Tony Gurr

Why do we still have so many MISFIRES with classroom observation? (Part 06)

In Classroom Teaching, Quality & Institutional Effectiveness, Teacher Training on 29/02/2012 at 1:06 am

The REAL problem is that we educators – especially when we take on administrative or observation rolesjust “love” TELLing!

Maybe, it’s in our genes – maybe that’s why we become teachers and educators in the first place! However, as Marilee points out – this is not an issue in education alone. It’s all over – in every area of life…

We’re just better at it than most…with the exception of “politicians”, perhaps!


Think about itwhen we are in the classroom, what options (“modalities”, even) do we have to help us TEACH? Basically, I have found FOUR (tell me, if you know of more – and, no…”mime” does not count)…

As teachers, most of us know that “TEACHing by ASKing” is a lot more effective than “TEACHing by TELLing”… 

…but, as a profession, what do we (still) do most of?


This can (and does) also impact how we “do the business” of classroom observation, too.

Firstly, however, there’s the issue of how we see our “purpose” as an observer. If we see our role as “fixing” LEARNing and TEACHing “misfires” in the classroom – then, there’s a natural bias towards TELLing others how to do it. If we see our role as an observer in terms of supporting the improvement of classroom practice by helping teachers to reflect on their performance and plan for meaningful action, there’s much more scope (and “need”) for ASKing.

As we have been discussing, this focus on purpose and role is important. But, regardless of the aims and purpose of your observation programme – ASKing just beats TELLing…hands down!

And, you know what? – Teachers prefer it as ASKing allows them to do something they really enjoy!

If ASKing is for you – remember, just like asking the right questions, it takes practice. Try to keep an eye on how much of it you are doing. One thing I found really useful (as a younger observer – learning the ropes), was to apply our ideas from the TEACHing Matrix – to the Observers’ FEEDBACK Matrix.

I used this as a “reminder” but also to “weigh myself” after I did a feedback session with a teacher (as well as ASKing teachers for some feedback on how I “did” – as an observer). Most teachers will appreciate that – and, more importantly, it demonstrates that even “expert observers” can LEARN by REFLECTing.

Let’s stick with this notion of “reflection” for a minute!

It is a key element of almost all effective classroom observation programmes.

As we noted, all the best teachers ask themselves a lot of questions they have a lot of “reflective savvy”. And, if you are an observer – this type of teacher / observee is nothing short of a wet dream! 

…sorry, a gift from the heavens themselves!


Actually, with this type of teacher/observee – the problem is to try and “shut them up” and not allow them to beat themselves up too much in the process.

These observees know what they have done “right” – and they are very open about their “weaknesses” or “areas for improvement”. They are, if you will, great “self-discoverers”. They know why something “works” and are frequently great at coming up with “solutions” for the issues they identify (even, mini-action-research projects). The best of them love setting themselves challenges – and deadlines…and can’t wait to share the results with you!

As I said a…gift from the heavens!


The challenge is when we have someone who perhaps does not where to start or is not as “savvy” in the reflection stakes. This is where we need to think about how we get them from where they are now…to where they could be.

As we noted in Part 4, having a fit-for-purpose observation cycle is a great start for many observers and institutions – however, when we come to post-conferences or feedback sessions, we need to think about a “feedback cycle”.

This use of feedback cycles is not “new” – medical professionals have been doing this for years in their clinical practice with “doctors-in-training”. Indeed, they have come up with some pretty specific guidelines for how they should be doing the business of feedback in medicine:

We can clearly see the same kind of “logic” to the whole process – but, if you watch Grey’s Anatomy, you’ll see that doctors do not always walk-their-talk either!

If I was honest, I find models like Pendleton’s a bit “rigid” – they smell a bit too much like “school lockstep” for me – and, I’d find it difficult to have a more natural, LEARNing conversation with a teacher or observee if I “stuck” to the stages.

But the basic idea is there – if you want someone to reflectdo less TELLing yourself!


If we go back to what we were saying earlier about ASKing, I think we educators can probably come up with a better “feedback cycle” than Meredith Grey and her mates!

Oh, look – here’s a little something I prepared earlier!

This cycle basically takes what a teacher with a great deal of reflective savvy “does” – and uses it to help observers do a bit more “assisted discovery”. In essence, a feedback cycle like this is another bit of the “technology” we talked about earlier (Part 04) –  a roadmap to develop “reflective savvy” in observees.

The benefit of this approach is that we can allow the observee to start how every she wants and build a LEARNing conversation around her priorities. The “trick” is, of course, for the observer to use effective, non-judgmental questions to take the observee through the various stages.

For example:

We can see here that these types of questions allow observees to “discover” any areas that might need attention. The questions “prompt” reflection – and help when observees “miss” something. They allow both observer and observee to “explore” a lesson together in a conversation – which is what a feedback cycle should be.

Other questions can be used to explore “options” and “solutions”:

You just KNOW it makes sense…that is – until you meet the “observee-from-HELL”!

Yes, they do exist…and, they ARE out there!

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