Stepping from focus on teaching to focus on professional development for a spell, I decided to attend the lovely Cecilia’s talk on making lesson observations something to really benefit from rather than a threat and shudder process…
Making lesson observation a teacher’s best friend, not the enemy
Cecilia started by introducing herself – always interesting to learn more about the person behind the speaker 🙂 Ceci certainly has lots of varied experience.
Motivation, the problem, a possible solution and the different forms it could take, is the form the talk will take… Ceci’s ideas will be implemented next semester, but she has tried it with some volunteer teachers so we will hear about that.
Ceci participated in a workshop on lesson observations. Yes, a whole day. You think it’s a long time, but there were a lot of ideas. She wanted to take it further. Additionally, the teacher training and observation she does in Brazil – formal observations (senior staff observe other staff for evaluation), peer observation programme (but teachers are told they have to observe some other teacher at some point and hand in an observation form). Ceci didn’t see much development coming from these, or feel that the teachers were taking very much from it. Finally, Ceci completed Delta module 2 last year and found that the type of observation, assessment and feedback made a real difference to her. She wanted to identify what it is that helps this progress to happen.
What is the problem?
- The fear/pressure/terror/threat of being observed – by the manager/DoS/senior staff
- How to make it truly a tool for professional development
Both formal and peer observation should be a tool for professional development. But however friendly the senior staff are or how good a rapport there is, you are still the monster in the room! When she came back from her month away doing the Delta, she observed each of her classes while the teacher taught the learners, just to get sense of everything before stepping back in as a teacher. But one of the teachers freaked out.
For summative observation (by management), when used as part of the teacher’s evaluation within the school.
- pre-conference: sitting down together, teacher and senior staff observer, to have a talk before the observation happens. Shouldn’t be a serious, technical affair. Just establish a good rapport with the person, to set them at ease. Then talk shop. And let the teacher tell you what they want to take from it, e.g. looking out for a particular student etc. Establish particular goals.
- if they are evaluative observations, then they should be serial. You cannot get a feel of a teacher from one lesson alone. You can’t say if the teacher manages the classroom well, or not, from one observation alone. A series of observations gives a more authentic, accurate representations.
- Initial observation without an agenda, just sitting and watching the dynamics, to get the feel of a class – also for the students to get used to being observed.
- Record (video or just audio) a lesson and give it to the observer – easier to forget the presence of a camera than it is an observer, in the classroom.
- if possible, immediate post-observation reflection before feedback (a real game-changer for Ceci during the Delta) – take a notebook, go somewhere quiet for half an hour after the lesson and write. Put it all down, just write everything down with no criteria. That immediate reflection with everything so fresh makes you really think and relive the lesson and see how you could have done something differently or not. With Ceci, she already knew some of the feedback before she was given it, from this reflection. As soon as possible after, if not possible directly (in compressed timetables)
The “Buffet Table” approach to observation
You choose what you’re going to be observed on. We are still talking about the evaluative observation, done by senior management. They should say what area they want to focus on. But then the teacher should be able to choose the statements that the observer will complete. Ceci has been preparing lists of statements for this purpose. You can also find them in various books (references on last slide).
E.g. rapport with students
The teacher addresses learners by name
The teacher gives equal opportunities to all learners.
The observer/management focuses on one or maximum two areas per semester. If you try to cover everything, you’re not going to really cover anything. So the teacher chooses 5 statements to be evaluated on, out of say about 20, for each area.
This is what Cecilia is trying to implement with her teachers for formal observation.
Her biggest challenge now is to make peer observation something really valuable that contributes to development.
“From my experience, faculty, relationships and a strong sense of community prevent them from being objective and honest” (Braskamp, 2000)
Teachers are sensitive to pointing things out to each other. So everybody’s perfect. “Oh I learnt so much from your lesson” etc. But there is always room for progress – trying something different. So that you experiment and not fall into the same routines, get stuck in a rut.
Working with one aspect and one peer per term
- If you observe the same person throughout a semester, you get a better feel for their teaching. Find a peer who is really good at something you feel you’re lacking. E.g. instructions. Observe them through a series of lessons.
- This type of observation is primarily for the development of the observer rather than the person being observed.
- No box-ticking forms
- Pre-observation discussion important
Suggestion 1 for feedback:
The ladder of feedback: clarify, value, concerns, suggest.
- You have to use all four.
Clarify: was there anything you didn’t follow, that you would like to ask the teacher about
Value: What did you find in the class that was particularly noteworth
Concerns: What questions/issues/tensions were raised
Suggestions: What changes/new things to try can you suggest?
A teacher adapted this ladder to lesson observation:
Thanks: How has observing and giving feedback enhanced your own understanding of learning?
Define the criteria/statements together. (E.g. using the observation checklist from EtP that Ceci is planning to adapt) :
You agree the criteria (5) in advance together; you define the scores; you put comments on it
Q: How many per semester?
A: Anything between 3 and 5
Q: A whole class or sections of a class, to avoid logistical issues
A: At least 45 mins of a lesson to get a real feel for it.
Another very interesting talk. References are available on Ceci’s blog. http://cecilialemos.com