Observation is so last year!

I’d like to propose a different method to observation as we know it. A method that is probably already in use at many institutions across the country, but one that I believe should be used at every institution to support teacher development.

 

I have come to find the process of observation quite a challenge. I am fully aware of my bias and when I sit and observe, I often feel uncomfortable making judgements on the quality of teaching and learning. Partly because I may be wrong (I know what I think good teaching is, but I know that it isn’t necessarily good teaching), but mostly because there is no definitive ‘best way’ to teach in order to ensure learning.

 

I tried to combat this with a different approach. A non-judgemental, low stakes and purely developmental approach, incorporating coaching. Sounds wonderful doesn’t it. It is, but it is also quite intrusive.

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Essentially, I asked the teacher I was supporting to record a lesson of their choice. Using a digital camera, they recorded a lesson. Following the lesson I sat with the teacher and together we watched the session. At various points, I paused the video and asked the teacher questions about what we were observing. Questions included:

  • What are the learners doing?
  • Why do you think those learners are doing that?
  • How might you ensure that those learners are doing what you want?
  • Is that learning activity getting the desired outcome?
  • Is the method of delivery/assessment effective?

 

This process meant that no judgements were being made by myself, but instead the teacher. A dialogic approach to the teaching and learning took place, where the teacher identified their own strengths and areas for development through both the coaching and examining the learners as an observer themselves. This individual was able to take the information gleaned from this experience and explore their practice. It is still early days, but the teacher has commented that the approach has helped them to improve their practice, highlighting things that they would never have seen otherwise. They are really positive about being a part of my pilot and they want to continue using this method to improve their practice. I believe this approach to be far more effective in supporting teacher development compared to traditional observation approaches. However, it isn’t fool proof:

What I perceive to be the strengths of such an approach:

  • There is less of a chance of the Hawthorne effect occurring. A camera in the corner of the room is quickly forgotten, whereas a person is less inconspicuous.
  • There is more openness, discussion, opportunities to explore the context and no judgement – which can crush a teacher.
  • There isn’t a prescribed way to improve, the teacher chooses how they want to improve themselves – No fads or gimmicks encouraged.
  • There is an opportunity to think critically about what it happening and re-watch the footage to support this, as opposed to the one snap shot judgement that is made in traditional observations.

What I perceive to be the weaknesses of the approach:

  • There is always the danger of the teacher not recognising potential problems and the coach offering judgements which could negate the positive impact.
  • As mentioned above, it is quite intrusive and a big leap of faith.
  • It can be a time consuming process, but more worthwhile.

 

So I’m going to continue with my little experiment and will keep you posted on the progress.

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