Tony Gurr

Should we be TELLing or ASKing TEACHers…about “their” classrooms? (Pt 02)

In Adult Educators, Adult Learners, Teacher Learning, Teacher Training on 10/11/2012 at 8:34 am

That image is probably the #1 graphic (in download terms) on the blog – probably because so many people see so many different things in it.

However, what nearly everyone agrees on is that the quote is…oh-so-true!


That having been said, do you remember what I said in Pt 01 of this little diziabout “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!

What I was getting at was basically this – when we are helping another TEACHer to reflect on a lesson, the best way to do it is by ASKingby LISTENingby BEing there for the TEACHer (as well as BEing with the TEACHer).


Jumping in with both feet (and a “club”) ain’t gonna get you very far – and the over-zealous (and over-used) strategy of picking up on every, single, bloody, tiny, “screw-up” is probably the reason so many TEACHers (still) “dread” – yes, I said “dread”, classroom observation…and (even more so) the “feedback session”!

Yes! I have “feelings” on this…strong feelings!

BUT…this is not the time for a RANT (I heard you, Laurence)!


I promised to share something with you…some of the questions I ASK when I run “reflection sessions” with TEACHers.

I won’t pretend that these little questions are the “Holy Grail” of feedback sessions (there are no magic bullets in education – you know this). All I can say is that they “work” for mein 9 out of 10 instances…especially, in sessions when TEACHers “volunteer” or ASK me to help them out.


That’s the first one I start with (after finding a comfortable place to chat…and buying us both a coffee or çay).

Why is this question so important?


Well, I totally agree with what my men, Andy and Mike, say…

…but, in a feedback session – it is “feelings” that dictate how effectively a TEACHer will “be” him or herself, “thunk”…and “open up” to you. Even if you both feel that you already have a pretty “cool” relationship…

It ain’t rocket science – boys and girls!


The next question I usually ASK is this one:

…now, this one looks quite “easy”, doesn’t it?


However, I’ve found that even the most experienced TEACHers can benefit from exploring this question a wee bit…especially, when one of our purposes (for having a feedback session) is to get to my third question:


It is this questionor rather the second part of this question…that can “bake a noodle” or three!

Indeed, it is this question that can lead us back to the second question…and allow us both to look at how “aligned” the lesson actually was (with what was “planned”).


Afterall, we all know…

…don’t we?


Building on that question, I often move onto my next one:

…and it is one of the “toughest” in the whole session – especially we we use it to analyse different phases of a lesson or the various activities used.

Yes, it can take a long time!


What this lovely little question also does is show the “power” of recording classroom observation sessions – video recording and serious “viewing” by the TEACHer herself.

If I am not actually recording the session (and I try to do this as much as I can), I sometimes keep a “log” of how many times a TEACHer (or the LEARNers) “do” certain things. For example, in one recent session I began counting the number of times that LEARNers actually:

1. produced an “original” utterance

2. produced an utterance “copied” from what the teacher had said

3. produced an utterance “copied” from the textbook

…when I shared my “count” with the TEACHer in question, we got into all sorts of great discussions (after the initial “shock” produced by the “data”) – and agreed that video was the way to go (with or without me being there)!


The next question is really all of the “magic 3” I mentioned in the earlier post:

– the “trick” here is to try and get TEACHers to look at the “strengths” of a session firstyou’d be surprised just how many want to ignore these and focus on “fixing” the not-so-great-stuff!


Now, this next one is a bit tricky – as the previous question needs to have prepared the groundwork by having thrown up a range of options. Indeed, it is that phase that allows the OBSERVer and the TEACHer to “trade” ideastrade practices…and “create” improvement opportunities:

…this question then allows you to set up an action plan…a timeline.

And, we all know why that is! Yes?


But, it is the second part of the question that helps TEACHers (especially those that have not done a great deal of “formal” reflection or been observed very much)…start to take a newer perspectivea LEARNing perspective that uses the type of “counts” I mentioned before! This perspective is not grounded on what the TEACHer “does” all on her own – but rather in the LEARNing that is “produced” by what both the TEACHer and the LEARNers “do” together…


In any reflection session, it’s also important that the TEACHer gets the opportunity to give some feedback to the OBSERVer – so, I often ask this one:

…and encourage the TEACHer to TELL me what “worked” for him…what I should keep on doing or what I can do less of – to improve the experience.

I have got a lot better over time at doing this…by LISTENing to feedback from TEACHers on how I “perform” as an OBSERVera lot better!


As I said (right at the start of this post) – there is no magic recipe.

I do not always use every question. I do not always keep the same order outlined here…and, it is the questions that the TEACHer and I co-create in a specific conversation that are the most fruitful in many cases!


SO…what I’ll do in the next post (I might need to split it up) is show you an actual “transcript”. The LEARNing coversation I had with Laurencethe very first time I saw him “in action”


That should be FUN!

  1. To me reflection is the key component of professional growth. Without it we do not move forward and that is many ways is going backward for the world does not stand still.

    Reflection is an activity best shared though and this I believe requires trust and respect in order to get the most out of the process.

    Strategies I have used:

    1) an invitation to come and see me teach. If you are ‘brave’ and wanting to draw another teachers attention to an aspect of their teaching mimic it in your own.
    2) how well did I do?
    3) What could I do to make it even better?

    4) What do you want me to look at in your teaching?
    5) How am I to evaluate what it is you want me to look at, what shall I look for and how will I recognise it?

    What has almost amazed me though is the successful, awe inspiring lesson that for some reason can never be repeated. On occasions I have ‘bounced’ out of a lesson it went so well. The students left fully energised and buzzing too. The next group – same lesson, same enthusiasm, same resources and a different result! The only thing I can come up with is my ‘seventh sense’, the one teachers use to respond to the subtle dynamics of a class in a way they are often unaware off. It may be that it is part fuelled by adrenalin perhaps or a certain level of anxiety. Anyway having had a success with the same materials and same lesson does this dull this sense such that we do not adopt those subtle responses we would of otherwise done so? Or is it the time of the day, the missing student who changes the group dynamic or the lesson before?

    Just a few more questions!


  2. Thanks for a great post on feedback….I especially loved the last 3 questions. The last 2 because I haven’t used them before, and see on reading them how they would (a) be helpful to me and my knowledge about what feedback sessions need more/less of, but also (b) let the teacher /observee know that I too value feedback on my job and in that, value his/her opinion about this.
    The other question I liked because although I have used something similar I didn’t follow up with the part 2 re. the ‘how will you know’ about the learning taking place, and that is one of the more fundamental issues that, rather bizarrely, gets easily forgotten in that often too bright a focus on the teacher / the teaching (which can be a rather too easy energy sucker to get into).

    • Kristin,

      Thx for dropping in – and for the kind words. Yes, “feedback” on the “feedback” is a great way to walk-the-talk (as an observer).

      The “how do we know” is one I use a lot – and encourage both LEARNers and TEACHers to (always) thunk about. A small “question” – but a very powerful one 😉

      Take care,


  3. I’m an instructor at Anadolu University and I was observed by Tony about ten days ago. Also, my lesson was recorded during this observation. Honestly, this is the 1st time I’ve been observed since I started working at my institution –for about 8 years- and now I know that I should have done this earlier!

    My lesson objective was to help the students improve their reading skills with a lead-in, pre-reading(scanning) , reading for details (true- false), vocabulary- guessing, and finally a freer-speaking activity at the end. My timing was good and I was able to cover everything that I planned to. Even though the things went well in general, I realised that there were a couple of important things that I should have done differently thanks to this session, video- recording and Tony’s thought- provoking questions.

    First of all, I realised that I just forgot to ask follow-up questions during the “reading for detail” activity, which actually requires the teacher to ask the magical questions like “why do you think that’s the correct answer?” or “how do you know that?” etc. This missing part of my lesson was revealed when Tony asked one of his questions(my favourite one): “ If you could do the session again, what 3 things would you keep the same and what 3 things would you change? Why?”

    The best thing about the observation session was that the questions were leading me to my strenghts and not to my “mistakes” only . We mainly talked about what I did well, what my reasons were, and how I would improve them. That brings me to the last questions- the ones that I find especially helpful: “How do you feel about this reflection session and feedback? What difference has our conversation made to you as a facilitator of learning?”My answer is: I find it incredibly useful and I’ve discovered how valuable it is to be observed, video- recorded and get feedback even after 8 years of experience. Learning is an endless process, especially if you are a “facilitator of learning”, and I think getting some valuable feedback and discovering the truth about yourself as a teacher is a better way of “learning” rather than just waiting for a miracle to change things for better.

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