Tony Gurr

Posts Tagged ‘classroom observers’

How to REALLY avoid MISFIRES with Feedback Sessions (…NOT Part 08)

In Classroom Teaching, Quality & Institutional Effectiveness, Teacher Training on 29/02/2012 at 8:57 pm

Is that a gun in your pocket – or are just really happy that you are finally a classroom observer?

In the recent mini-series on Misfires in Classroom Observations, I introduced the idea of the ABC’s of Classroom Observation – basically, these can also be read as “the ABC’s of Quality Improvement in Education”.

But, it dawned on me that I had not really spelled out what I really meant with the “C”:

Getting from A to B is pretty “easy” –

 A = Say what you mean! Mean what you say! Then, “walk-your-talk”!

 B = “Build it and they will come” – just make sure it’s “fit-for-purpose”!

…in theory!

But, it is the “C” that, well, that takes a bit more care, consideration and communication. I know that I said (in Part 04):

I’m getting good at this – maybe I should re-train as a “political lobbyist” or “advertising executive”! 

Mmmmm – can I come up with a “formula” for this one?


Communicating and contextualising classroom observation in the relationships of the school =

People, I say again:

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…but I, for one, have seldom found that my genitalia get in the way of helping others.

The thing is that as we look at this list more carefully, a couple of notions stand out:

  • CARE

So, when I start working with a group of teachers or administrators on building their classroom obervation abilities, I NEVER start with the so-called “technology” of a system.

I talk about those three little notions.

By far one of the best ways to do this is to enlist the support of Jedi Master Covey (you knows how I loves me Covey)!

Almost everyone (and my dog, Dexter) has a bank account these days so it’s not that difficult for most people to see how being “in the black” or “having a healthy balance” can be applied to our relationships – or how being “overdrawn”, “in the red” or simply  “bankrupt” with our nearest and dearest is not too healthy. And, often means we end up on the sofa (or, in the dog-house)!

Covey presents the concept of the Emotional Bank Account as a…

…a really powerful metaphor for those who about to walk into “the line of fire” that can be classroom observation.

OK, I also like to have a bit of fun and push the envelopeusing my own marriage and the things I should do and say more to “pay back” my wonderful wife for just putting up with me (and my blogging)!

But, it’s not just “paying back” or “faking-it-till-we-make-it” – we have to mean what we say…and, building up those “reserves” come in handy when we “screw up”.

Trust me – there is not a human being (or even a husband) on the planet that will not screw up…this week or next.

We also look at how the concept works within the wider environment of our schools, colleges and universities – through some “mini-cases” (these work wonders, BTW):

You get the point – but know this, I have actually “witnessed” many of these “true stories”!

The real point is…what we are really trying to do is highlight the importance of care, trust and relationships when we are working on classroom observation. Many observers simply do not have the “credits” in the bank to get away with making the type of comments Michael shared with us in his post:

  • You talked too much at the beginning when giving instructions.
  • You didn’t talk enough throughout the lesson.
  • Students didn’t speak out in front of the whole class.
  • You didn’t correct errors enough.
  • You didn’t pre-teach any vocab.
  • You didn’t write anything on the board.
  • You didn’t use the textbook.

What makes any observer think it is OK to try and get away with these kinds of “remarks” – until you have made a deposit or two in the ole Emotional Bank Account?

Position power, perhaps! True – but remember, “with great power comes great responsibility” – even Spiderman knows this!

The thing is – and they do not call me “Fair-Play Tones” for nothing! Teachers, you really need to re-think any class where you do not use the textbook – and, God forbid, not correcting all those terrible errors!

Christ, I hate checklists!

Classroom observers, more than most, have to follow Covey’s “golden rules”:

As I noted at the start of this post, the ABC’s are about the whole of “school life” – not just classroom observation. That last one, though, is critical for observers – “confidentiality” of feedback discussions.

Break that rule – and see if anyone will EVER trust you in “post-conference” again….

…and, I don’t care if you wear a bit of lipstick from time-to-time!

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!!!

Why do we still have so many MISFIRES with classroom observation? (Part 03)

In Classroom Teaching, Quality & Institutional Effectiveness, Teacher Training on 27/02/2012 at 12:51 pm

As I noted in Part 01 and Part 02, classroom observation is an amazingly complex animal – and an animal that is frequently “engineered” for “misfire”!

Despite this “fact”, a lot of institutions still do a far better job than others, many observers do a “great” job of helping teachers really grow – and loads of teachers (working in those institutions, with those observers) do not seem to have the “fears” and “negative reactions” to the observation process that their less fortunate colleagues seem to have.

This suggests, to me at least, that these observers and institutions know “something” – and “do” something with what they know. They not only recognise that TEACHing is “emotional work” – but also that to get observation “right” you have to focus on the “people” involved and “do” a whole lot of “systemic alignment”.


We could say they “know” the ABC’s of classroom observation:

But, I’m getting ahead of myself – let’s backtrack for a second or two.


We’ve already talked about the importance of institutional culture and trust.

Classroom observation just works “better” in institutions that have a “healthy climate” based on collaborative relationships, transparency and an improvement-orientated ethos.

Perhaps, if we look more closely at some of the other “misfires” (the ones I suggested were at the heart of all our “observation woes”), we might be able to see more of the “bigger picture”:


Now, remember I also noted that I was inspired to put my “observation thunking cap” back on by a couple of recent posts that caught my imagination:

So, I’d like to pick up on a couple of things they mentioned – just to contextualise my own thunks – as some of their points highlight the complexity I was talking about, as well as the misfires.

Some of these misfires left Dave calling for “a complete change in the way observations are done”.

I’m guessing there are many out there who’d agree with him. However, as I tracked the “comments” to Dave’s post, I began to see that his central frustration was with the whole “hierarchical structure” of the “I’m the expert and I’m going to tell you what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong” approach to classroom observation.

He’s right to feel this way – and I’m sure even more teachers would agree with that!


That having been said, I couldn’t help feeling that what he was really talking about was ineffective observers” working with “ineffective processes. The kind of observer Dave was describing clearly lacks the both the “talent” and “experience” to get the best from any teacher – but seems to make up for these deficiencies in “ego”.

Those might seem like harsh words – but it does not take 10,000 hours of studying rocket-science to see how this take on “being an observer” can create a pretty “negative mind-set” in those teachers who are at the sharp end of it. It also does not require Master NLP Certification to see how the “words” that kind of observer might use would use instil “fear” into even the most confident of teachers.

I’m building up to something here – stick with me!


In the second post, Chris, using his own reflections as an observer, offered some very solid suggestions – suggestions that many of these “less effective observers” would do very well to heed…Chris was also pretty clear in his understanding that classroom observations “are there to help teachers develop” – and, I can see how many teachers would strongly agree with this, too.

I really enjoyed his post – but (again) I couldn’t help feeling that this was not the whole story – and it also suggested (to me) that what he was saying could perhaps be the “missing link” between misfires 02, 03 and 04.


The thing is… classroom observation – in an institutional context – is not only used to help teachers “develop”. Institutions use classroom observation for a wide range of purposes – all over the world:

  • Uncover (and describe, when required) how teachers “do the business” of LEARNing and TEACHing at the chalkface.
  • Identify (and hopefully tackle) any challenges that the institution may be facing with its LEARNing and TEACHing strategies.
  • Look into any LEARNing “imbalances” that may have become evident – within or between the various “classes” or “sections” the institution uses to “group” students.
  • Make decisions about “probation” or “renewal” of its TEACHing staff – perhaps as part of a wider “performance management or improvement system”.
  • Improve the “quality” of classroom TEACHing – and hopefully, as a consequence, the “quality” of student LEARNing.
  • Plan, implement and evaluate various improvement and training initiatives for teachers.
  • Provide teachers with “input” and, one would hope, information that that help them “see” things that they might have “missed” about their own classroom behaviour and ability-set – and help them reflect and grow.
  • Evaluate the success (or otherwise) of major “investments” across the organisation (e.g. in EdTech or new facilities).

There’s probably a few more that you could add to this list! But, as you’ll have gathered, some of these purposes impact teachers directly, others relate more to an instıtution’s broader aims – some even touch on student LEARNingThe bottom line isfrom an institutional perspectiveall of them make total sense (if an institution wants to do a better job).

Now, I won’t try and kid youmany teachers do not like the idea of many of these purposes (especially, when they involve “high-stakes decision-making” and “unannounced supervisor drop-ins”). Fair enough!

As “individual” teachers, we do not always see (or want to see) the importance of all these purposes – until we go through the experience of sharing a class with a teacher who “cares” far less than we do, when students really start complaining about our teaching partner and their lack of LEARNing or when we end up going “head-to-head” because she is not carrying her weight (and “administration” do nothing about all this).

Just because we don’t like something doesn’t mean it’s not important. Equally, just because we don’t like something doesn’t mean we can’t make it work – for everyone involved.

How is it that some schools (not many, have to be honest) in the UK and US have managed to make even the 15-minute, unannounced classroom drop-in by senior principals “work” – for teachers?


A lot of the misfires we see with classroom observation occur because institutions do not make their purposes for using classroom observations clear – leaving both observers and observees to fall back on what they think they know is best (remember, my darling padawans?). To make matters worse, institutions frequently fail to come up with processes that are fit-for-purpose or provide the right kind of training – for both observers and observees.

All Institutions should use classroom observation to support the development of teachers (as one tool from a very big tool box) – and should take steps to ensure that teachers are supported by skilled, professional and caring observers.

But, they also need to be very clear at those times when they are using classroom observation for purposes other than teacher developmentand perhaps explain how the “technology” (the processes, protocols and “rules of the game” may differ because of this).

More importantly they have to use “common sense” when aligning their purposes, their technology and the people involved in the process:

For example, a large number of schools still require that their senior administrators conduct most classroom observationswithout regard to whether these people have any observation training or not. These administrators frequently do not have the time to provide teachers with effective feedback – let alone hold meaningful conversations on professional growth (thx Cristina). In these situations, it not hard to see how many teachers become cynical about classroom observation systems supposedly set up to “improve the quality of classroom teaching and enhance student LEARNing”.

Another one…a lot of people these days are looking at ways of promoting “peer observation” across their campuses – great idea! However, if this involves colleagues gathering data on each other – data that is then used to make “judgments about performance” (or, even worse, “renewal decisions” or allocating “merit pay”), you can see how we might be setting ourselves up for something more than simply an “observation misfire”.



This is fitness-for-purposeknowing why you are doing something and making sure that is aligned with the processes you have chosen to use. Oh, yes – and getting people informed, involved and inspired!


The ABC’s of classroom observation are not rocket science:

  • The PUPOSES of any observations need to be both clear and transparent – and be guided by fairness, professionalism and care
  • The “TECHNOLOGY” used needs to be fit-for-purpose – as do the ground rules and protocols that are associated with classroom visits and the expected follow-up and anticipated results (hey, it’s even better when both parties have been involved in “co-creating” whatever processes are used)
  • Both OBSERVER and OBSERVEE need to recognise that it is relationships that make processes work – and that relationships work best when grounded on mutual respect, growth and LEARNing

…about it! Maybe we can do a bit more…tomorrow!

Why do we still have so many MISFIRES with classroom observation? (Part 02)

In Classroom Teaching, Quality & Institutional Effectiveness, Teacher Training on 26/02/2012 at 2:01 am

Almost as soon as I had added the very last full stop to my last post – Why do we still have so many MISFIRES with classroom observation? (Part 01) I realised I might have bitten off more than I could chew!

Let me elaborate.


If, as I so foolishly (but correctly) pointed out:


…the obvious follow-up question is “What the hell do we do about it, Tony?”


I guess I could simply say “improve” your CULTURE and CLIMATE, and you’ll be alright, mate! But, I doubt if that would inspire many of you to drop in and check out Part 03!

Clearly, drawing up a list of problems is a lot easier than coming up with solutions for all of them – maybe, that’s why so many people like checklists!

The importance of organisational culture and climate to designing, planning and implementing an effective classroom observation process was really brought home to me a few years back.

Yes, you were right – you did smell “true teaching story” on the way!


I was working on a train-the-trainer programme a while back – I loved the group and we’d done some great work on a wide range of teaching and learning areas over the weeks before. Over time, I watched them grow as “reflective practitioners”, “critical questioners” and “peer mentors”.

The time came for us to look at “classroom observation” – they were a bit worried about stepping out of their comfort zones. So, I spent a long time thinking about ways to “ease” them all in and make sure they got really comfortable – before “throwing them in at the deep end”. To help get them there, I’d developed a really great set (well, I thought so) of case studies, discussion themes and activities.

I was gonna LEARN them so well…

The first of these was based on a discussion about the type of “observer” everyone wanted to be (when they “grew up”). I used something like this to kick things off:

Everyone chose number 03 (of course, and even told me how they would use number 02 to get number 03)! We were soon talking about the role of teacher LEARNing, reflection, non-judgmental feedback, sounding boards!

Then, we moved on to design posters including all the adjectives that described the way we would all “do business” (always a fun activity), we reviewed our own experiences of “good” and “not-so-good observations” (drawing on background knowledge – always cool, too) and developed some great lists of “dos” and “donts” (establishing a framework for action), we reviewed all the case studies and picked out all the “best practices” we would use (incorporating “standards” even)…

Christ, we were on fire! 

I was so happy…all my “train-the-trainer padawans” hit the mark every time…I was such a proud “Training Jedi”!

Until we came to “getting our hands dirty”…with a few role-plays!


In almost every single scenario and roleplay, my darling padawans (and they were) “tore” each other to pieces. It was almost as if they transformed into Sith Lords in front of my very eyes – not only were they experts and finding every single “problem” (while ignoring the strentghs), it was as if they took pleasure in telling their “observees” not only “what to fix” …“how to fix them”…but even “when to fix them”!

So, what the hell happened? 


Culture happened!

…and, when push-came-to-shove – my trainees went straight back to what they “knew” (and had experienced) or what others had “LEARNed them observation was all about”! They had “heard” the things I shared with them (heck, they even co-created these things with me) and they were “talking-the-talk” – but what they had been LEARNed (over time and in a very “subtle” manner) guided their “actions”.

Many of them did not even notice – until one brave soul stood up and said “we really screwed up, didn’t we?

Remember that also this all happened despite the fact that these “guys” were “dedicated”, “smart” and had really bonded as a group (and cared for each other). They simply forgot that “TEACHing is emotional work” and that “observation” and (more importantly) “observation feedback” is deeply “personal”.

In a nutshell – they did the “job” and forgot about the “person”!


The culture and climate of an institution tend to shape just about every process and system it creates.

The problem is that both of these powerful forces are largely based on the stockpiles of underlying assumptions, attitudes and mind-sets that are collected over time – in a largely “unconscious” way. Indeed, many individuals within organisations remain “blind” to what many of these elements are (and the impact they have on how people “do business”).

Things like this ain’t gonna change overnight – or even in a few weeks or months!

For example, if an educational institution tends to favour a more top-down (or, dare I saymore authoritarian) approach and also lacks trust in its people, it’s probably going to produce a more top-down and “controlling” approach to teacher evaluation and classroom observation.

The sad thing is – most of us, in education, know the road this takes us down:


However, institutions (like people) are not inherently “evil” (OK, with the exception of one or two of them) and most educational institutions want to do the best for their students and teachers – they just “screw up” from time to time and need a bit of help.

The good news is…this type of change is actually a lot easier than it used to be. Today, most individuals in our schools, colleges and universities “know” and can “talk-the-talk” of effective institutional or organisational “culture”.

This talk, not surprisingly, is very similar to the things teachers say they need from observation processes – TRANSPARENCY, CLARITY, FAIRNESS, TRUST and FEEDBACK.


The central challenge today is getting an institution (and its people) to really walk-its-talk – by making “the talk” explicit and “evidencing” the levels of alignment with “the walk”.

Creating the conditions for the kind of LEARNing opportunity (or “a-ha moment”) that the participants on my train-the-trainer programme had, for example, can really help grease the wheels. We can then build on this when we start to “get conscious” and also “get real” vis-à-vis the “purpose” of what we are trying to build (we’ll get to this in Part 03 of this series, promise).

And, looking at a couple of questions really does not hurt that process at all:

  • What type of broader culture do we want to drive our institution / observation process? Why?
  • What type of culture do we have as an institution / in our current observation process right now? How do we know this?
  • What matters to us as an institution / in our observation process? How do we reflect this in the ways we “do business”?
  • What needs to change for us to get closer to the type of culture / observation process we want?

You might ask what these types of questions really have to do with classroom observation (I told you I was worried about biting off more than I could chew). I also hinted that it would be totally foolish of me (or anyone for that matter) to suggest that an institution should “change its culture” or “improve its climate” – BEFORE it tries to put an observation process in place.

BUT, these types of questions can help create the kind of climate conducive to more creative (and caring) thinking. Some of that thinking might even break the vicious cycles we see so often associated with classroom observation:


Indeed, they can also help with a lot more than classroom observation processes!

Why do we still have so many MISFIRES with classroom observation? (Part 01)

In Classroom Teaching, Quality & Institutional Effectiveness, Teacher Training on 25/02/2012 at 5:46 pm

I’ve been having a fair few LEARNing conversations about classroom observations over the past few months – both the virtual and face-to-face types. In those chats, I keep hearing about “misfıre” after “misfire” in the areas of observation cycles and processes.

What do I mean by “misfire”?


I usually define misfire as “getting it wrong” or “doing it wrong”when you really want to get it right – but “screwing up” works just fine, too.

The real challenge, however, is that avoiding misfires with classroom observation is pretty, bloody difficultespecially within an institutional context.


I know lots of great teachers that do some amazing work with “self-observation and reflection” (all “on their tod”). I also know a couple of teachers who do amazing things with (informal) “peer observation”even though the teachers themselves work on different continents!

I do not know many “institutional” observation programmes (be they self, peer or supervisor) programmes that come close to the same level of success as the self-initiated examples I gave above!


No one (I hope) actually wants to set up an ineffective observation process or be an ineffective observer.  A lot of the time we just don’t know any better, rely on what we think we know “works” or “borrow” stuff without really looking at the ins-and-outs.

In an earlier post, I exposed some of my own “personal misfires” (in “Classroom Observation – What works, What matters”) when I was a “wet-behind-the-ears-observer” many, many moons ago – and then tried to share some thoughts on how we might improve things in the follow-up post “Getting Classroom Observation RIGHT”.

My misfire here, however, was that I never actually finished the “series” I had mapped out in my head…So, I have decided to try and fix this after reading a couple of more recent blog posts:


Both Dave and Chris highlighted many of the typical misfires we (still) see in our schools, colleges and universities – and the way many teachers still feel when they hear the two little words “classroom observation”:

Sadly, there are no “magic bullets” or “secret recipes” to help us deal with many of the issues and challenges in classroom observation within institutions (in fact, looking for things like this is half the problem) – and you’d be surprised just how “deep” we need to go to get observation “right”!

So, what are the sources of all these misfires?

What are the reasons for classroom observation “blowing up” in our faces so often?

…and why is the process so “radioactive” for many teachers? 


I have found there are usually FIVE key areas of misfire (you have to read these “bottom up”):

Yes, these 5 things (or the lack of them) consistently give us more observation headaches than you could shake a stick at!


BUT, the main reason we “screw up” classroom observation so much is that we underestimate its complexityand often try and come up with a “quick fix” without thunking through the preqrequisite basics  or the wide range of areas that it impacts.

At the very heart of this complexity is a fact that we sometimes forget:

…and, (ergo):

“Political places”, too!


We talk a lot (in our institutions) these days about “effectiveness” or “performance” – and simply forget that effective LEARNing starts with “relationships” and “trust”. Low levels of trust within educational institutions are at the very root of most observation misfires – and also many of the reactions of teachers to the wider issue of classroom observation.

I think this why Dave is so right to be critical of classroom observation processes that are grounded on “checklists” or the “ticky-box” approach to “evaluating” the business of a classroom.

I have never had a decent relationship with a checklist – and I know many of them do not trust me!

Many teachers “define” themselves (sometimes a bit too much) by how they run the “business” of learning in their classrooms – and that “business” is very personal!

Checklists just do not cut it..


So, and bearing that little self-evident truth in mind, is there anything we can all do to minimise the number of misfires?

Over the next few days, I’ll try to get more thunks down on paper… feel free to help me out.