether there is another more effective way to obtain the data. If your child sees you, will the observations be relevant? I know that just from attending American Education Week, my own son looked over at me often and I know it was not an accurate snapshot of what he is like when I am not there. I am saying that I think he may have put on a little show for me and I get it. I would have done the same if my parents came and observed me at school.

Should you be at the school observation

Based on the data you are seeking to obtain, consider sending another professional. Perhaps sending a member of a home behavior team, a behavior analyst, occupational therapist, psychologist or advocate to observe in a more clinical manner would cause less disruption and gain more useful insight.

Educational experts who conduct school observations will focus on such details as delivery of instruction, your child’s social interactions and your child’s peer group to help explain why your child may be having difficulties. An observer should be able to tell you whether your child is able to thrive in a large group or whether he or she needs a more structured program, more individual attention or a smaller class size.

And finally, quality observations are not limited to the classroom. Sometimes, for a child who is struggling with anxiety or to make friends, the most important part of a school observation may occur in the cafeteria or in gym class where the expert can see for themselves whether your child is included and engaging with peers.

Whatever you decide, always consider the need for the school observation, what information you are trying to seek and how it can be obtained in the least disruptive way.