Tony Gurr

Why do we still have so many MISFIRES with classroom observation? (Part 01)

In Classroom Teaching, Quality & Institutional Effectiveness, Teacher Training on 25/02/2012 at 5:46 pm

I’ve been having a fair few LEARNing conversations about classroom observations over the past few months – both the virtual and face-to-face types. In those chats, I keep hearing about “misfıre” after “misfire” in the areas of observation cycles and processes.

What do I mean by “misfire”?


I usually define misfire as “getting it wrong” or “doing it wrong”when you really want to get it right – but “screwing up” works just fine, too.

The real challenge, however, is that avoiding misfires with classroom observation is pretty, bloody difficultespecially within an institutional context.


I know lots of great teachers that do some amazing work with “self-observation and reflection” (all “on their tod”). I also know a couple of teachers who do amazing things with (informal) “peer observation”even though the teachers themselves work on different continents!

I do not know many “institutional” observation programmes (be they self, peer or supervisor) programmes that come close to the same level of success as the self-initiated examples I gave above!


No one (I hope) actually wants to set up an ineffective observation process or be an ineffective observer.  A lot of the time we just don’t know any better, rely on what we think we know “works” or “borrow” stuff without really looking at the ins-and-outs.

In an earlier post, I exposed some of my own “personal misfires” (in “Classroom Observation – What works, What matters”) when I was a “wet-behind-the-ears-observer” many, many moons ago – and then tried to share some thoughts on how we might improve things in the follow-up post “Getting Classroom Observation RIGHT”.

My misfire here, however, was that I never actually finished the “series” I had mapped out in my head…So, I have decided to try and fix this after reading a couple of more recent blog posts:


Both Dave and Chris highlighted many of the typical misfires we (still) see in our schools, colleges and universities – and the way many teachers still feel when they hear the two little words “classroom observation”:

Sadly, there are no “magic bullets” or “secret recipes” to help us deal with many of the issues and challenges in classroom observation within institutions (in fact, looking for things like this is half the problem) – and you’d be surprised just how “deep” we need to go to get observation “right”!

So, what are the sources of all these misfires?

What are the reasons for classroom observation “blowing up” in our faces so often?

…and why is the process so “radioactive” for many teachers? 


I have found there are usually FIVE key areas of misfire (you have to read these “bottom up”):

Yes, these 5 things (or the lack of them) consistently give us more observation headaches than you could shake a stick at!


BUT, the main reason we “screw up” classroom observation so much is that we underestimate its complexityand often try and come up with a “quick fix” without thunking through the preqrequisite basics  or the wide range of areas that it impacts.

At the very heart of this complexity is a fact that we sometimes forget:

…and, (ergo):

“Political places”, too!


We talk a lot (in our institutions) these days about “effectiveness” or “performance” – and simply forget that effective LEARNing starts with “relationships” and “trust”. Low levels of trust within educational institutions are at the very root of most observation misfires – and also many of the reactions of teachers to the wider issue of classroom observation.

I think this why Dave is so right to be critical of classroom observation processes that are grounded on “checklists” or the “ticky-box” approach to “evaluating” the business of a classroom.

I have never had a decent relationship with a checklist – and I know many of them do not trust me!

Many teachers “define” themselves (sometimes a bit too much) by how they run the “business” of learning in their classrooms – and that “business” is very personal!

Checklists just do not cut it..


So, and bearing that little self-evident truth in mind, is there anything we can all do to minimise the number of misfires?

Over the next few days, I’ll try to get more thunks down on paper… feel free to help me out.

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