If you have an upcoming demo lesson at a school, congratulations! You have made it to what is usually the final stage in the interview process. For many teachers, the demo lesson phase elicits the most anxiety.

Fortunately, we’ve got your back! We’ll make it easy for you: this article highlights the top five elements that form the foundation of a successful demo lesson. To help you remember what these elements are, we created the “POISE” framework: Be Prepared, manage the Objective, keep the lesson Interesting and Simple, and set Expectations.

What is a Demo Lesson?

A demo lesson is a lesson that you plan and execute for a group of students, or a group of adults posing as students, at a hiring school. Think of it as an audition to be a teacher at the school.

For many, the demo lesson is the most challenging part of the hiring process. You are obviously unfamiliar with the needs of the students, which makes two things difficult: behavior management, and knowing what content to teach. And if you are a new teacher, there is the additional challenge of trying out strategies you have learned but have had little experience with.

Fortunately, hiring managers and school administrators are very much aware of the impact these challenges have on demo lessons, and they don’t expect perfection. They do, however, expect that you can keep students safe and that students will learn something from your lesson. Also, rest assured that if you are unsatisfied with the outcome of the lesson, you will have the opportunity to discuss it during the debrief.

P : Prepare | POISE Framework

Bring any and all materials you plan to use:

You are probably already nervous, and you certainly don’t need an additional obstacle. Being overly prepared means you can avoid unnecessary challenges and potential mistakes.

There are lots of variables beyond your control, but whether or not you have a functioning marker is not one of them! Having to stop in the middle of a lesson to ask where the tape is, or erasing a board with your hand because you don’t have an eraser, will probably rattle you, even if only for a moment. Bring all of the materials you will need for the lesson, including tape if you are using posters, dry erase markers, magnets, and anything else you will need. It’s one less thing to worry about.

Set up for success:

Pre-make charts that are needed for the lesson. If your plan is to elicit responses from the students and record what they say on the chart, pre-make the rest of the chart and leave only those sections blank. Why? 1) Writing uses up a fair amount of time that could be used for something more valuable, and 2) it is difficult to write without turning your back to students. Since you haven’t developed a relationship with these particular students and you don’t know what to expect from their behavior, it’s better not to give them this opportunity.

Prepare everything the night before -- your clothes, your route, the lesson plan, and all materials needed for the lesson. You will sleep more soundly and be clear-headed the next morning.

Prepare for student interaction:

Plan and rehearse routines students will need to execute during the lesson. Examples include getting a writing utensil, finding a partner, passing papers out, turning papers in, and any others you can anticipate. To help you decide which ones you will need to teach during your demo, use our planning guide and list of common routines. Teachers often overlook this important step. Sloppy or unclear routines can cause disarray, which gives off the impression that you are potentially unable to keep students safe. It also wastes time that you already have so little of. Examples:

If you plan to have students work in groups, scaffold the process. (If you say “pick a partner” and let them assume the responsibility, problems will surely arise.) Instead, use a strategy such as having students count off, or naming them “peanut butter” and “jelly” to pair them.

If you are teaching lower grades, plan how you will direct students from the carpet to their seats. “Time to go back to your seats and work!” will likely result in students rushing to their seats all at once -- talking and off-task. Instead, try saying “When I call your row, you may take 30 seconds to quietly walk back to your seat and start working” and then calling one row at a time. When in doubt, tell them what they should be doing, how they should be doing it (the behavioral expectation, such as quietly), and for how long.

Prepare for when things go wrong:

Often, teachers think that students will follow their directions or be on their best behavior during the demo just because their principal is watching. Do not count on this. We see students breaking rules constantly during demos, and administrators always notice and evaluate to see how the teacher reacts.  It doesn’t need to be perfect, but you do need to clearly demonstrate a strategy and be prepared to reflect on how you could improve next time. Sometimes during demos, teachers feel awkward disciplining students  they don’t know in front of other adults. Here are a few tips on how to redirect students in a respectful manner:

  • 1 - 5 students off task: Use silent signals, proximity or other warm/strict corrections to redirect behavior (example: student is answering the wrong question on their page, teacher walks over and points silently to the correct question)
  • 5 - 10 students off task: Positive narration or proximity (example: speaking to the whole class, “Most groups are on the second or third question. If you need help, raise your hand.”
  • 10+ students off task: Reset expectations with the whole class. Use an attention-getting signal, remind the class of the expectations, and then scan for compliance. (example: “Just a reminder, we are on chapter 2, page 31…” --teacher scans the room for compliance -- “Good. I’ll give you a few more seconds to get to page 31. Almost everyone is there. Great.”

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O : Objective | POISE Framework

Align the objective with grade-level standards:

It is essential that the objective aligns with grade-level standards, unless there are special circumstances that the school has shared with you. The common core website lists standards by grade level , and you can use this to plan your objective.

Communicate the objective:

Have the objective of the lesson posted and clearly visible to you, the students, and the recruitment or leadership team members that are observing. You would be surprised how well this keeps teachers focused on their objective.

Choose assessments that align directly with the objective, and assess throughout the lesson, not just at the end. This will ensure students are on track to master the objective.

I : Interesting | POISE Framework

Sometimes teachers are so focused on the details that they forget the very basic concept that the lesson should be interesting! Put yourself in the students’ shoes. What would keep you engaged during a 45 minute lesson with a teacher you’ve never met?

No matter how fascinating your lesson content, if you are doing most of the talking and students are passively listening (or just appear to be listening, it’s hard to tell if you aren’t checking) they are probably only partly engaged. Students should be interacting with you, other students, or the content, for the duration of the lesson.

Insider Tip: Use a hook to draw students in right at the beginning of a lesson. A video, a demonstration, a joke, or an interesting fact will get their attention and help them feel invested in the lesson.

S : Simple | POISE Framework

We’ve seen hundreds of demo lessons, and it’s rare that the timing is perfect. The lesson almost always runs over, not under. In other words, most teachers over-plan. This is not a dealbreaker, but administrators like to see that you can teach a lesson from start to finish in the amount of time given. In order to achieve this, you must keep it simple. This doesn’t mean that you should “dumb down” the rigor, but you might need to decrease the scope of your objective. You can always create a back-up plan for extension activities in case you breeze through the lesson.

A rule of thumb is that the lesson goal or objective should be simple enough that students can state what they are learning when asked.

Insider Tip: Break each section of the lesson (Do Now, Guided Practice, etc) into time increments, then practice using either a timer or video recording device. We highly recommend the latter. Keep rehearsing until you can comfortably execute the lesson in the allotted time. It might take a few tries, but we can assure you it’s worth it.

E : Expectations | POISE Framework

Set expectations for behavior before you start your lesson. This is perhaps the most important piece of advice we have for you.

  • Use a pre-made chart, especially for lower grades, with three simple rules. Use images to support the words for Special Education or Grades PK-6.
  • Your explanation of the expectations should be very brief—two minutes at most.
  • Make the explanation interactive. For example, if you want students to use a quiet thumb to show they have an answer, ask them to demonstrate that when you first present the expectation so that you can check for understanding.
  • Post directions fo students so they know what to do during work time. This way, if students are off-task or unsure what to do, you can point to the directions to redirect them. This frees up your time to assess and conference with students, which is a much more valuable use of your time. It’s also a less-intrusive behavioral correction, and has the added benefit that it also helps administrators and recruiters who are observing follow along.

Reflecting on the Demo Lesson

Chances are, your demo lesson is not going to go exactly the way you planned. Does any lesson ever? The good news is, even if you feel it was a complete disaster, remember 1) it usually wasn’t as bad as you think, and 2) you have an opportunity to discuss it during the debrief.

We have seen quite a few demo lessons that were less than stellar but the candidate still received an offer. Why? Because they recognized what went wrong and took ownership over what they would do differently if given another opportunity. School administrators want teachers who are reflective and receptive to feedback because these are the teachers they can work with and mold into effective teachers at their school. If you can demonstrate that you are thoughtful, coachable, and committed to constantly improving --  you can save an imperfect demo lesson and get a teaching job that you love.

Additional Resources

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