commentary reflection Tyson Seburn  

Observations are opportunities

I’m always a little surprised when teachers remark that they get nervous when being observed, be it by a director, peer or teacher trainee. It’s likely because I welcome it. I think of it more as a collaboration between them and me than an evaluation. I think of myself as being constantly observed, by students. I believe I know what I’m doing even if what I planned doesn’t quite work out as I’d planned. I believe it’s all good. This doesn’t seem to be a shared opinion though.

I’m well aware that in some situations, the observer makes it known that they are there to evaluate the teacher, that they are being judged, be it for more/fewer classes, more/equal pay or like the observer is the all-knowing, all-powerful expert. For those in this situation, I apologise on behalf of all observers.

Observation of your classes should be an opportunity to learn from one another. When I take the back seat in someone’s class, I often consider how I’d approach the particular lesson differently if it were me or how I could adapt what they’ve done to my own teaching. Observation should help raise awareness about the strengths and weaknesses of that particular lesson. It should be a tool to facilitate give and take feedback.

One thing I rarely hear though is that the observer has also asked for feedback from the teacher. After having spent a summer of program coordination and now going into the fall as both teacher and coordinator, I always want to give my colleagues (I say “colleague” because though I may have a different role half the time, I don’t want to think of myself as higher) a chance to give feedback.

I’d like to design a pre & post observation questionnaire for teachers.  To inform this questionnaire, I’d like to ask you:

1) How do you feel about being observed?
2) How could the observer help you feel more at ease about the observation?
3) What would you like to give feedback about to the observer?

For a little further reading into others’ thoughts on observation:

Tony Gurr (2012) – Classroom Observation 2 (2012)
Cecilia Lemos (2012) – The worst class I have ever taught…so what? (2012)
Han-Min Tsai (2008) – Improving an EFL class: starting from classroom observations (2008)
Peter Sheal (1989) – Classroom observation: training the observers
Qun Wang & Nicole Seth (1998) –  Self-development through classroom observation: changing perceptions in China
Ava Fruin (2012) – Observer’s paradox 

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lisamnoble

I’m right with you on this one. Because I started teaching in an age when it seemed like someone was always drifting into my room to observe, it’s never really bothered me, and now, as co-plan, co-teach, co-debrief is finally starting to happen, I especially welcome it. I can’t see what I’m doing as clearly as someone else can, so observers can help me realize what I’m doing well, and what needs to be improved. Where am I physically in the room? Do I need to move more? How well am I using my resources? What am I missing in my students body language/response/etc. I would love the observer to talk to my students at appropriate times in the lesson (not interrupting the flow, obviously), and to make sure to circulate throughout the room, so they can see what we’re working on. Don’t just park yourself in one spot with a clipboard, and make it obvious that there’s a checklist to be completed. The observer, ideally, should come out with a good sense of how the classroom works.

I also want lots of feedback, please.

Cecilia Lemos

Funny you should write a post about observation this weekend, Ty. Last Saturday I observed a class of a colleague – part of our peer observations. I chose her because I have recently started teaching adult beginners again, and she has quite a lot of experience with such students. It turned out to be an even better choice than I thought. She is great at giving instructions, even at the first level. She combines a variety of techniques, all very naturally (giving instructions is a personal weak spot for me). And I hope I was able to give her some good feedback as well. As you, I like thinking how I would approach things differently – and my feedback reflects that. I like asking questions about how she/he did this or that in that way, or used that object, or didn’t write on the board. Sometimes something we feel is wrong may have a reason for being.

In response to your questions:

1) I really like being observed. It’s a chance for a fresh pair of eyes to (hopefully) question why I do (or don’t do) things in a certain way. But I enjoy being observed today, because I don’t feel threatened – or that my job is on the line. I have worked at schools where that is what observations were for and I dreaded them.

2) Meeting before the observation and asking me if there was anything in particular I want him / her to observe. Having the chance to tell the observer a little about the group, so he/she has a bit more context.

3) I think giving feedback about the observer can be a positive thing too. Not sure what could be included in that… maybe whether the observer’s presence changed the students’ behavior much? If the observer’s feedback was helpful?

Thanks for mentioning my post, btw 🙂

Adir Ferreira

I used to teach at this school here in Bebedouro, back in 2002, 2003. The principal and coordinator went to SP to take the CELTA course and we had no idea about it. They came back full of ideas on how to make classes better and I thought, “That’s fantastic!”. I had been teaching for over ten years at the time and as they say, “old habits die hard”. The principal approach was not very efficient because he didn’t explain it to us why we were being observed and feedback sessions were more of a “threat”. He said, “We are going to change, and that’s that.”. Mind you, I’ve always been “pau pra toda obra” and I think I deserved a little more clarification before this process started. It traumatized me so much that I resigned, I felt worthless, like I hadn’t done a good job for years, everything I had done was wrong. Well, I started teaching private classes and one school invited me to teach there. The atmosphere was so different, the library was full of great books for teachers and that was the first time I heard about Braz-TESOL. Nowadays I train teachers in several areas and I see observation with a whole new set of “eyes”. Feedback is of utmost importance and has to be given with respect and be straightforward.

Sophia

Hello
1) A bit anxious. Can’t help it, but hopefully it doesn’t show to sts.
2) Emphasize that it is FREE PD, developmental, and work with me to establish what I want to focus on/how
3) How useful their set up was (goal setting pre-obs), how useful their feedback was (clear, specific, feeding into future practice), manner (constructive, cooperative, non-patronizing)
Good idea for a project, let us know how the final version looks!

mikako

1 ). I am a learning teacher from Japan therefore I need to be observed regularly. Being observed will help me to have stronger motivation and improve my class in order to become more interesting and more useful for students if the observers give me some good feedback. The things I and the observer are thinking about may be different. At the same time, I would feel stress and pressure because I would be afraid of making more mistakes than I would usually, and if students don’t pay attention to me, I would feel embarrassed. It would be difficult for me to concentrate on teaching and paying attention to my students without thinking about the observers’ opinion or what may be going on in their mind.

2 ). The observer and the teacher who is being observed I should meet before the class and discuss the observation. They should share the lesson plan and make sure about things that both of them want to be observed.

3 ). Observers are also teachers and can take an active part in the class. They are members of the class. It means they might affect students’ motivation or behavior. This situation could be good or could be bad for students and their teacher. On one hand, their presence can boost students’ motivation. On the other hand, they have to be careful about not interrupting the class.

Svetlana

1. I have been teaching ESL in Canada and abroad for over 8 years now. Over the years of teaching and learning how to teach (and I hope I will never stop to), I’ve been observed for one million times, and guess what, I am still very nervous about it. I feel a lot of pressure when someone’s sitting and evaluating my teaching (especially when this someone is scribbling down everything I do.) It doesn’t have anything to do with my teaching skills; I think that I’ve been like this all my life. With time and experience I learned to cope with my anxiety. Now, when I’m observing teacher-students myself, I try to teach them to be observed and cultivate confidence in them. I still believe in the effectiveness of the unobtrusive monitoring. I don’t want any of them to agonize while being observed and then not been able to remember anything when the lesson is over (did it happen to anybody before?). I remember one of my mentors in the early days of my teaching experience, sitting in the corner of the room, every time I did something suspicious or silly from the teaching point of view, she would raise her eyes on me and then look down and write something in her notebook. Every time she did this I completely forgot what I was supposed to be doing next. I’m very happy; I’m so over it now.

2. When I asked these three questions in class today, one of my dear students said that both the teacher and the observer should be clear about the purpose of the evaluation. I couldn’t agree more. It will definitely make it easier if both of them are on the same page.

3. Talking about advice I would give the observers: DISAPPEAR! I am so very thankful to a Cambridge professor who I was honoured to be observed by during my CELTA TPs. The difference between him and all other observers in my teaching practice is that he dissolved in the class and I would completely forget about his presence. I believe it’s a mastery skill indeed. Now with my new trainees I’m trying to follow his steps and learn to be the most effective while unobtrusive. I’m observing aspiring teachers and every time they start their presentations I am very nervous. I so very much want them to do very well, succeed and show the best they can.

haeundaelife

Hi Tyson!

I would echo the sentiments about observation above. I am a young teacher in Korea (little less than 2 years) and I very much look for feedback from anyone and everyone, students and teachers alike. I teach with a co-teacher and am always trying to illicit thoughts and opinions from them, although because of their culture that can be a bit of a process. This being the case I do not much care whether I teach alone, with a co-teacher in the room, or with a series of people floating in and out (so long as they are not distracting about it). However, I also have seen the dark side of observation. Some teachers are so concerned about their observed class that I have seen them conduct a lesson with a class twice; the day before an observation, so that the class will know exactly how to react, and the following day when observers are in the room. Kind of defeats the purpose right?

Anyway

1) As I have mentioned, I’ve no problem with it, but know many many teachers who despise it.

2) Observation CAN be super useful if proper pre-observation discussion takes place. If the observer makes known that the observation is meant to assist in collaboration and that the teacher can be most helped by treating the class just as they would any other.

3) As a teacher I would like to hear what the observer thinks, but also be given the opportunity to express my thoughts about what I did in class. Then, I would like to have a constructive discussion about the positive and negative elements that we now, both, hopefully recognize.

haeundaelife

It is a surprise that it does not seem to be done. And as much as I try there still is not much collaboration. 🙁

No idea how the kids handle it, but I know I would see right through it, even at their age!

Brad Patterson

Great post, Ty.

1) I like being observed when I’m comfortable in the classroom (know the students fairly well and the material). Otherwise, it can be a bit stressful as I, like many, feel I have to do “perfectly” all the time…. #virgo

2) I think it’d be great to have a pre-post talk and even if they asked me what kind of things they could help me improve upon.

3) Hmm… stumped on that one. It depends on what kind of feedback they give me. If it’s helpful and well-delivered I think I’d thank them for that and encourage that kind of feedback for teachers in the future. If it’s somewhat colder and critical… I might question it carefully with them 😉

Cheers, b

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