Saturday, 11 May 2013

Observation and your teaching staff

This was the title of the fourth in a series of monthly CPD webinars hosted by the British Council.  You can read more about the programme here.

This webinar was presented by Gillian Davidson and what follows is a summary of what she had to say.

Observations - the traditional view

Observations are often seen mainly as a quality assurance/quality control tool used for performance management, sometimes in response to student complaints.  They are usually done twice a year and teachers dread them!  They are seen as a negative, or simply a 'tick-box' exercise.

Teacher objections
  • Teachers might wonder, 'What right do you have to observe me?'
  • Observations are seen as judgemental.
  • They are seen as an intrusion into the teacher's space.
We need to break this vision.  The classroom is the domain of the students, not the teacher.  Everything we do should be to enhance the learning for the students.  It should not be primarily for the benefit of the teacher or the observer.

As observers, we should be reacting to and commenting on the effect of the activity on the learning of the students, not on the activity itself.

Tools and Rules

Observation types
  • Management - used to check performance and maintain quality.  These can be done formally at a pre-determined time or as drop-in observations for 10 - 30 minutes at a time.  In a good school, QA/management observations can be developmental as well.  They just need to be kept separate from performance management observations which are done in response to a complaint or identified problem.  In these cases, teachers need to be told that it is a performance management issue.
  • Peer - a really effective tool.  Teachers learn most from observing, and being observed by, their colleagues.
  • Self - this should happen after every lesson in the form of reflective practice.
  • Blind - observations done with a mentor's support.
Advantages and disadvantages of each type

 Observation sheets

Using observation sheets gives focus to the observation and makes it objective.  Before choosing an observation sheet, ask yourself what kind of teacher you're observing and why you're doing it.

Here is an example of a section of an observation sheet:

Using such sheets gives a detailed overview of your teachers and keeps feedback objective and non-judgemental.  It's a good place to start with a development plan and is particularly good for new teachers.

More experienced teachers who already have a development plan can choose a specific area that they would like feedback on.  Look at this example of part of an observation sheet for commenting on teaching lexis:

With more experienced teachers, then, we may need to focus on the detail of a lesson (lexis, a particular grammar point, the use of an IWB, etc.) and will therefore need different observation sheets for different purposes.


Here are some rules for making observations developmental:
  • Make time - it's so easy to put off doing observations and reduce the time you give to teachers.  You must make time.  Put observations, feedback sessions and follow-up sessions in your diary.  Every time you do an observation, you're saying 'teaching is important'.
  • Give warning
  • Be objective - if more than one person is responsible for doing observations, it's important that you are all observing on the same criteria.
  • Behave appropriately during observations -
  1. stay quiet.
  2. don't pull faces.
  3. take notes, but pay attention to the lesson.
  4. don't interfere.
  5. don't take part in the lesson.
  6. use an observation sheet to help you focus.
  7. focus on the learning - what you like and don't like is irrelevant.  All that matters is whether the students like it and whether they are learning.  You are not watching the teacher as a person, but as how the teacher is affecting the learner.
  • Feedback promptly - choose your language carefully during feedback.  Be as objective as possible.  Don't use 'I liked.....', 'I felt that.....', etc.  Instead, use 'I saw....', 'You did....', etc..
  • Follow-up - the feedback should always include ideas and suggestions, things to do, an action plan.  So, the follow-up is very important - it is what makes an observation developmental.  The teacher needs to write something about what they did and how it worked out and then he needs to sit down and discuss it with the observer.
  • Value the process!! - Don't let observations be a 'tick-box' exercise.
Giving feedback
  • Make it useful - it's no good to say, 'yes, it's fine'. 
  • Make it balanced - teachers can only take so much criticism at any one time.
  • Make it reflective - reflection is one of the most difficult things to do and teachers need to be trained not to look at the lesson as a whole, but to break it down.
  • In written feedback, use 'you', rather than 'the teacher' or 'Susan'!!
  • Agree a development plan.
  • Keep records.
  • Follow-up.
The Observation Process


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