Tony Gurr

What do GREAT Classroom Observers “Know” – and, what do they do with what they know?

In Classroom Teaching, Teacher Training on 09/04/2012 at 12:35 pm

I’ve just finished reading – Personal Misfires as an Observer – a new blog post from Micheal Griffin.

Mike and I have kinda become partners-in-crime with allthingsobservation of late – he from Korea, me from Turkey (gotta love Twitter and its abilty to function as a “çöpçatan” for we educators)!

In his latest post, he gives a really open, honest review of his own experiences as a “green” observer (a fair few moons ago). This is the kind of stuff I “love” – as it’s these “stories” of LEARNing that really help others develop their own reflective savvy.

See Mike’s full post HERE

What I thought I’d do (as a bit of a follow-up) is re-post a few thunks I had on what makes GREAT Classroom Observers “tick” – I used this earlier (in the series I worked on with Mike) but think it may have got lost in that longer post.


So, here is the short n’ sweet version:

I have had the pleasure of meeting loads and loads of classroom observers over the years – and, I can say that all of the “best” CLASSROOM OBSERVERS…(yes, you can “smell” a list coming a mile away, can’t you?):

…(really, really) “know their stuff” when it comes to TEACHing (and, more importantly, LEARNing)

…have some form of ESP when it comes to “seeing and analysing classroom interaction patterns” (remember those teachers with “eyes in the back of their heads”) 

…pay as much “attention to detail” as they do in looking for the “big picture”

…know the value of “service” (and actually like being called “servant leaders”)

…love “recognising others” and “giving praise” (all the time)

…are “authentic, open communicators” who can build “trust” naturally (and from day one)

…have uncanny “relationship-building abilities”

…know that they have two ears and one mouth (and use them in proportion)

…ask amazingly “sensitive and non-judgmental questions”

…are both “low-ego” and “low-maintenance”

…are NOT afraid of “having difficult conversations” (whenever needed) and know the value of “tough love”

…(but also) know when to “back down from a fight” and suggest a “time-out”

…do NOT “sweat the small stuff” and know when to let a few things “slide” (it’s OK…really OK to do this)

…(really, really) care about those around them and those they work with

…have masses of emotional literacy


Sounds like I am describing “most” women, yes guys? So, I guess it will be no surprise when I say:

…are (frequently) the female of the species



Most of us have to make do with only a handful of these abilities…but I, for one, have seldom found that my genitalia get in the way of helping others…if I focus on my own LEARNing!


  1. Hi Tony,

    I’m enjoying this focus on classroom observation, especially as I am fairly new to teacher training. One thing that struck me reading this list is that only one point refers explicitly to the observers subject knowledge, while the rest are more about interpersonal skills. This made me think of the current “demand high ELT” debate on how important rapport really is in the classroom and whether what we really need is more focussed attention on the learning, rather than the relationship. Although I agree that in an observer/observer relationship the qualities you list are very important, surely subject knowledge should have more of a place? Or the ability not to ask “sensitive” questions at the right time, but ones which promote, encourage and demand reflection? I don’t think I have a problem with many of the things on your list, however I am not by any means the most effective observer I could be (yet…!).

    I realise this list was of the common qualities you have seen in good observers, not a list of the top things an observer should have/be. It just made me wonder if we, as teacher educators, also need to rethink our approach, just as Demand High ELT is of teachers, or indeed as Willy Cardoso spoke about at IATEFL on the dialogue we leave space for with our trainees, meaning we expect more from them in terms of reflection.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking thunks!


    • Thx Jem,

      Yes, I tried not to do a “top 10” list – far too much thunking required to put all these things in a “ranked list”. I hear you – and I think this is why I put “know your stuff” at the top of the list. Just as we would not send a teacher into a maths class, if s/he could not “add up” – sending an observer into another teachers’ class without the right kind of “experience” would set up everyone for a fall. As you note, asking the right kind of questions is also critical – and this brings together ones knowledge of allthingsteaching&learning and all those interpersonal skills that help the wider process.

      I was reading a few of the comments on twitter about the posts Mike and I did – one of them caught my eye (about “sandwiches”) 😉 I think this highlights the need for observers to be very “real” – using a “bag-o-tricks” approach just is not the way to go (even when an observer is really knowledgeable and experienced). It’s that kind of authenticity that is really helpful in getting teachers to really grow their own “reflective savvy” (for the long haul – not just an isolated classroom session). I think this is why I did emphasise the “soft skills” (do not really like that word) so much. But, hey – all the things on the list are important.

      The real question is, perhaps, are they all LEARNable? Now, there’s a question 😉

      Take care,


  2. Finally catching up on some reading…and enjoying your blog! Yeah, I agree, in most cases (sadly, not all) we can take it as a given that observers have this greater “subject knowledge” – it’s knowing how to guide observees towards useful self-reflection, and help them hear, absorb, reflect and act on feedback, which is the really hard bit, and I think this is what both of you (Jem and Tony) are saying really. We need to value interpersonal skills not just as a way to build rapport or be “sensitive” in a touchy-feely way, but as a way to get the best out of observees in the time available. It’s necessary to be sensitive to what/how much people can absorb, and to their ‘face’ issues. Also if you can guide them so the reflection is their own, rather than demand it, it sticks better. Having said that, I know I need to work on being more direct and “tough love” with certain people ☺ I really wish there was more time on the CELTA for feedback/reflection, and I’d love to learn more ways to vary this and do it effectively. Reckon feedback is the most important and hardest job for trainers.

    • Sophia,

      Yes, totally agree – the task of mentoring the whole reflection process is soooooooooo tough. The thing I find (even now) is that many people still want me to “weigh n’ measure” them. But, if we put in the time / effort – the pay-off from deeeper reflection can take us so much further than “a report card” from A N OTHER 🙂

      As I said, I really liked what you said about “the sandwich” – people smell this stuff a mile off. I’ve found it’s just better to be direct – say “I am not going to weigh n’ measure you” – “but, I’m going to ask some tough questions”. This works 90% of the time – esp. if NOT doing a CELTA programme. We cannot, afterall,hope to “manipulate” someone towards improvement. That’s just daft 🙂

      Do we get it right all the time? Even after almost 20 years, I still screw up now and again 🙂


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