Tony Gurr

Should we be TELLing or ASKing TEACHers…about “their” classrooms? (Pt 01)

In Adult Educators, Adult Learners, Teacher Learning, Teacher Training on 09/11/2012 at 9:37 am

This post is dedicated to the memory of “Sally”a wonderful LEARNer, TEACHer and QUESTIONer – who has been taken from us far too early.

Bugün, çok karanlık bir günde,  harika bir insan ve arkadaşımızı aydınlığa uğurlayacağız…seni seviyouruz, canım!


With the exception of my “saucy Conference Calendar“, nearly all my posts (and guest-posts) of late have been about “questions”.

Have you noticed that?

Now, I’m not sure about you…but I have always hated being “told” what to doeven when I was knee-high to a grasshopper! Parents, teachers…even my “mates” would drive me up the wall…when they “jumped” in and said things like:

  • No, that’s silly…what you need to do is…
  • You’re doing it all wrong, Tony! This is how you do it…
  • You didn’t use the blackboard much in that lesson. Why not?
  • Your lesson lacked “flavour” again…why didn’t you do what we discussed last time?

OK – those last two are from CELTA trainers…and even though a question or two are “thrown” in – they weren’t really questions at all. More like a club to the head!

We’ve talked about these kinds of things before – many times on the blog (as have others in my PLN)!


Don’t get me wrong!

I’m not suggesting that we should never tell others the “truth”…but I would warn against thunking that “our” truth is the “only” truth…especially when we are talking about classroom observation and helping another educator LEARN, GROW…and GET OFF the planet quicker!


TELLing people does NOT workas well as we thunk!

Think about it – as a TEACHer – how many times have you told your LEARNers stufftold them againrevised itre-taught itchecked their understandingassigned “homework”…and some of them STILL don’t get it?

Why would it be any different if you did the same with a TEACHer…when giving them feedback on one of their lessons? Especially, and I mean especially, when you get their backs up…by suggesting:

  • I know best!
  • You did it wrong!
  • Now, fix it!


There is a better way…

It’s not rocket science! If we can shelve our experience, our positionour egoand LISTEN first!

LISTENing is best initiated by ASKing…and, in allthingsclassroomobservation, there are essentially THREE questions we should be encouraging TEACHers to thunk about

Finding out where the TEACHer is coming fromwhat the TEACHer “feels”…is the best (initial) “deposit” you can drop into the “joint emotional bank account” you have opened with the TEACHer. You are going to need some “credit” in that account before you can make a “withdrawal”…

and, you can take that advice to the bank!


The thing is…

Isn’t that always the case?

Tomorrow, I’ll share with you some of the questions that I ASK…

  1. Have you noticed other peoples questions can become our own, in other words we ‘club’ ourselves! Very limiting.

    I read a book called What to Say When You Talk to Yourself by Shad Helmstetter of which this post reminds me. The book highlighted the things people say to you often without realising it. In a subtle way these things that are said to you can undermine you as questions sometimes do. I sat down with my wife and recalled our growing up as children, for this is when the most influence occurs I think, although it never stops. Here are a few:

    1) Get down from there you will fall.
    2) Leave it alone you will break it.
    3) Give it to me, you are useless at ….. .
    4) If you don’t stop you will hurt yourself.

    You can probably think of more.

    Will I fall, am I wrong? Before long you don’t risk it, adults know better don’t they. There is hope though, once aware of these very limiting phrases you can start to challenge them. Just one word of warning though, especially to parents, be careful you don’t use them with those you can influence you don’t want to undermine them or their confidence now do you!

    • Kevin,

      Thx for dropping in – and reminding us of the other side of the coin.

      It’s funny – whenever I work with teachers (good teachers, some very good teachers) on “reflection” after a lesson, 9 times out of 10 they start by “beating” themselves up – rather than giving themselves the “pats-on-the-back” they deserve. True – we learn from our “mistakes” but we also learn from our “successes” – so why do we (all so) often start from a position of “weakness”?

      Me thunks – our parents and teachers have more than a hand in all that 😉

      Take care,


  2. I’ve always found the best lesson observations were when the observer focussed on what the students were doing (or not doing) and could point out things I hadn’t noticed (e.g., “What about that group in the corner who weren’t saying anything?”). The worst just repeated TEFL cliches like “You need to teach the students, not the lesson.”

    • Robin,

      SO TRUE – I think this what ı was trying to get at when I talked about “perspective” in Pt 02. So many of us still take the TEACHing prespective on what we “do” in the classroom. The thing is…what are we really in the classroom “for”?

      LEARNing…and student success (rather than our own) 😉

      Take care,


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