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


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":

  1. Some observations on observations (by Dave Dodgson)

  2. On being an observer (by Chris Ożóg) 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.

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”.

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.

  1. Uncover (and describe, when required) how teachers “do the business” of LEARNing and TEACHing at the chalkface.

  2. Identify (and hopefully tackle) any challenges that the institution may be facing with its LEARNing and TEACHing strategies.

  3. Look into any LEARNing “imbalances” that may have become evident – within or between the various “classes” or “sections” the institution uses to “group” students.

  4. Make decisions about “probation” or “renewal” of its TEACHing staff – perhaps as part of a wider “performance management or improvement system”.

  5. Improve the “quality” of classroom TEACHing – and hopefully, as a consequence, the “quality” of student LEARNing.

  6. Plan, implement and evaluate various improvement and training initiatives for teachers.

  7. 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.

  8. 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 is - from an institutional perspective - all of them make total sense (if an institution wants to do a better job).

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

  1. The PUPOSES of any observations need to be both clear and transparent – and be guided by fairness, professionalism and care

  2. 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)

  3. 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!

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