Tony Gurr

Posts Tagged ‘classroom observation’

Should we be TELLing or ASKing TEACHers…about “their” classrooms? (Pt 03)

In Adult Educators, Adult Learners, Teacher Learning, Teacher Training on 28/11/2012 at 11:33 am

My bouts of bloggery have been few and far between this month…too much jet-settingtoo many tweets on the #eddies12 (but, OMG…have I found some great new blogs…or what)!

…I have also found some great quotes (on blogs I have also nominated for an #eddies12 award, too).

One of these is:

I loved this…so true!


So true, in fact…that I have decided to use it kick off one of the posts I promised ages ago – but never quite got round to doing. I put a great deal of time into the earlier episodes of this mini-dizi (not so you’d notice)…

…because the issue of TEACHer LEARNing (and REFLECTion) is something I take very seriously…more seriously than a heart attack or 3, less seriously than the #eddies12 (obviously)!


The point I was trying to get across in these two episodes is really what Gwynne was also getting at – dealing with the changes we have to “cope” with in education is all about our institutions and our emotions.

She goes on and elaborates a little:

Scott McLeod agrees – so much so he named his (wonderful) blog after Gwynne’s (equally wonderful) quote!


Our institutions very often think about observation and feedback in “dangerously irrelevant” terms – if they bother to thunk about them at all!

If they didn’t think this way, we wouldn’t see as many of the dumb-ass classroom observation protocols we find in so many of our schools, colleges and universitiesand we would see a lot more of the ASKing I was talking about in Pt 01 and Pt 02a LOT more!


In Pt 02, I proposed a few questions that we might want to think about using when ASKing TEACHers about their classrooms…about the things that happen in these classrooms…and how TEACHers “feel” (yes, I said “feel”…all you institutional effectiveness “experts” that want to boil classroom observations down into “neat little numbers” or “ticks” on checklists)…about the “business” they are in!

Yes, I STILL feel strongly about this…


I also promised (more fool me) to get you a transcript of how these questions might play out…the first time you use them with a real TEACHer!

What? You have one of these?

A full transcript…???


I’m wondering…

how many of you will “get” that little “blast-from-the-past”!


Now, this post is gonna be loooooonnnnnng…probably the longest I have ever got up on the whole blog…ever!


…but, if you are interested in this stuff – you might want to bookmark it and come back when you have a bit more time.


This is the transcript from the very first time that I went to see one of  “my-partners-in-crime”, Laurence, do his “thing”…TEACH, yani!

He currently works with groups of TEACHers-to-be here (in Ankara) at Başkent University – and this class was one of their “speaking courses” (designed to help develop their language skills as future ELL facilitators of LEARNing – OK…ELT TEACHers)!

Laurence is not an ELT Instructor (in the traditional sense) – but he is passionate about communication and the LEARNing of his LEARNers. He was keen to see (that’s an understatement…we actually put money on it) whether the types of questions I use in “feedback sessions” with other TEACHers could, in fact, help him become a better LEARNing TEACHer…

I’ll leave that for you (and him) to decide!


Are you sitting comfortably? Then…I’ll begin…


TG:  When was the last time you were observed by someone, Laurence?

LR:  People regularly come in to my classes.  I believe that being observed is an important aspect of any educator’s job, whether it be parents, guests, other teachers, learners, or whatever.  I believe that adaptation to any learning situation is a subconscious as well as a conscious process; if an educator observes the observer’s or the guest’s reaction to any given situation, they often adapt their techniques – especially if that reaction is overwhelmingly positive or negative.  I believe that educators are teaching life-skills in their classes, and one of those life-skills is to be able to react positively to public situations.  I was pleased with our learners’ reactions to your presence in the class; as you know, they might have just clammed up with a stranger in their midst. 

TG:  Cool – not many educators do this.  Look, the way I conduct this type of feedback session is this: I have a series of questions to structure our conversation.  They’re not intended to be judgmental, but designed for you to think through the process of adaptation in any learning situation.  Let’s look at the first of these:  what teaching outcomes did you have for the session?

LR:  I can’t really answer that, to be honest! I’m really interested in using materials to develop learner abilities; in other words, to encourage learners to think for themselves, as well as develop 21st century learning abilities such as resilience and openness.  Hence my decision to put them into groups of three or four, and ask them to do task-based activities, with the minimum of pre-teaching and/or explicatory lecturing from me. 

TG:  Well, there are certain models people use  for teaching and learning:  one of them is the PPP model, or the TTT model (Jang 2008).  Another model is the OHP or TBL model  You seem to use a TBL or a PBL model.  You give a task, allow time for negotiation, and then asked the learners to perform and reflect on what they had done.  Looking at the class in terms of these models might help determine its teaching outcomes:  what stages the learners undergo to complete the adaptive process – adaptation, in this sense, understood as learning something at the end of the lesson that they did not know or could not do at the beginning.  What do you think that learners learned from your session?

LR:  I think that today was an interesting situation, as learners acquired sufficient resilience to cope with strange situations: first, there were two sections who had been put together in one class for the first time in the entire semester; and second, that they had a guest – in other words, yourself – in their midst.  In terms of learning outcomes, they learned to adapt themselves – their body language, responses, communication – to this unaccustomed situation.  Call it “thinking on your feet,” if you like, as well as an ability for learners to shed themselves of that self-consciousness that inhibits communication, and adapt to a new situation. 

TG:  It didn’t seem to faze them that the two groups came together.  How did you know that this learning was taking place? 

LR:  They made great efforts to support one another.  When one group was performing, all the rest of the learners were concentrating on the performance, rather than doing their own preparation.  Even if that performance was not the best in the world, the learners took the trouble to watch it.  More significantly the learners enjoyed what they were doing, and signaled their enjoyment through laughter.

TGSo, wasn’t that your teaching outcome? 

LR:  But … I believe that sometimes a learning outcome cannot be predicted.  If we empower learners to think for themselves, then they might be able to achieve things that educators do not expect.  I think that was certainly the case with the Shakespearean undergraduates two years ago.  Maybe we oughtn’t to make any distinction between teaching and learning outcomes; they’re all part of a continuum.  

TG:  So let’s go back to the question: how do you know that learners learned something from the class? You’ve already talked about their reactions: was there anything else that convinced you that learning had taken place? 

LR:  I asked the learners to do a role-play, so as to emphasize the importance of nonverbal as well as verbal communication in any person-to-person encounter.  The fact that they undertook the task with such gusto suggests that they understood what the outcome of the lesson might have been.  But there was also the unexpected bit: some learners got involved in the activities far more than I would have expected them to.  I try to know my learners, but sometimes they can offer pleasant surprises. 

TGCan you explain that a little more?  How did the learners’ performance meet your expectations, and what were the unpredictable elements? 

LR:  I believe that the performance helped to develop learner fluency and confidence with the language.  By empowering them to draw upon paralinguistic as well as linguistic elements, they understand how communication takes place on several levels.  Even the quiet ones in the group seemed to get involved.  The unexpected element was that those learners whom I expected to be peripheral  in a group-learning situation actually assumed a more active role; in other words, they adapted themselves. 

TGHow do you think the learning evolved during the session?  I mean – learning by “listening,” “doing” or “reflecting”?  If you had to allocate a percentage – or create a pie chart – on those three elements of learning during the class, how you would you respond? 

LR:  Learning by doing would be the most important aspect.  However that can only be sustained through a certain degree of learning by listening: not listening in terms of listening to a lecture from the educator, but listening to each other.  My role in that listening situation is to move about the class, listen to what learners are discussing, and offering comments whenever they might be useful.  Call it collaborative listening.  Let’s say 45% learning by doing, 40% listening, and only 5-10% reflecting.  This is interesting, as I believe that learners only reflect on what they have done after the lesson has concluded, or they have acquired that understanding before the lesson takes place.  In other words, reflection is what is done before and after individual lessons; this is what lies at the heart of adaptive learning. 

TG:  I noticed that … your learners responded well to small stimuli or your classroom management techniques  – clapping hands, for example.  I saw that they were very engaged in the task:  the noise level was quite high.  A lot of that negotiation was done in Turkish to begin with, but as the task neared completion, their language changed to English, especially when they prepared for the performance.  Was that something you expected? 

LR:  Yes.  Referring back to the last chapter, I believe that any language should be used, so long as learners are comfortable with it.  You have to make them want to do the task; if you place too many constraints on them, they won’t do it. 

TG:  There’s one other question here.  As the learners were working, what did you do to improve their levels of fluency or accuracy?  Which of these was your primary focus? 

LRDoes it matter?  Second language speakers need to adapt themselves to the language, and they need the confidence to do so.  Do we want them to be accurate, or just to have the willingness to communicate?  It’s like riding a bicycle, or learning to swim: the way you improve is by doing it, and wanting to do it.  I think we’ve also got to reflect on what fluency means:  do we mean linguistic or communicative fluency?  What is not said often assumes more significance than what is actively said.  Hence my determination not to intervene too much: to empower learners to acquire their own adaptive skills.

TG:  Maybe that was one of your teaching outcomes; to give the learners an opportunity to empower themselves?

LR:  This is true.  In the learners’ educational contexts, they spend a lot of their time in teacher-centered situations, interspersed with presentations.  This involves reading out material copied from books, accompanied with PowerPoint slideshows.  In contrast what I want to do is to create a more fluid situation, so that learners can initiate adaptive processes for themselves. 

TG:  When the learners got to their performance, some of them were reading from notes, others were adlibbing.  Is this what you expected? 

LR:  Yes.  Learners can choose how they want to perform; this has to do with confidence in language communication.  Some are bolder than others.  The only way they can develop is to feel free to adopt whatever strategies they wish. 

TG:  So … and this is the big question.  If you could do the session again, what three things would you keep, and what three things would you drop or change?

LR:  Instead of doing a performance, I might do a creative writing activity.  I might also devise a prereading activity based on a text given before the lesson.  This might be more suitable for younger learners … I don’t know.  I’d also like to have some time allotted for reflection on the learning outcomes of the lesson; in other words, ask the same question of learners that you’ve asked of me. 

TG:  Interesting.  When you answered that question, you critiqued yourself first – and didn’t really talk about the things you wanted to keep.  Why was that, do you think? 

LR:  This is the point of adaptive thinking.  Ideas are seldom fixed, and you can use the past to reflect on present and future.  I’d keep the format of the lesson, as it was group-focused, negotiation-based and learner-centered, and had that unpredictable element.  This represents an alternative to their mainstream learning in the institution. 

TG:  This is co-creation, isn’t it? Let’s stop there and continue our chat later.


I did warn you all…

…cos we ain’t finished, yet – boys and girls!


I asked Laurence to jot down his reflections (between that chat and a follow-up chat we arranged for laters).

This is what he did:

The interesting aspect of this discussion was the ways in which Tony’s feedback questions prompted me to reflect on my teaching practice and the ways in which I reacted from moment to moment during the session.  Such reactions emphasize the capacity of any individual to adapt to any given situation.  This process was identical to that experienced by the learners, as they worked in groups to implement the activity given to them at the beginning.  This is what lies at the heart of collaborative learning… 

However, it is also important to stress that feedback and reflection are not finite, they are ongoing processes (what Tony describes as “reflective savvy”), it should be part of every educational interaction, so as to help educators and learners use adaptation to reshape their approaches to learning, shaped by the cultures they inhabit. 

The next section of our discussion bears this out; it was conducted five days after the first “feedback” session.

TGDid you feel that you needed space to think through some of the things we talked about?

LR:  There are two things there: when you reflect immediately after a class, the reactions are spontaneous, often visceral, perhaps more emotional rather than reflective.  However the five day break is a good way of thinking about how one might use the experience of that lesson as a means to adapt one’s existing pedagogical approaches.  You ask questions such as: did the lesson actually implement what I believe is most significant about the adaptive approach to pedagogy?  Did it help to sustain the kind of continuity something intrinsic to 21st century learning) built up over the previous twelve or thirteen weeks of the semester?

TG:  OK, let’s ask you that question: how does that type of reflection impact on your personal philosophy of teaching and learning? 

LR:  I think the answer to that goes back to my belief that adaptation studies, understood in this context as a process of mental as well as textual transformation, is a continuous process of reflecting on the past to determine one’s future belief.  When I started teaching nearly thirty years ago, I was very much wedded to the “sage on the stage” belief, because I copied what my teachers did in the university context.  I think it’s very difficult to undergo a complete overhaul of one’s teaching technique, as I believe I have done, and I think that the only way to achieve that transformation is through continual reflection.  If you want to feel confident in your transformative process, you’ve got to have the guts to put your knowledge and skills on the line and scrutinize them. 

TG:  And that’s precisely the kind of adaptive approach that Darwin advocated, all those years ago, when he discussed how all species become accustomed to new environments. 

LR:  Exactly.  And this reflection session is a good way of stimulating this process.  I have to look at classes in terms of what learners get out of it, rather than judging myself purely in terms of educator performance. 

TG:  When we talked in the feedback session a few days ago, I asked a series of structured questions.  Were there any that you found disturbing, and which do you think allowed you to think about adaptive learning in a deeper way? 

LR:  I don’t think any questions actually disturbed me.  

TGNot even the one about teaching outcomes? 

LR:  No.  Because I think the questions help me to structure my reflections, and hence learn how to adapt themselves.  The outcomes question needs to be addressed, even if you don’t necessarily like it. 

TGBut you did resist the question when we talked about it? 

LR:  This is part of that two-fold process I described earlier.  I think learning in an adaptation studies classroom encompasses immediate feedback plus a more considered reflection a few days later.  The considered reflection helps makes sense of those unpredictable elements that take place in any learning situation – for example, when a lesson plan doesn’t work out, or when learners react in ways that the educator doesn’t anticipate.  If you asked me now about what the teaching outcomes were of the lesson I did five days ago, I’d answer thus:  to develop learner capacities to transform texts in their own ways, and thereby cultivate resilience and problem-solving abilities.I think the time spent on reflection helps find a way of reconciling educator and learner interests;  to help educators understand learner needs, and to adapt their techniques as a result.  This is where I think adaptation studies is so important.  It represents an attempt to create new models of learning.  I think what we’re doing is trying to take the discipline out of its film-theater-literature context and apply it in a broader sense to issues of teaching and learning.

TG:  We might call it a more principled context.  In other words, not just pursuing something new for the sake of it – because it’s technologically hip or cool, but trying to devise a set of principles for adaptive learning.  Can we go back a bit and think a little about your answer to my first question a few days ago.  When I asked how long it was since you’ve been observed, you replied in a very nontraditional way.  It surprised me when you said that my classroom’s open: usually when people respond they say that they’ve never been observed – or not been observed  – “professionally” for a very long time.  That suggested you had a fair bit of learning consciousness.  Does that make sense?  Where did this come from, do you think?

LR:  I think this has a lot to do with my belief in feedback and reflection as the basis of adaptation studies, something which has become more pronounced since I did the Shakespeare course two years ago.  I think this can best be done by investigating one’s autobiography.  When I did my teacher training in the mid-1980s, I had a mentor teacher whom I never got on with.  This was a purely personal thing.  I remember one day she asked me a peremptory question after I’d done a sample lesson:  “what do you think the learners learned from that lesson?”  It was designed purely as a content-based feedback question – another example might be: what poems did learners study in the anthology today? 

TG:  In other words, were you ticking all the boxes correctly – or was she? 

LR:  True.  Ever since that time I’ve always believed that an observer is there not to judge, but to learn themselves, or to engage in dialogue. 

TGSo an observer can participate in adaptive learning as well?

LR:  Yes:  the observer might want to develop their own skills.  They might not only comment on your own technique, but participate in a dialogue. 

TG:  I also believe in getting feedback on my questioning technique.  Did you think I was leading or judging you through my feedback? 

LR:  Not at all …an educator should prompt reflection through feedback based on questioning.  This is what I found fascinating about our sessions: encouraging that two-fold response we talked about earlier.  The art of adaptive learning is to realize that the questioner is not out to judge, but to prompt self-adaptation.  

TG:  I purposely didn’t ask you one question in the previous reflection session , focusing on your own adaptive thinking: what will you do in the class, and how can you evaluate the success of the initiatives you want to introduce?  Do you think I was right to do so? 

LR:  Maybe it would have caused a defensive response: everyone will reply that their lessons are going to contribute to an overall course of action, because I want to be a better educator.  But if you leave it for a few days, I think you’re going to prompt the educator to review what they have done, and determine for themselves whether they need to change or not.  Maybe the passage of time is important there. 

TG:  Now you’ve talked about learning outcomes, I think maybe we can look at your lesson in this way.  Maybe you created the opportunities for learners to develop themselves (though planning the outcomes of a lesson); but maybe you can’t predict how they will respond to these opportunities.  Let’s go back to you for the moment.  Sometimes I do feedback sessions three, or even four times, so as to help educators in their reflective processes.  Do you feel that these two sessions have made a difference for you? 

LR:  Yes, because I think that these experiments stimulate individual educator reflection – a process that never ends.  Sometimes you need someone to bounce ideas off in order to develop your own ideas and techniques.  We’re not just talking about an isolated process here; this is the basis of collaborative learning – non-judgmental, non-threatening – where people feel they can be honest in what they are saying. 

TG:  Once educators recognize the rationale of this type of process, they can then use the same experience with their learners, asking the same kind of questions we looked at together.

…or NOT?


This “LEARNing conversation” is adapted from chapter 5 (entitled “Reflecting and Adapting”) of – a wee book Laurence and I have been putting together…every Sunday for the past year.

The book – ADAPTATION STUDIES AND LEARNING: NEW FRONTIERS (Scarecrow, 2012) – will be published by a tiny, boutique publisher in the US…and you will probably never find it…in any self-respecting book store!

…and don’t be asking me for a signed, free copy…our marketing budget is so small, we have had to borrow money from our mothers-in-law just to purchase our own copies!

BUTboth Laurence and I would love to hear what you thunk

“Comment zamanı, anyone”?

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!

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…

What exactly is BEST PRACTICE in Classroom Observation?

In Classroom Teaching, ELT and ELL, Teacher Training on 23/06/2012 at 12:25 pm

…our topic for today (boyz n’ girlz) is…

…but this is the Madonna-free, PG-rated version – the version that will ensure I steer well-clear from any complaints from some obscure “internet trading and advertising organisation” (or worse – more “hate mail”)!

A few weeks ago those lovely chaps at ELTchat (check them out on twitter, too – #eltchat – there are some really great discussions) – had a virtual chin-wag on allthingsobservation.

As I had been banging about classroom observation (the recent series on “Misfires” and “Advice for Observers”), I just had to sign upProblem was…I found meself on a high-speed train (from Eskişehir) at exactly the same time. As good as the wonders of a 3G iPad might be, tweet I could not!

A couple of tweets did manage to get through:

Now, you can imagine how I was feeling – someone who loves to “talk” as much as I does, someone who has so much to “say” about classroom observation (and how we seem to screw it up – again, and again, and again)! I felt a bit like a kid who had been grounded and sent up to his room during his favourite TV show…but could hear snippets of the show’s dialogue upstairs in his room (this actually happened to me quite a lot when I was a kid – missed so many episodes of the “Six Million Dollar Man” you just would not believe it)…

Marisa Constantinides (aka @Marisa_C) to the rescue!

Marisa and I had chatted before the session and I’d said “I’ll be there”!

Famous last words…

She knew how upset I was that I missed the twitter shin-dig and asked if I’d like to “get my voice back” by doing a podcast with her ELTchat partner-in-crimeJames Taylor (aka @theteacherjames).

Yeah, it was like mum n’ dad had forgiven me…and let me downstairs to see Steve Austin (and, from time-to-time, Jaime Sommers…and Maximillion – the bionic dog, too) “save” the day (in actual fact, this hardly ever happened when I was a kid…my mum and dad never backed down)!

Me and @theteacherjames had to overcome a few challenges – schedulesunplanned “flying visits”…and bloody Skype (even when you have to sell a kidney every month to get the type of internet connection that, so they tell you, would even make God herself jealous)!

…@theteacherjames was a wonderful “first” for me! He was kind and considerate –  getting me all comfortable by chatting about football and the woes of actually setting up and editing podcasts. I couldn’t have asked for a better “podcast Jedi master”

Pretty soon we were on fire…he used a lot of the questions raised during the #eltchat twitter session (you can find the full transcript of the discussion – HERE).

I found that I relaxed pretty quickly and we ended up chatting for over an hour.

I’m guessing you’ll have to make up your own minds as to whether what we said to eachother makes sense or not (CLICK HERE – to listen to the edited version  the podcast) – James tells me that he’ll get up the full unedited version up (the ‘R’ rated version) very soon so watch his spot (and maybe play around with PodOmatic itself!

I think MarisaJames and all the other #eltchatterers would love to hear what you think (go on, add a comment or three to this post)!

In the original discussion, a lot of the participants shared a wide range of resources on classroom observation:

OK – I cheated (just a tweeny-weeny bit)! These last two were not mentioned in the original chat – but they should’ve been…and would’ve been if I hadn’t been on a stupid “hızlı tren”

These are also some of the musings I have thrown up on allthingslearning over the past couple of months – the weekend is coming up and you might fancy a bit of “bedtime reading” this weekend:

Oh, yes…and there was the “mega-series” (that went on almost as long as Dallas or Friends):

…there was MORE:

Now, looking back at all of this stuff – not so sure, am I – that it represents “Best Practice” in Classroom Observation…(this is why my second title works so much better)…

But, hey…if it gives you a couple of ideas for “Next Practice” in your context – maybe that’s not too shabby!

MarisaJames (and Mike)…

The Secret Diaries of Observees – Two Teachers Reflect…

In Classroom Teaching, Teacher Training on 15/04/2012 at 2:56 pm

Been a while since I did a post…been on the road a wee bit – my bad! But…we have had a few things on the go. This is one of those things…

We have banging on about allthingsobservation in recent weeks – and have been hooking up with friends as far away as Korea to do this. But, I’m going to come back to Eskişehirour “jewel” of the Turkish mid-west – for this one. Eskişehir has become something of a home-away-from-home for me this year (as those of you that get me tweets as I am racing along at 250 km/hr on our “hizlı tren” will know).

Love the place!

In fact, I still have plans to “kidnap” and “steal” Yılmaz Hocam (Büyükerşen) and bring him to Ankaradon’t tell them..!


On a recent trip there, I had a few hours to spare (hey, I’m “semi-retired” these days – need to keep myself “busy”)…and asked if any of the staff at Anadolu University there wanted me to drop in and “observe” a few classes – and, give them a bit of feedback.

Two very brave souls –  Çağdaş Gündoğdu and Aysun Güneş from AÜ-SFL – stepped up to the plate and asked if I could pop into one of their classes. Both Çağdas and Aysun are full-time classroom teachers and also work as HLUs (Heads of Learning Unit) at the school.

I say “brave” – not because they invited me to their classes, but because Aysun had never been observed (after almost 10 years as a teacher) and Çağdaş just couldn’t remember the last time he had had an “observer” in one of his classrooms!


We didn’t have time to run a “full” observation cycle but we exchanged a few ideas via e-mail before the “drop-in visit” and held a post-conference a few hours after each visit. I was so impressed by the way both of them responded to the whole process that I asked if I could “interview” them – you know, to get a meta-view of the whole process and see what they thought about classroom observation in a wider sense.

This is a record of our discussion – I have had to “edit” a few things so any errors or oversights are totally mine!

Ahh! I’d like to point out – yes, I know you want me to get on with it – that I am so proud of both of them and the kind of leadership they are demonstrating (by agreeing to do this type of “post”).

Guys (or “Guy” and “Gal” – I remembered, Aysun)

…you are both “stars” – THANK YOU! 


Why did you both volunteer to have an “observer” come into to your class?

Çağdaş: I volunteered because I believe that we need cooperation for progress…either personal or institutional…it’s a key issue. An observer is like a mirror for me…through which we can see a different reflection…of ourselves.

Aysun: Since I started teaching I’ve always wanted to reflect on my professional development and be more aware of my teaching. That’s why…also…I’m a people person, I like to interact with people and this observation was a good chance for me to get the necessary feedback about Aysun as a teacher. Also, I was sure that not being observed before was a real drawback for my teaching…{laughs}…Also I became definitely sure after seeing your face when I said no one had observed my lessons before!


How did you feel, say, an hour before the session? 

Aysun: Before the session I felt a little…tense…and tried to prepare some notes for myself…to use during the lesson. But then…I changed my mind and decided to be spontaneous. When I entered the classroom, all the black clouds scattered…because I was in one the safest places…for me…in my classroom. 

Çağdaş: I was excited…but not nervous. I knew myself and I felt ready for the session. Also, I was impatient to find out how another person…a professional…saw me in action in class.


What about the students – how did they respond, do you think?

Aysun: In the lesson…the students were really eager to learn. I mean…they were attentive and ready for any kind of input. Actually…because their level of English is quite good…they are usually attentive and eager in most lessons. they didn’t seem worried at all…maybe a bit protective…of me. This was great!

Çağdaş: The students looked more focused on the lesson than on the observer…this was a good sign. This showed me that I managed to involve them in the tasks…and they did not panic or get nervous…because I was calm, I think. Generally, the students were really positive and enthusiastic to learn.



What was it like as the “monster” sat at the back of the class – how was it after so long?

Çağdaş: Honestly, I forgot that I was being observed…as I went on with the lesson. So, I can say that I was not bothered by the presence of another professional in the classroom…really…really! 

Aysun: {laughs} …a monster sitting at the back was not irritating…or demotivating.  I believe…if such a monster keeps that quiet and does not interfere with the lesson…like you did {laughs}…the situation won’t be irritating for the other teachers, too.


How did the feedback session go? How was this different to what you expected?

Aysun: When it comes to the feedback session…I can honestly say that it went great. I got invaluable feedback on my teaching, time management, teacher-student interaction and my students’ performance. During the feedback session, the observer {laughs} asked me some questions and most of the time he encouraged me to talk…REFLECT! At first, I started talking about the negative aspects…but again he encouraged me to start with the positive ones…they are important, too. 

Çağdaş: The feedback session was mostly on my reflections upon the lesson. It helped me to evaluate myself…letting me admit my shortcomings and become aware of my strengths. The observer was also positive and encouraging while I was self-assessing.


How did you feel after the session?

Aysun: After the feedback session, I felt satisfied and more aware of myself in terms of my teaching. Actually…I learnt that I have good time management skills and good interaction with my students.  On the other hand…I learnt that I needed to be more patient after asking a question. I mean…I need to wait after the question and I shouldn’t storm in as much.

Çağdaş: Don’t laugh…but I felt like I was reborn {laughs himself}. I felt like I was all brushed up and…could see better into my teaching. I was so pleased that I knew I would like more of these opportunities…being observed…and asked to analyse myself and given feedback on my performance.



What did you learn about yourself, your teaching, your students?

Çağdaş: I learned…understood…that I was a good motivator and instructor. Also, I found out that I was a good story-teller. Moreover, I realized that I was concerned with students’ feelings as well as their class performance. Besides, I became aware that I did my best to stick to the time limit for the exercises. However, I was the dominant figure in the classroom and that I needed to give students more talking time and allow them to take more initiative during the activities. As for my students, I realized that they were ready to learn more if they were encouraged and motivated well enough.

Aysun: To me, after the feedback session I can say that I realised I’m a good teacher…well, at least one who tries to improve herself.  Being more aware of my teaching is like a blessing. I learnt that my teaching was not problematic…in the big picture way…and also…I was so pleased with the way my students are working…trying to learn. One more thing…I became definitely sure about the interaction between me and my students…and how important it is…because having bonds between students and teachers is one of the key elements…the core element of the ideal classroom…and learning, of course.



What are you planning to do next? How will you build on the session?

Aysun: After this observation, I decided to read more on the wider training issue… because we need to learn more to be more like professionals. By doing this…I believe that I will be a good example for my colleagues. 

Çağdaş: I will certainly limit teacher-talking time and let students discover more by themselves and teach them not to be afraid of making mistakes…I’ll also help them be more responsible…for their own learning in class as well.



What would you recommend to other teachers – after all this?

Çağdaş: Every teacher should experience observation…like this…and be open to co-operation with other colleagues and professionals…it’s just…about a more efficient type of professional development…more personal.

Aysun: I would definitely recommend my friends to let trainers observe their lessons.  Because we cannot really observe ourselves during a lesson…I mean…this observation thing works just as a mirror. After the observation…it would be much easier to see the problems. Also these observations will help the teachers build experience…and be more open to others’ ideas and thoughts. That’s the benefit…real benefit.



What would you recommend to observers? How could they help you and other teachers best – in the future?

Çağdaş: For me…it’s really important that observers are always empathetic and encouraging to teachers…before, during and after the sessions. It’s a whole process…a package.

Aysun: When it comes to the observer…she…or he should be a people person who can communicate and interact with people well. Also, during the observation the observer should behave like a  ghost…INVISIBLE almost…I mean, they should be there physically but shouldn’t interfere with things. If observers do this type of thing, they can be really helpful to others.

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!


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!

Why do we still have so many MISFIRES with classroom observation? (Part 05)

In Classroom Teaching, Quality & Institutional Effectiveness, Teacher Training on 28/02/2012 at 4:10 pm

I decided to “pull” my first version of this “episode” as I wrote it as a tongue-in-cheek response to one of my dearest, dearest pals – in reply to his “e-mail dig” that I was being far too “wordy” and wasn’t “getting to the point”.

Everyone’s a critic, these daysactually, he IS (a radio critic, in his spare time)!


What I found was (despite the fact that we have a very strong professional and personal relationship – he is my “Sunday beer ‘o clock” drinking buddy here in Ankara) that his remarks made me “angry” – even though he is probably correct (a bit, a teeny-weeny bit)!

As I noted earlier, “feedback” is a critical component of any classroom observation process (and the “technology” we choose to use as components of that process) – but my own reaction to his feedback prompted me to ask:

BOTH are naff!


In the real world, most of us have no “issue” with POSITIVE feedback (we all love it – come on) – but NEGATIVE or UNCONSTRUCTIVE feedback is “different”. Many of us can be “highly critical” of ourselves and our work from time to time – but as we noted in Part 04, listening to the feedback from SELF is quite different to the feedback of anOTHER.

This is why the “post-conference” component of the type of cycle we looked at is so critical – this is where most “feedback” comes into play in classroom observation and where a great many of the so-called “misfires” rear their ugly heads.


But, why should this be such a problem for teachers?


Most teachers frequently ask questions of themselves to draw out the “strengths” and “weaknesses” of a given lesson. They also reflect on ways that the could have done it differently – and how they might do it differently next time they do a similar class.

I suggested that teachers tend to do this by asking three questions – but these three questions miss an important element.



Right at the very start of this series (Part 01) we said that one of the reasons we have so many misfires with classroom observation is that “TEACHing is emotional work” – a fact we often forget!

Teachers do not only ask factual questions about their lessons – they question how they “feel” about them. They are, after all, highly emotionally-invested in what they do and when they do not do what they know they can and should do in the classroom.

Bearing this in mind, we start to get a better idea of how feedback sessions or post-conferences can misfire – and even more so when observers are not as skilled or well-trained as they could be.


Now, it’s highly unlikely that most teachers will have a great deal of contact with “sociopathic observers” out on some ego or power trip – but we do sometimes come across observers who are more “JUDGERS” than “LEARNERS”.

I borrow these terms from Marilee Adams (who wrote a wonderful book – Change Your Questions Change Your Life) – she asks a simple question of her readers (a question every administrator, observer or wannabe observer really needs to ask):


Now, I don’t usually like models that deal in “absolutes” (you know how I love my Star Wars – and absolutes are how the Sith Lords talk) – but she also identifies a number of questions that both LEARNERS and JUDGERS ask (on a pretty regular basis):

OK – the JUDGERS get a bit of raw deal here! But, I think you get the point – it’s about “mind-set” and how we “see” what’s happening around us (and in front of us when we are observing someone else’s class).


However, when we talk a closer look at the characteristics of the typical LEARNER – we see how they might be better “suited” to the task of observing the classes of others.

The LEARNER-observer is far more likely to look at the emotional side of a feedback-session – and focus on facilitating LEARNing in the observee (rather than telling her what’s wrong and how to fix it).

The challenge (you knew there had to be one) – in classroom observation (and perhaps in wider teaching environments) many of US are JUDGERS at heart – we just don’t know it!


Remember (back in Part 02), I told you about my young padawans on a train-the-programme I ran a few years back? I told you how, despite some great co-creation (and a bit of half-decent teaching from my fair self) of a “model” of  how observers should “be”, what observers should “do” and what observers should “say”, things turned out when it came to “practicing” all these things (in observation role-plays).

My darling observers-in-training did the exact opposite of what they “said” they would do (and what they would not like to be done to them – by others).


One activity I gave them was a “minimal pairs” discussion – basically, they had to look at few things an observer could say to an observee, choose the best one and explain why they hadn’t chosen the other.

The “pairs” were these (I did not highlight the differences in the original version):

Almost every single one of my observers-in-training saw the differences immediately – they saw how the use of the negatives was “judgemental”, they saw how phrases like “only” or “just” or “effective” could carry negative connotations.

But, which phrases and what type of questions did they all use in their first observer-observee role-play?

You guessed it…

The good newsevery observer can LEARN to ask better questions. They just need some good LEARNing opportunities – and lots of practice (but not quite as much as 10,000 hours).



…this is not the real challenge!

See you tomorrow!

Why do we still have so many MISFIRES with classroom observation? (Part 04)

In Classroom Teaching, Quality & Institutional Effectiveness, Teacher Training on 27/02/2012 at 9:50 pm


Sound advice…from Jedi Master Covey, there.

Maybe, I should have thought about that before I started to re-vamp this “little mini-series”!

Actually, I’m having a lot of “fun” writing this up – those notes have been sitting on my desktop for far, far too long! And, besides…I have a few minutes to kill…

I did a quick calculation the other day and worked out that around 85,000,000 human beings (and my dog, Dexter) had “read” The 7 Habits (in one form or another)!

So, why-oh-why do so many people in education still think that the best way to kick off a classroom observation programme is with a ticky-box “checklist”and probably a checklist that has been “lifted” from somewhere?

But, I think we’ve all got that by now. Yes?

Other (far smarter) individuals (and institutions) begin by thinking through the various components of an observation cycleand usually come up with something like this:

To be sure, this type of observation cycle seems to work better than most. Lesson planning is a great way to get both observee and observer get on the “same page” – and a pre-conference helps both parties get clear on aims and goals, as well as deal with any potential “misunderstandings”. We all know that a solid form of data-collection is a good idea (and not only checklists) – as is a bit of time to go over that data and “work out” what it all might mean. The post-conference allows the observer and observee to “reflect” and share insights – and (hopefully) agree a plan of action!

Brilliant – let’s get to it!

Sounds like even our “best and brighest” might be setting themselves up for a bit of:

If such a cycle were introduced in the type of “top-down” manner we noted earlier, we’d probably soon see that we get hit with a wide range of  school stakeholders asking questions like:

  • Do we need all these components?
  • Can we “do” all these components in terms of logistics?
  • What are the “rules of the game” for all the components?
  • Can our observers “do” all these things? (BTW – who the hell are they?)
  • What exactly are we observing (quick – get that checklist out)?
  • What documentation to we need to support all the components?
  • Who are we observing – when, how often, why? 
  • What? A bloody lesson plan!
  • A pre-conference? A post-conference? Have you seen my schedule this semester!
  • Her? She’s only been teaching for 7 years – I’ve got 20 under me belt! 
  • What are we doing all this for, again?

And, you know what? They’d be right”…

Now, I’m sure if Jedi Master Covey was an educator-cum-administrator, he would have surfed the web to find more on the ABC’s of Classroom Observation (or come up with his own):

He’d also probably have asked himself some questions like this:

  • Why do you and your institution want a classroom observation process?
  • What do you want classroom observation to “do” – for student LEARNing, for teacher LEARNing and institutional LEARNing?
  • What do you need to do get teachers involved and invested in classroom observation (if they are not already)?
  • What needs to “change” to allow you to get to where you want to go – and how do you know this?

Or, perhaps, simply ask my favourite observation question:

It is this focus on aims, purpose and philosophy that is going to keep us on the straight and narrow – and cope with the pressures of the “real task” we have “actually” undertaken.

This focus on the first of our ABC’s also helps us with “communication” (and by that I meancommunicate, communicate, communicate) …and, by “communicate” I mean getting everyone informed, involved and inspired!

But, I think we’ve all got that by now, too. Yes?

What we really mean by “technology” here is “the nuts and bolts”what the actual classroom observation process “looks like”, what elements make it up, and how it all “works” as a whole.

This involves a bit more than deciding on a “mode” of observation:

  • (even, God forbid!) STUDENT-OBSERVATION

…and, even whether to use “real” technology (audio, video – two-way mirrors) to help us out – regardless of the “mode” you select.


You guessed it – getting this “right” also requires spending a fair bit of time on some other “questions”:

  • What fit-for-purpose processes and steps do we need to develop?
  • What tools do we need to develop to support and evidence these processes?
  • What type of data do we want to collect from our processes and tools?
  • What do we want the data to tell us about our performance?
  • What type of planning and action do we want to see from the processes and steps?

Tony, we “hate” questions – give us some “answers”!

For example, a new principal at a school (or a new “teacher” for that matter – why the heck not) might just want to get a “feel” for her teachers – or get a better idea of how her teachers “run the business” of LEARNing and TEACHing at the chalkface. A more established HoD might have a huge pile of PD funds (don’t we all) and want some fresh ideas on the best way to spend it all on training initiatives for his teachers. A professional development team might want to come up with a new school-wide initiative to tackle some of the challenges that teachers have identified with their LEARNing and TEACHing strategies.

All of these people could choose to use classroom observation (among other things) to help them – but they would all probably develop slightly different technology to help them get there.


Our “new” principal, for example, might not have time to review lessons plans and hold pre-conferences – but she better make sure she “makes time” to chat to those she observes after the fact (see the PRINCIPLES below)…that’s just the “right” thing to do!

Obviously, the “technology” of a classroom observation programme is important – but, as with any form of technology, it must never become more important than the people who will use it. This is why (regardless of the technology we choose) any classroom observation programme needs to be grounded on a number of principles (in addition to FITNESS-FOR-PURPOSE):


This last one is critical – any observation process that does not “close the loop” and does not provide observees with some form of feedback simple does not meet the very first principle we listed above – RESPECT.


The technology of a classroom observation programme also covers the “criteria” that is used to collect and analyse data – and, most importantly give feedback.

In truth, it is this “technology step” of the ABC’s that is a bit more “concrete” (although, as we noted earlier, the purpose needs to be just as “explicit”) – this is probably the reason why so many people get hooked on “checklists” and “cycles”.

And, it is also true, that even when we try to avoid “weighing teachers” we always use some form of criteria to collect, interpret and evaluate what we “see” in classrooms.


Almost all teachers “weigh themselves” after every lesson they teach – they know:


…and frequently ask themselves:



The thing is that they do not always know what “criteria” they are using – apart from their “gut” and “years of experience”.


The real challenge is that there is a huge difference between a teacher asking herSELF  these “questions” and being TOLD the “answers” to them by anOTHER.


The principle of FAIRNESS, TRANSPARENCY and CARE basically “translates” (for any observer) as “make your expectations and criteria explicit – and TELL people”! This is because observation should never be a “game” of “guess what the observer wants”that’s just “mean”…that’s just not the educational Jedi way!


In an “ideal world”, every single institution would be focussed on a whole-school research project into what LEARNing and TEACHing mean to them – and place the results of this evolving “LEARNing conversation” at the heart of their decision-making.

In terms of classroom observation, this would involve a whole series of “really” powerful questions:

In addition, to a couple of other (less important) questionsNOT!


In an ideal world!

But, hey – till then, let’s just “tell” observees what we “expect” or, better still, let’s develop a set of “protocols” that outline the “rules of the observation game” in our Observation Handbook!

And, stick to them!!!