Observing teachers can be quite a challenge, especially if you have limited observation experience. However, it shouldn’t be too stressful and you can also help teachers with the whole process. There are of course different observations which are considered: pop-in observations (where a senior member of staff pops their head through the door to get a general idea of the class), formal observation (which is arranged by the Director of Studies or a senior teacher) and a peer-observation. Each have different objectives and this will be looked at in a future article. In this article, we shall look at ten tips for observing teachers and things to consider.
Sanchia Danielle reaching out for help on Twitter
I should mention that this blog post is for Sanchia Danielle, who requested advice for observations, so I hope this post helps. Should you have any advice for Sanchia, or anyone else in that matter, who has been assigned with the task of observing teachers, then please comment your advice.
1. Communicate With The Teacher
If you are arranging a formal observation with an EFL teacher to assess general competency, then it is important to communicate with the teacher a week in advance. When speaking with a teacher, it is important to give as much support as possible: key objectives of the observation, areas that will be focused on (classroom management, etc.) and general expectations (lesson plans, etc.). If you don’t provide the teacher with enough notice, they will find the whole process of observations stressful. It will also place the observer into the difficult position of observing a lesson with dubious results and generating more work on the observer to correct.
2. Provide All Necessary Documentation
As well as communicating with the teacher, it is important to provide all necessary documentation before the observation. As related above, if the observer does not provide the teacher, with whom they are observing, the necessary documentation or information it will place the teacher in the difficult situation to assume what is necessary. As with all assumptions, it can lead to further issues and requires more time to be spent reacting to creating solutions than proactively deciding on actions.
The things that I provide the teacher a week before the lesson observation are the following: key objectives of the lesson observation, what the school will look for with observations, a digital editable copy of a lesson plan in Word format as well as a post-observation template.
3. Talk Through The Lesson
A day before the lesson observation, it is important to sit down with the teacher and talk through the lesson plan. It will give the teacher a chance to verbalise their lesson staging and provide a chance for the observer to kindly offer suggestions regarding the lesson staging. Also it would offer a platform for the teacher to ask questions and rewrite the lesson plan according to input from the observer.
4. Areas To Consider During Teacher Observations
When observing a teacher, it is important to look at many different areas and it can be quiet overwhelming. Try to break down the different areas for classroom observations with the lesson plan, the teacher, classroom management and teaching techniques.
The Lesson Plan
- Appropriate objectives for the lesson
- A coherent lesson which achieves its objectives
- Chosen material which is adapted or created for the benefit for the lesson
- Rapport has been generated with the students
- Knowledge and use of student names
- The ability to anticipate and respond to issues as they arise
- Clear instructions and staging during the lesson
- Timing maintains focus and natural develop
- Use of technology to engage and maintain interest throughout the lesson
- Creating a classroom environment conducive to teaching and learning
- A variety of interaction patterns during the lesson (not too much teacher to student interaction)
- Good elicitation techniques
- Activities to encourage students to move around the classroom
- Reduced teacher talking time
- Boardwork: organised and clear for students
- Integrating phonology in the lesson
- Immediate or delayed error correction and feedback
- Following up pairwork or groupwork activities
Obviously, it depends what the school is hoping to achieve but the above is a guide and if a school is attempting to develop more phonological awareness with their teachers, then future observations will focus more on this area of development. In other words, the school owners should provide information about the aims of observations and what they are hoping to achieve after a number of months.
5. Review The Same Day
It’s important to review the lesson after the observation on the same day as it is fresh in both the mind of the teacher and the observer. It would also ease any worries the teacher may have about the lesson. I try to type out all post-observation notes out for the teacher which will be covered during the post-observation review with the teacher. As with talking through the lesson prior to the observation, it would seem to be a good tactic for the teacher to talk through the lesson and the staging how they remember it.
6. Provide A Criticism Sandwich
I look back at my CELTA days and the feedback that I received during the lesson observations. It was always tough receiving constructive feedback but you had to bite your lip and then take on board what was being mentioned during the feedback session. However, one thing that I learnt from the feedback process what the way it was provided which is what I call a ‘criticism sandwich’. This is essentially when providing feedback to teachers regarding their lesson, I try to find a positive from their lesson, something for teachers to work on and then finally finish on a positive. Therefore, if you are providing feedback on the lesson try to offer a balance rather than issuing praise only for teachers to see their feedback is the opposite and vice versa.
7. Further Reading
When you have finished the formal observation and provided the necessary feedback, your job is not finished. You have to provide some additional support in the form of reading. I usually recommend a variety of blogs or videos for teachers to read or watch in their free-time. For example, if I would like a teacher to review introductions to lesson, I normally print out or email Pete’s blog post on 35 Ways To Introduce Your Lesson Topic. If I would like a teacher to learn more about the phonemic chart, then I would get them to watch Adrian Underhill’s video below.
8. Arrange Peer Observations
When training to be an English language teacher, we tend to learn more by doing. As such, it would make sense to arrange peer observations, especially should you wish for your teacher to learn more in a practical sense. Should a teacher have issues with instructions or error correction which you wish to focus on, then offering the teacher a chance to observe another teacher who has strengths on these areas makes sense.
I tend to get teachers to focus on the following areas during peer observations: classroom management, error correction, instruction giving, lesson activities, stolen goods (what activities that teachers could use in their lesson and what they would recommend), material adaptation, whiteboard use and unplanned conversations. Developing a peer observation worksheet to be completed by the teacher, discussed between both the peer observer and the peer teacher, and then finally placed in the teacher’s file makes sense so that records are available to produce evidence with regards to a teacher’s CPD.
9. Follow-Up Observation
When a teacher has been formally observed, received feedback from the observer and observed a fellow teacher, the final process with the whole matter would seem to focus more on a future observation at a later date within a month or two to note any progress or development, especially in the area(s) which were recommended during the feedback process. I would explain to a teacher after the peer observation that I would plan to observe them with the aim to assist them with an area of teaching that they are wishing to develop. Therefore, a review observation at a later date seems to make sense.
10. Dealing With Difficult Teachers
One of the issues with formal teacher observations is dealing with difficult teachers and this cause quite a bit of stress for both the observer as well as for the teacher. When I deal with difficult teachers, I explain that I am trying to help them become better teachers and there is more input during the discussion about the lesson staging. I would always place the teacher in the position to lead the discussion and to describe their lesson to me. Once I have listened, I would politely suggest some ideas to consider. Difficult teachers would have issues with accepting suggestions and offer excuses, especially after the observation. If feedback becomes too stressful after the observation, I would always suggest a second follow-up observation is conducted by another member of staff as this would provide an objective overview. However, credit where credit is due. I highlight strengths of the lesson and this is the most to relax the most difficult of teachers.
Here are some questions to answer in the comments:
- What are your recommendations would you offer to those who are new to lesson observations?
- Have you ever had a difficult formal observation? What happened?
- What has been your experience of formal and peer observations in your language school?
I’ve been teaching English for over eight years, but I’ve rarely been observed – formally or otherwise – in my own classrooms. It’s somewhat rare over here.
In the Taiwanese schools and universities that I’ve worked at, observations take place once a year (if that) with a senior member of staff sitting at the back of the class for maybe twenty minutes and then quietly leaving. There is rarely any direct communication with the teacher. Feedback – if any is ever sent – arrives by email days if not weeks later. Obviously not a perfect system, but I think it’s partly due to the general culture in education here and the fact that the effectiveness of a teacher is usually decided by the students themselves via anonymous end-of-term surveys.
I’d like to try to bring in a system of peer observations within my current workplace, although the sticking point here is that we’re usually teaching at the same time, and have busy schedules, so finding time to sit in on someone else’s class can be tricky. There can also be a sense of reluctance toward peer observations as teachers often have little experience of being observed and might think the observer has ulterior motives. It takes a while to get used to it. As my colleagues have stated – and as your blog post shows – communication is key. If teachers know why the observation is taking place and are invited to participate in the overall process as both teacher and observer, they’re more likely to accept it.
Are you allowed to audio or video record snippets of your lesson Martin? We’ve found that’s worked really well to get around the problem of teachers working at the same time when trying to organise peer observations. Good luck!
I can only record adult lessons for students who are aged 18 years or above due to child protection issues. I initially wanted to record young learner lessons for teachers to review and watch as part of CPD. An interesting idea about getting teachers involved in peer observations.
It would be suggested to the observer that while observing, look for the best practices of the lesson rather than focusing on the demerits or flaws. Observer should have a strong understanding of EI to evaluate the teacher and then record the same in the observation sheet.
Yes, I had one instance where feedback or review session teacher confronted and questioned the remarks/rubrics used for observation sheet. Only after showing the recording of the CCTV shown, teacher accepted and apologised for the behavior.
It’s a good practice to have a formal observation schedule but the same shouldn’t be used to harm the integrity of the educators rather it should be used as a tool to provide positive feedback platform where educators can improve on their teachings and provide the best to the learners.