Forum: Teacher Observations

September 1998 — Volume 3, Number 3

* * * TESL-EJ Forum * * *


Teacher Observations

The following discussion regarding the practice of observing teachers began on the TESL-L discussion list in late July 1998. It poses some serious questions and considerations about the uses and abuses of this practice. All messages are printed with the permission of their authors.(In one case, we could not include the message of a participant as we were unable to get her permission. Two subsequent messages refer to her message. In those cases, we have removed her name. The comprehensibility of the messages has not been sacrificed.) We thank all the participants for their cooperation and help in this Forum column.

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Date:         Thu, 30 Jul 1998 11:44:50 EDT
From:         "Turner, Debbie" 
Subject:      Teacher Observation

Related to the subject of teacher development, I have a question
about classroom observations.  I observe and evaluate new teachers
in our program and would like these sessions to be as positive (even
helpful) as possible.  Can any of you recall any evaluations of your
classroom performance that really helped your development as a
teacher?  I try to describe what I see in the classroom objectively,
breaking it up into blocks of time, then note specific things I
think worked well and make specific suggestions of things that might
work better, when appropriate. The write-up is followed by a short
meeting with more explanation if necessary, answering questions,
etc.  It seems to work OK but I'm tired of this format - any
suggestions of things that work for you - either and an observer or
one being observed?

Thanks!

Debbie Turner
Seattle Central Community College
Seattle, WA USA
dturne@sccd.ctc.edu

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Date:         Thu, 30 Jul 1998 21:31:11 EDT
From:         Miri Yochanna 
Subject:      teacher observation

In regard to teacher observation, I agree with Debbie Turner in that
it gets tiring to do the same thing all the time. [-1-]

I try to focus on specifics each time. For example, one lesson I
will focus on and note timing and transitions from one activity to
another and all the other things will be border lined. The next
lesson I might focus on and note how the teacher dealt with
discipline and feedback. The next lesson I will focus on and note
how the teacher organized the lesson and how the activities were
done and the students' reactions to them. Obviously, with each
lesson, a little of everything is being taken in but with a specific
focus, it is easier to help the teacher specify where there might be
a problem.

Another good idea is to video tape the lesson and then discuss the
lesson after watching it with the teacher. Things are seen
differently and the discussion is different. It makes for a very
interesting learning experience on the part of both the teacher and
the teacher trainer.

I hope this helps.

Miri
                                 Miri Yochanna
                      yochanna@internet-zahav.net
                      Levinsky College of Education
                                Tel-Aviv, Israel

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Date:         Thu, 30 Jul 1998 21:34:47 EDT
From:         Rex Alexander 
Subject:      Re: Teacher Observation

At 11:44 AM 7/30/98 -0400, Turner, Debbie asks "Can any of you
recall any evaluations of your classroom performance that really
helped your development as a teacher?"

Hi Debbie, all,

Sorry to side step your question but, no, I have never had any
evaluations of my classroom performance that were helpful.  I don't
see how they could be helpful when decisions about continued
employment, salary, advancement and letters of reference are
directly or indirectly based upon such observations and evaluations.
I understand and sympathize with an employer's right to "know what
is going on" in my classroom, and to effect some quality control
over the process.  However, for me personally, observations are an
anxiety-producing waste of time.  I regard them as "dog and pony
shows" where I give the observer what s/he wants so that s/he will
go away as soon as possible and let  me do my job.  As two different
observers may come up with two entirely different evaluations of my
teaching, I have no interest in the feedback resulting from such
evaluations. [-2-]

I am sure that I don't sound like much of a "team player" (I'm
not!), and some would question my professionalism for making such
statements. However, I have always regarded this list as an
opportunity question "conventional wisdom", and to be candid about
feelings that would be taboo to express on the job.

Cheers,

Rex

Rex Alexander
Pattaya, Thailand


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Date:         Fri, 31 Jul 1998 04:07:24 EDT
From:         Cynthia Sinsap 
Subject:      Re: Teacher Observation


When I was in a position requiring me to observe new teachers and
teacher applicants, I would also make a written observation similar
to what you described, but I usually had a brief interview with the
teacher before anyone saw the written version.  I would ask the
teacher what they though were the most positive aspects of the
lesson they had taught and what they would change or do differently
if they could re-teach that lesson.  I would then add their comments
to my written report and go over any additional comments I had to
make with them.  I think that giving the teachers a chance to
reflect and comment on their own performance first makes it a more
positive learning experience.

Cynthia Sinsap         sinsap@samart.co.th
Didyasarin International School
Thailand

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Date:         Fri, 31 Jul 1998 17:43:22 EDT
From:         Anthea Tillyer 
Subject:      Re: Teacher Observation

On Thu, 30 Jul 1998 21:34:47 EDT Rex Alexander said:

>some quality control over the process.  However, for me personally,
>observations are an anxiety producing waste of time... As two
>different observers may come up with two entirely different
>evaluations of my teaching, 

I absolutely agree with Rex! But before explaining the basis for my
agreement, I would like to answer the question that started this
thread on observations...NO, I absolutely have never been helped [-3-]
by any observation of my teaching. As Rex pointed out, almost no
teacher would do anything but the tried, true, and reliable in a
class upon which employment decisions could be made.

I agree with Rex that observations are anxiety-producing and a waste
of time for all concerned. I do not believe that the observer can
get a true picture of a teacher's skill and effectiveness from one
visit and I do not believe that observations make anyone a better
teacher. Furthermore, as Rex pointed out, the whole process is
usually a game in which the teacher needs to find out what that
particular observer wants or expects and then delivers it. As
example of the absurdity of some of this is several years ago when I
was teaching on two different campuses of the university, in two
different ESL programs. I was teaching the same level students, same
skills, but on different campuses. The observers in the morning
program were all of the belief that group work undermined the
authority and value of the teacher, and that explicit grammar
instruction was the best way to help students, no matter what skill
you were actually teaching. However, the afternoon program would not
reappoint any teacher who did NOT use group work (for teaching the
same skills, same levels, as the morning program)! And - you guessed
it - explicit grammar instruction was a sign that the teacher had
serious retrograde attitudes that needed to be weeded out.
Naturally, all the teachers taught the way they generally felt
comfortable with, but when an observer came - or when there was
chance of word "getting out" of the classroom, everyone followed the
party line. It was such an incredibly stressful waste of time! The
only good thing about it was that it cast all the teacher into a
sort of "conspiratorial"  mode which allowed us to be good and
supportive colleagues to each other and to share stories and much
merriment about these ridiculous teaching circumstances.

So, YES, I agree with Rex Alexander; and NO, I have never been
helped in my teaching by anything related to observations.

Anthea Tillyer  City University of New York (USA)
ABTHC@CUNYVM.CUNY.EDU

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Date:         Fri, 31 Jul 1998 19:07:51 EDT
From:         Cynthia Sinsap 
Subject:      Re: Teacher Observation

When I was in a position requiring me to observe new teachers and
teacher applicants, I would also make a written observation similar
to what you described, but I usually had a brief interview with the
teacher before anyone saw the written version.  I would ask the
teacher what they though were the most positive aspects of the
lesson they had taught and what they would change or do differently
if they could re-teach that lesson.  I would then add their comments
to my written report and go over any additional comments I had [-4-]
to make with them.  I think that giving the teachers a chance to
reflect and comment on their own performance first makes it a more
positive learning experience.

Cynthia Sinsap
Didyasarin International School
Thailand

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Date:         Fri, 31 Jul 1998 19:17:43 EDT
From:         Roy Kesey 
Subject:      teacher evaluations

Dear Colleagues,

Rex Alexander's response to teacher evaluations echoes precisely my
own feelings as of two or three years ago.  I, too, felt them to be,
"'dog and pony shows' where I give the observer what s/he wants so
that s/he will go away as soon as possible and let me do my job."
However, two things have since combined to change my opinion. The
first and most radical was that I suddenly found myself on the other
side of the classroom, suffering through evaluations as an evaluator
rather than as a teacher.  Second and only slightly later, I took a
CELTA course at English International in San Francisco. My
experience there speaks directly to Mr. Alexander's main point:  "I
don't see how (teacher evaluations) could be helpful when decisions
about continued employment, salary, (etc.) are directly or
indirectly based upon (them)."  In the CELTA sessions, the only
possible point of the evaluations was to help me improve as a
teacher.  Once I understood that, the evaluations ceased to be, as
Mr. Alexander notes, "an anxiety-producing waste of time."

The teacher evaluations I do now are as close in spirit and form as
I can make them to the ones I experienced on the TEFL course. I made
it blatantly clear to my teachers, (in staff meetings before the
first round of evaluations, and in the post-evaluation feedback
sessions,) that the only point to the evaluations was to help them
develop as teachers.  This, I would hope, displaced some of the
pressure from the teachers' shoulders to my own, and put out the
message that the only way an evaluation could reflect negatively on
the teacher was if s/he showed no interest whatsoever in getting
better.

Unfortunately, this type of evaluation consumes a lot quite of time--
about four hours per session per teacher for me, perhaps three hours
per session from the teacher's perspective.  Each teacher gives me,
in advance, a detailed lesson plan, (which includes a section in
which they focus on what they hope to accomplish with each of the
activities they've chosen) as well as a lesson analysis, in which
they outline the lesson's central objectives, anticipate potential
problems, (language- based or otherwise), and provide solutions [-5-]
to these problems.  After the evaluation, they fill out a self-
evaluation, wherein they detail to what extent they feel they've
achieved their lesson objectives, the central strengths and
weaknesses of that day's lesson, and the means by which to improve
on the weaknesses they've mentioned.  We go through all of this, as
well as the observation sheet I've filled out, in the feedback
session the following day. A tremendous amount of work, this--but
given the positive results I've seen over a very short period of
time, it's well worth it.  Most of my teachers now look forward to
their observations... or so they tell me.

Best regards,
Roy Kesey - Universidad de Piura - Piura, Peru
rkesey@UPIURA.UDEP.EDU.PE

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Date:         Sat, 1 Aug 1998 02:09:08 EDT
From:         Julie Hutchin 
Subject:      teacher observations

The most useful observations for me were the ones where I was doing
the observing.  I have found that peer observations can be quite
useful for getting ideas and seeing how other teachers teach.  When
we do them in my program, we make appointments to observe each
other, and so far, no one has minded being observed by a peer.  As
an administrator, I participate in these peer observations and no
one seems to feel nervous or pressured when I visit their classes.
Anyone is welcome to observe my classes as well.  I always learn
something, or am reminded of something I should be doing that I'm
not (or see something that I want to make sure I never do!).

A question for those of you who feel very negative about being
observed
--
I also question the validity of the kind of observations you
describe. But think of the situation from an administrator's point
of view - the administrator is ultimately responsible for the
quality of the program and unfortunately, not all teachers are good.
What do you suggest that administrators do to check on the quality
of instruction in their programs?


Julie Hutchin      hutchton@HOTMAIL.COM
Pacific International Academy
Marylhurst College
Marylhurst OR USA

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[-6-]

Date:         Sat, 1 Aug 1998 02:13:48 EDT
From:         Tommy Mcdonell 

In a message dated 7/31/98 8:04:28 PM, rkesey@UPIURA.UDEP.EDU.PE
writes:

>The teacher evaluations I do now are as close in spirit and form
>as I can make them to the ones I experienced on the TEFL course.
>I made it blatantly clear to my teachers, (in staff meetings before
>the first round of evaluations, and in the post-evaluation feedback
>sessions,) that the only point to the evaluations was to help them
>develop as teachers.

This is, exactly, what I feel is important. It helps to make both
the evaluator and the teacher a team to the benefit of the program
and, ultimately, the students. If someone is a bad teacher, they
won't be bad on observation days, but it will come up in student
evaluations. But to be a better teacher, the evaluator and the
teacher can focus on different parts of the lesson or some part that
people want feedback on.

Tommy McDonell, Learning English Adult Program, Inc. NYC (USA)
womenintec@aol.com

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Date:         Sat, 1 Aug 1998 02:16:58 EDT
From:         Paul S & Joy E 
Subject:      Teacher Observation/Evaluation

Roy Kesey (31 July) wrote: " I made it blatantly clear to my
teachers, (in staff meetings before the first round of evaluations,
and in the post evaluation feedback sessions) that the only point to
the evaluations was to help them develop as teachers."

I believe the evaluation and feedback process outlined by Kesey can
be helpful and will probably alleviate many of the concerns raised
by Rex Alexander (30 July) on the use of teacher evaluations in
decisions related to continued employment and salary.  However, once
the evaluation has been completed is it really possible to erect a
'Chinese wall' around it and prevent this information from being
used for other purposes?

I ask this question not of Kesey's own situation but of the World in
general. If the evaluation is conducted by a teacher's supervisor or
someone who reports to the supervisor then how can that evaluation
be forgotten if, say, it came to a contraction in staff numbers?
Does the supervisor toss a coin to see who is going to get the push
rather than use his or her knowledge about the different qualities
of teaching? Perhaps tossing a coin is the fairest way given the
conflicting ideas about what forms quality teaching [see Anthea [-7-]
Tillyer's account (31 July) of her experiences]; but would most of
us be happy at having our fate decided by chance in this way?

My own opinion is that teacher evaluations should be conducted  by
an external consultant who has a contract with the teacher - not the
employing institution.  I doubt if this is really a practical
proposition!

Paul Stables
Hong Kong Shue Yan College
psandje@netvigator.com

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Date:         Sat, 1 Aug 1998 17:20:58 EDT
From:         Sab Will 
Subject:      Re: teacher evaluations

Dear All,

I agree to a great extent with what Anthea Tillyer said about many
observations being a complete joke just like in an interview where
you try to tell the interviewer what they want to hear.

But like Roy Kesey and Julie Hutchin, I feel that the phenomenal
benefits that can be gained from being observed in a sympathetic
way, and indeed from observing others, are being overlooked.

I have followed a certificate and a diploma course where observation
was one of the mainstays of the programme. We observed our tutors,
other course members and even ourselves! We were observed by our
tutors, other course members and of course finally by the assessors.

On a TEFL training course the emphasis is on improvement and mutual
help and encouragement - the ideal situation. This is a world away
from the stressful experience of being observed by an employer where
you have to teach on their terms whilst often knowing that you are
far more qualified to say what is a good lesson than they are!

But yes, employers need to make sure that standards are being
maintained or even improved. And teachers should observe and be
observed just for their own personal development and sharing of
knowledge. The key is, as on a training course, that all the
feedback should be given in a positive way.

Perhaps the best observers are other teachers, but in any case,
employers should invest the time to develop their staff, stressing
that an observation can only benefit everyone - the employer,
because they will keep teachers motivated and increase trust and
confidence in the pedagogical back-up; teachers, who will benefit
from positive feedback and be made aware of problem areas they [-8-]
were  ignorant of; and the students, who will receive a better level
of instruction from motivated teachers.

Sab Will sab@teflfarm.com
English teacher, Paris, France
Webmaster, The TEFL Farm

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Date:         Sat, 1 Aug 1998 17:22:24 EDT
From:         Rex Alexander 
Subject:      Re: teacher observations

At 02:09 AM 8/1/98 -0400, Julie Hutchin wrote: "A question for those
of you who feel very negative about being observed...the
administrator is ultimately responsible for the quality of the
program and unfortunately, not all teachers are good.  What do you
suggest that administrators do to check on the quality of
instruction in their programs?"

Hi Julie, all,

To clarify my earlier statements that I have never been helped by
being observed.  I think that "some" brief and infrequent
observations *may* be justifiable in order for an administrator to
insure quality control in the program, and to keep somewhat abreast
of what is happening in the classrooms.  However, I think it is
crazy-making to take the next step and claim that such observations
are "helpful" to teachers.

When I have observed teachers, I have kept the process as casual as
possible, advising that during a certain week I might be dropping
into classes for awhile.  I only stay for 15-20 minutes. I don't
take copious notes.  I meet later with the teacher for only a few
minutes remark on a few things I liked about what I saw.  All I am
really looking for in these observations are flagrant problems that
must be attended to.  As to all the little concerns, points of
correction, comments on activities, methods, etc. that I have
collected during the observations, I save them for staff meetings
and workshops.

Cheers,

Rex

Rex Alexander
Pattaya, Thailand


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[-9-]

Date:         Sat, 1 Aug 1998 17:24:38 EDT
From:         Marilyn Cahill 
Subject:      Teacher evaluations

Re:  Question on Teacher Evaluations

All the viewpoints posted on the above got me thinking back.  I have
to admit that whenever I knew I'd be evaluated, I tailor-made
lessons for whatever expert was going to be observing me.  So I
guess the evaluators never really got a true picture of what my
day-to-day teaching was like.

In one of my first evaluations, the "master teacher" found only one
thing to critique, and that was that I got two of the prescribed
components of the lesson out of order.  (In that training program
they required a series of  drills - discrimination, repetition,
substitution, transformation, etc. - and I think I switched
substitution and transformation.)  This was hardly helpful.

I found, though, that helpful hints from successful, experienced
teachers on things like classroom management, went a long way.

I agree with Julie Hutchin that when *I'm* doing the observing, it's
another story.  So many new ideas piggyback off techniques I see
others using.  I find that occasional reciprocal peer observation is
very healthy, and very collaborative.  Everyone participating grows
as a result.

Marilyn Gorgas-Cahill
marilyncahill@juno.com
Lynguista Lang. Svc., Wharton, NJ/USA

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Date:         Sat, 1 Aug 1998 18:42:53 EDT
From:         Bassam Khoury 

In my experience, teacher observations have always been positive
experiences - but from reading other experiences related on the
list, I am sure this is only because of the observers and my
particular teaching situation.  I have always viewed observations as
of great developmental value.  In fact, for new teachers straight
off a certificate course such as the CTEFLA (now CELTA), they are,
in my opinion, of paramount importance and in many institutions
teachers don't get enough observation and support from management.

As I see it, the advantages of observations are (or can/could be):
- the opportunity for an outside view; I only ever see the class
 from my own viewpoint (and that is always biased!).
- the sharing of ideas
- the highlighting of potential weaknesses together with suggestions
 for possible ways to address them [-10-]
- the opportunity to stop and take stock of what I am doing in my
 teaching, of what skill(s) am I currently developing, or could I
 be developing.
- the opportunity to share concerns with a senior member of staff.
- the opportunity to take advantage of someone else's experience.

I believe that the primary reason for teacher observations should be
developmental.  I understand that management needs to monitor
classroom performance, but if sensitively and professionally
undertaken, both measuring and developing could surely come out of
any observation programme.

My institution is in the process of bringing in performance
management measures.  Teachers were consulted on which measures we
would agree to be assessed on, and out of five suggested measures,
we unanimously requested that we be judged primarily on observations
as we felt, with some reservations, this to be the fairest measure
of our performance as teachers.  However, we requested that

a) in light of the fact that all teachers occasionally give poorer
  lessons for one reason or another, we be observed at least four
  times during the year;
b) since from our point of view the main reason for "undergoing"
  observations was developmental, we should be observed by the same
  person on all four occasions;
c) if for any reason we felt uncomfortable being observed by one
  particular member of the management team, we could request
  another observer.

Best wishes,
Sian Baldwin
Beirut, Lebanon
khoury@null.net

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Date:         Sat, 1 Aug 1998 18:29:21 EDT
From:         Anthea Tillyer 
Subject:      What do observations do?

Like Rex Alexander, I find it hard to accept the claim that
observations "help" the observed teacher! Frankly, I think that that
is a rationalization of the wish of administrators to believe that
observing classes helps them to know whether their teachers are
doing the right thing and to justify union or other contractual
requirements.

My own position is that an evaluator/observer can tell very little
from an observation. One would have to have a special measuring
device to see if what the teacher was teaching was actually causing
learning in the students. And, let's face it...the important thing
is not exactly what the teacher does or says (groups or no [-11-]
groups, for example), but whether or not students are on the road to
learning as a result of being in that class.

I honestly cannot see the point of observing TEACHING because it is
LEARNING that is our goal. Teaching and learning do not necessarily
go hand in hand. Moreover, what a teacher is teaching - no matter
how well it is presented - may not actually be "learned" or
"acquired" by the learners for quite a while after the class. So it
is impossible to know exactly how much learning is going on as a
result of which kind of input and from which teacher.

I believe that administrators can drop in to judge the atmosphere in
the class, whether the students are involved, and whether the
teacher is at least decently deploying him or herself. Beyond that,
asking teachers about what they are doing, asking students what and
how they are doing, and assuming that all is well will assure a
program culture that encourages students to learn and teachers to
teach and try new things.

I think that administrators can learn more about whether the
program's goals are being met by observing STUDENTS than by
observing teachers. And I do mean OBSERVING students, not
necessarily asking them directly.

In the end, successful teaching cannot take place without students
who want to learn. The methods and attitudes of the students are
just as important as the methods and attitudes of their teachers.

Anthea Tillyer  City University of New York (USA)
ABTHC@CUNYVM.CUNY.EDU

================================================================
Date:         Sat, 1 Aug 1998 18:56:57 EDT
From:         Bassam Khoury 
Subject:      Teacher Observation

On the subject of teacher observations, Debbie Turner writes:
>any suggestions of things that work for you - either
>and an observer or one being observed?

While observing teachers as part of a Teacher Development programme
in an adult language school, I followed pretty much the same format
that Debbie outlined in her posting.  One thing we did bring in,
though, which I feel is worth trying, is an "informal" observation
which precedes the "formal" observation.  The observer meets with
the teacher beforehand for a brief discussion on the class, any
problems (with teaching in general or with this class), and what the
lesson should achieve.  The observer then sits in for a short time
(perhaps half an hour) just to get a general feel of the class and
the teacher's teaching style.  This also gives the students the
chance to get used to the observer.  A second meeting with the [-12-]
teacher follows; this could be more lengthy.  Possible areas to
focus on may be suggested by the teacher or observer, and agreed on
by both, and a lesson plan should be submitted.  Then the same class
is observed, but this time for a slightly longer period of time, and
this class is written up and followed by oral and written feedback.

As a teacher being observed, I've also tried (as another list member
suggested) videoing myself, then going through the video first on my
own, then with an observer.  This has the added advantage of
allowing me to see myself from a different vantage point - good for
working on aspects of classroom management.

I also feel that it is helpful to encourage the teacher to think
about their own performance before the observer comments on it, and
that they be allowed to give their feelings before observer feedback
is given.  They could perhaps be given a form to complete before the
post-observation meeting takes place.  This is useful from a
developmental point of view, and could also be useful for the
observer in their role as assessor to see how a teacher reacts to a
lesson - whether they are able to identify strengths and weaknesses
and suggest ways to work on weaknesses which may have showed up in
the lesson.  It also ensures the teacher has the opportunity to put
forward their side.

Best wishes,
Sian Baldwin
Beirut, Lebanon
khoury@null.net

================================================================
Date:         Sat, 1 Aug 1998 22:41:18 EDT
From:         Melinda Gleeson 
Subject:      teacher evaluations

Roy Kesey is in favour of evaluations when the purpose is clearly to
help the teachers develop their skills.

 I made it blatantly clear to my teachers, (in staff meetings
before the first round of evaluations, and in the post-evaluation
feedback sessions,) that the only point to the evaluations was to
help them develop as teachers. 

For me this brings with it the problem of 'who are you to be judging
others?' What equips the observer with the skills, knowledge or
whatever to be in the evaluator's position? Sure when someone is a
beginning teacher they can learn from this situation. But later when
one has been teaching for a number of years, a lot may boil down to
differences of opinion.

If I were to be observed by another, even if their clearly stated
intention was 'to help me improve as a teacher', I wouldn't see [-13-]
any value in it unless I already had a particular respect for the
evaluator's skills and saw the evaluator as being clearly in a
position to contribute.

On the other hand I would be quite happy to be observed in a
situation where teachers were involved in observing each other and
discussing methodology and 'magic' or 'missed' moments in the
classroom. This would be a two way exchange with both the observer
and the observed in a position to learn.

If the observation is in the spirit of 'we're all here to learn
together', it could well be useful. But if the spirit is, 'I'm the
expert willing to impart my wisdom to you' - then the utility as a
tool to aid a teacher's development is limited.

Melinda Gleeson
ozesl@powerup.com.au
Brisbane Australia

http://www.powerup.com.au/~ozesl

================================================================
Date:         Sun, 2 Aug 1998 08:11:13 EDT
From:         "Cipaku, Bandung" 
Subject:      Re: What do observations do?

dear teslers,

I've been following the discussion on this subject with much
interest, although I've never been observed  'purposely and
officially' as a teacher (once again I should stress that I am not
an English teacher; I'm your student in this list).

      From all that have been stated by various teslers, what
Anthea wrote (01/08), IMHO and in my point of view as a student, is
the 'most' important:

>I honestly cannot see the point of observing TEACHING because it is
>LEARNING that is our goal.  administrators can learn more
>about whether the program's goals are being met by observing
>STUDENTS than by observing teachers. 
>In the end, successful teaching cannot take place without students
>who want to learn. The methods and attitudes of the students are
>just as important as the methods and attitudes of their teachers.

I've often been asked to train young editors or authors (mostly high
school teachers who write books). I teach them how to present their
ideas in written form, especially from editor's point of view. At
the end of each class, I asked the trainees to fill in a short
questionnaire form. I've provided several questions regarding the
materials, the way I behave in class (was I too serious), the way I
teach (did I speak too slow or too fast), which part of the lessons
[-14-] is considered not clear, which part they like the most, etc. I
also asked them to give me some criticism or suggestions as how I could
improve my teaching for the next training.

So, as Anthea said, it's what the students' opinion of the teacher
that is most important; their input should be considered seriously
and serves as the best feedback to improve the way they teach. Sure,
the administrators or observers can judge the teachers and tell them
how or which part of the lesson should be changed or perfected, but
in the end it's still the students' appreciation that really counts.

my two cents of opinion,


sofia mansoor-niksolihin (ms)
chief editor, itb press, bandung, indonesia
sofia@melsa.net.id
================================================================
Date:         Sun, 2 Aug 1998 08:12:21 EDT
From:         Sab Will 
Subject:      Teacher evaluation sheets

Dear All
One way of making observations more useful - and this is principally
for teachers who want to mutually benefit from observing each other
- is to concentrate on _one_ aspect only.

You could decide, for example, that for one hour you were going to
concentrate on interaction patterns (how much teacher-talking time,
student talking time, pair work, group work, etc). Or perhaps the
teacher's effectiveness when presenting a new language item to a low
level class.

Other areas which could be concentrated on: Correction; student
practice; using the board; use of audio/visual aids; organisation of
group work; teacher language; overall lesson structure; practising
new language; variety; language content;

*Example Observation Sheet* (reduced coz too long): Practising new
language;
1. Note down the times for the different practice activities used:
  mechanical drills; meaningful drills; information/opinion gap;
  role play; humanistic activity; game; written exercise; other
  (please specify).
2. Was there a progression from more mechanical to freer practice
  activities? If so, how was this achieved?
3. (How) did the teacher know that it was time to change activities?
4. Did all students participate?
5. Was there enough practice? Why do you think so?
6. How were errors  dealt with? Was this appropriate? [-15-]

*Follow-up*:
1. How could this part of the lesson have been improved?
2. What have you learnt about your own teaching? (the observer's!)
3. How can you improve it as a result?
4. Set 2 or 3 short-term goals to achieve these improvements.

There has to be a lot of trust between the observer and the observed
and the understanding that _everyone_ learns from the exercise. The
ideal situation is where the exercise is reciprocated and the two
teachers are at an equal level in the organisation and have a
similar relationship with their superiors so there is less
competition and no worries about being _judged_ in some negative
way.

I have detailed observation sheets for all of the above points if
interested. Please contact me off-list.

Sab Will sab@teflfarm.com
English teacher, Paris, France
Webmaster, The TEFL Farm
================================================================
Date:         Sun, 2 Aug 1998 08:15:39 EDT
From:         Tony Duffy 
Subject:      Re. teacher observation

Dear All but especially Rex and Anthea,

I know one person's experience doesn't prove very much either way
but I felt I had to offer a more positive comment on the role of
teacher observation than has been the case so far (with the
exception of Roy's letter today). I have been observed both as a
trainee teacher in the state educational system and as a teacher
whilst working for an international ELT organisation. In both cases,
and this is the essential issue I think, the observation was carried
out by someone who was also a practising teacher, but with
considerably more experience than I had at that time. The whole
point of the exercise was to help *me* to improve on my own
classroom skills. The feedback I was given focused on the positive
aspects of what I was doing as well as providing the basis for
constructive discussion of any 'problem' areas. What is more, the
observers changed various initial assumptions they had made after
hearing from me about certain aspects of the dynamics/personal
circumstances of the specific teaching situation they had not been
able to pick up on through observation alone.

So, I would say that Rex and Anthea had the misfortune to be
'observed' by people who seem to have been neither competent nor
constructive in their roles. Sympathetic observation, whether by
peers, 'superiors' or outside 'experts' can be of enormous value in
helping individual teachers gain a much fuller understanding of
their own potential as effective classroom practitioners. And of
[-16-] course, bad observation just shouldn't exist, but it's a
tough old world!

Regards,

Tony Duffy    University of Deusto, San Sebastian,  The Basque
Country
e-mail        kduffk@nexo.es
================================================================
Date:         Sun, 2 Aug 1998 14:33:40 EDT
From:         "Judith M. Anderson" 
Subject:      Re: Teacher Observation

I'm not a great fan of being observed, so this may affect my opinion
of the whole process.  However, once when I was in an administrative
position and was required to observe teachers, I had the experience
of observing one individual who was dynamite--she put a lot of
energy into the process, engaged the students, etc.-- when she was
being watched. But as soon as she wasn't, she reverted to a pattern
of "presenting the lesson" during the first 10-15 minutes of the
class (too bad for anyone who was late) and then sitting and reading
a novel while the students worked on an assignment.  She didn't even
circulate to help them with their work or find out where they were
having problems.  It was impossible to observe her doing this,
because the minute anybody showed up in class, for whatever reason
(I don't believe in surprise observations, but from time to time I
had to interrupt the class for an announcement or some other reason,
so I figured out what was going on) she would pop up and start her
"observation routine."  Unfortunately, student evaluations weren't
very useful in this regard--they would complain about other aspects
of her class, but not this.

This teacher used to brag about how quickly she could do her class
prep, in comparison to the other teachers in the program.  No
wonder!  I guess my point is that observations often aren't accurate
reflections of what's really going on in the classroom.

Judy Anderson
Univ. of Maryland College Park, MD, USA
sonderjan@juno.com

================================================================

Date:         Mon, 3 Aug 1998 17:36:27 EDT
From:         Jim Scofield 
Organization: ELS Language Centers

Fortunately, I *have* received valuable feedback from observations.
I think the main factors for success are who is observing (and have
they been trained) and what the goal of observing is. There are two
major goals. These are teacher development and teacher evaluation. I 
[-17-] believe these goals are in conflict and that is one of the main
reasons observations often don't work. In most cases, the person
that is responsible for teacher development and evaluation is the
same person. This creates the conflict. For evaluation you want to
show your best stuff. For development you want to try out new
things, ask questions, and generally show some weaknesses that you
want to improve.

Observing is a difficult process that requires training (and tact!).
Most of us have learned how to do it through trial and error. If
you've never been taught how to observe, why would you expect it to
go well?

Jim Scofield
jscofield@els.com
San Diego, CA USA

================================================================
Date:         Mon, 3 Aug 1998 17:44:17 EDT
From:         Molly Farquharson 
Subject:      Observations

One of the underlying threads to the discussion about observations
seems to be that they are also evaluations.  Of course the observer
is making judgements, but I think there needs to be a separation of
the two processes. I feel I am fortunate to be in a position of
being able to observe teachers, and I encourage the teachers in our
school to observe each other if they have time.

When I observe teachers, I write down things like the seating
pattern, the gender make-up of the class, maybe how the teacher is
dressed, and then write what the teacher does with the students
(lesson presentation, p. X, Ex. a, such and such activity) and the
length of time it takes.  I make a critique in my notes as I go
(what I think is good, what I think could be improved and how).  I
write it all up as a narrative and discuss it later with the
teacher.

Teachers are always nervous about being observed.  Having another
person in the class, no matter who it is, changes the dynamics of
the class.  In addition, many teachers feel that the classroom is
their territory, and it is kind of private.  The students observe
the teacher every day, but their critique is different from a
colleague's.  I agree with the various posters who acknowledge the
input from the students.  Bottom line is (I think, anyway) we are
watching the teacher teach, and if we are really lucky we will see
that little light that comes on to show that a student has learned
something.  Having a respected and respectful colleague observe a
class and give feedback is a kind of professional development that
is very helpful and necessary for the growth of teachers.  We may
fear it, but if we take the suggestions into serious consideration 
[-18-] we only become better teachers. Certainly as an observer I 
learn from the teachers, so I too develop professionally.

Yours, ever learning!
molly farquharson 
English Time, Istanbul, Turkey

================================================================
Date:         Tue, 4 Aug 1998 15:55:30 EDT
From:         "Susan L. Schwartz" 
Subject:      Teacher observations

Two resources which deal with teacher observations are:
1)  _Classroom Observation Tasks_, by Ruth Wajnryb.  The book
contains a multitude of activities for people to do when observing
other teachers; many of the tasks focus on one aspect of teaching at
a time rather than looking at the overall lesson.
2)  In _New Ways in Teacher Education_, edited by Donald Freeman and
Steve Cornwell, there is an article by Alvino Fantini about teacher
assessment in which he describes the "YOGA Form" (Your Objectives,
Guidelines, and Assessment).  This was used by my supervisor when I
did my student teaching and later I used it when I was observing
teachers in China.  There are sections dealing with: interpersonal
relations, cultural/intercultural knowledge, language/linguistic
knowledge, language acquisition and learning, language teaching
(several categories included), professionalism, and synthesis and
recommendations.

When I observed a teacher, in China and in the US, I afterwards
spent between 60-90 minutes discussing what had happened in the
classroom. First I wanted to hear how the teacher evaluated the
class that I had observed.  I asked how s/he felt about the lesson,
what went well and what went not so well; finally I asked what s/he
would change if doing that same lesson again.  Then I offered my
comments, based on the copious notes I had taken while I was in the
classroom.  I tried to get the teacher to look at what s/he had done
and, if something hadn't worked well (sometimes they already knew
and sometimes it was my opinion that something hadn't) see if there
were other ways of achieving a better result.  I always asked the
teacher to think of at least one alternative to what had actually
been done, and often I'd hear something I hadn't thought of myself.
That's why I never offered my ideas before hearing what the teacher
had to say.  I also looked for things to praise; I wanted teachers
to feel that, even if they thought their teaching hadn't gone well,
still there were things that were good about the lesson and they
needed to be acknowledged as well.  Although it was very time-
consuming and most teachers were stunned when I told them how long
the feedback session would take, almost all of them appreciated it
after we had finished. [-19-]

I think it's vital that an observer observe a teacher more than
once, and preferably more than two times before making any kind of
evaluation of that person's teaching skills.  Nervousness will still
play a part but the more often the observer is in the classroom the
more comfortable the teacher and the students will feel.

Also, I think that anyone who observes teachers for the purpose of
evaluation for continued employment or promotion or whatever, must
be a teacher, too, who has a thorough understanding of the subject
matter being taught.  And any administrator who observes teachers
should also teach periodically and be observed by the teachers s/he
supervises.

I am enjoying this discussion about teacher observations very much!

Susan L. Schwartz
Newton, MA, USA
slschwartz@earthlink.net

================================================================
Date:         Tue, 4 Aug 1998 17:22:11 EDT
From:         Rex Alexander 
Subject:      Re: Teacher observations

Susan L. Schwartz wrote regarding teacher observations: "...Although
it was very time-consuming and most teachers were stunned when I
told them how long the feedback session would take, almost all of
them appreciated it after we had finished."

Hi Susan, all,

I wonder on what basis Ms. Schwartz, and others who have made
similar statements, arrive at the conclusion that teachers
appreciate being observed?  I wouldn't know, of course, but it is
quite possible that teachers in such a situation are merely going
along with a process that they feel trapped in, "playing the game",
and then offering socially acceptable feedback at the conclusion.

An anonymous, blind survey exploring teacher attitudes toward
observation might potentially reveal some interesting and
unsuspected information.

Cheers,

Rex

Rex Alexander
Pattaya, Thailand


================================================================ 
[-20-]

Date:         Tue, 4 Aug 1998 18:33:47 EDT
From:         Anthea Tillyer 
Subject:      Re: Teacher observations

On Tue, 4 Aug 1998 17:22:11 EDT Rex Alexander said:

>I wouldn't know, of course, but it is quite possible that teachers
>o (being bserved) in such a situation are merely going along with a
>process that they feel trapped in, "playing the game", and then
>offering socially acceptable feedback at the conclusion.

Once again I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with Rex Alexander!
Apart from really new teachers in situations that in NO WAY involve
decisions related to hiring and rehiring, I honestly believe that no
teacher really appreciates the process. Several netters have claimed
that their observations and feedback have been appreciated by the
teachers concerned, but I find that hard to believe.

I too think that many teachers feel trapped in a situation that they
can't change or prevent and must go along with. And all the more so
when a teacher has years of experience and good results in the
classroom. There is very little to persuade such a teacher that the
observation is all for the teacher's good!

Anthea Tillyer  City University of New York (USA)
ABTHC@CUNYVM.CUNY.EDU

================================================================
Date:         Wed, 5 Aug 1998 07:03:23 EDT
From:         CHIA KENG BOON 
Subject:      Teacher Observations

Greetings.

I was observed only once during my 15 years of teaching and the
experience was a pleasant one.  Several factors could account for
it.  I was a "fresh teacher" and the observer was a senior member of
the Federal Inspectorate.  I had no choice about the matter.
Secondly, it was perhaps the way he did it.  During the first
lesson, he observed me and gave me feedback after that.  He proposed
another way of teaching the same items.  Then he suggested that he
taught the next class those items and that I observed him.  The
discussion after that was really useful.  He accepted my comments
about his lesson.  I realised then that there were always other ways
of approaching a topic and there is a need to build up a repertoire
and then choose the most appropriate for the moment.

Observing teachers is part of my job now and I approach it with
great reluctance and caution.  The nervousness and apprehension
teachers have before the lesson make it a generally stressful [-21-]
experience.  I believe that a series of discussions and informal
chats will be more developmental.

Chia Keng Boon, Ph.D.,
Negeri Sembilan State Education Department,
Malaysia.
e-mail: chia@ns.edu.gov.my
ckboon@pc.jaring.my

================================================================
Date:         Wed, 5 Aug 1998 11:45:35 EDT
From:         Jim Scofield 
Subject:      Teacher Observations

Learning about one's teaching is the most laudatory goal of
observations. I have heard, and I believe my teachers are being
truthful, that some observations have been very helpful. It doesn't
mean they always like it, and some observations are not helpful, I
am sure. However, I don't believe it is accurate to condemn all
observations based on one's personal experiences.

In playing a sport, such as tennis or golf, observation and guidance
by a coach is essential not only in learning the game, but in
maintaining one's level of play. In principle, I believe,
observations have the potential to be extremely useful. Peer
observations (a la Joyce & Showers) have the observer learning from
the teacher being observed. This type of observation removes the
evaluation aspect from the process, and is probably more effective.
However, a good coach can teach you a lot, even if you are already a
professional. All too often, unfortunately, coaches yell a lot and
nobody profits.

Jim Scofield
San Diego, CA USA
jscofield@els.com

================================================================
Date:         Wed, 5 Aug 1998 19:07:37 EDT
From:         Kara Rosenberg 
Subject:      Observation

I am surprised by the cynicism with which teachers view observation.
I believe that a dose of observation as Susan Schwartz described it
could not help but be beneficial to any teacher. Susan described a
process wherein she spent 60-90 minutes discussing an observation
with a teacher, eliciting the teacher's opinions about how the
lesson went and ways it could be improved. I think this helps the
teacher develop the ability to be analytical about teaching and to
constantly improve. I go through a similar process known as
cognitive coaching with my staff. (E-mail me for references if you
[-22-] are interested.) Saying that teachers do not need to be
observed is akin to saying that learning doesn't need to be 
evaluated.

Anthea Tillyer says:
>Several netters have claimed that their
>observations and feedback have been appreciated by the teachers
>concerned, but I find that hard to believe.

As evidence of the appreciation with which teachers might greet
Susan's process, I offer a recent experience wherein a summer school
teacher I observed left the feedback session quite happy and
returned an hour later with a bouquet and the comment that the high
school where she had worked all year hadn't spent nearly as much
time with her as had I.

I have also had the opposite reaction from an experienced teacher
who was clearly offended by my asking her, a mere substitute to
analyze her lesson. She told me that she was a wonderful teacher and
didn't need to offer any evidence that her students had learned what
she taught.

Kara Rosenberg 
Palo Alto Adult School
Palo Alto, CA, USA

================================================================
Date:         Thu, 6 Aug 1998 07:27:07 EDT
From:         Ken Ikeda 
Subject:      Observation

Rex Alexander wrote:

>I wouldn't know, of course, but it is quite possible that
>teachers in such a situation are merely going along with a process
>that they feel trapped in, "playing the game", and then offering
>socially acceptable feedback at the conclusion.

I still hold to the notion "observation is beneficial", but it does
seem that post-observation discussions do trap the supervisor and
the observed teacher into a certain conversational style. One
consistent feature in this style is a conversational pull to
identification of problems linked with the performance of the
teacher, no matter how the supervisor initially comments on the
lesson.

Peer teacher observation appears to be more "equal", but I think
these conversations would also follow the same pattern, because
regardless whether the conversation is supervisory or peered,
teachers try to justify to themselves and to others in the
profession that they all belong to the same community, and the way
we do that is by trouble-shooting. But what gets lost in these [-23-]
conversations, which ostensibly aim to improve teaching, is the
search for multiple perspectives and causes for each and any
occurrence in lessons.

Ken Ikeda 
Nagano, Japan

================================================================
Date:         Thu, 6 Aug 1998 07:30:32 EDT
From:         "Susan L. Schwartz" 
Subject:      Re teacher observations

Anthea Tillyer wrote, "Apart from really new teachers in situations
that in NO WAY involve decisions related to hiring and rehiring, I
honestly believe that no teacher really appreciates the process."

As one who wrote that I believed that the teachers I observed
appreciated my feedback, I would like to expand on my comments in my
previous post.

The teachers I observed in China were participating in a 9-month
in-service program emphasizing communicative and student-centered
approaches, which was all very new to them.  Part of the program was
for each teacher to do a teaching practicum.  Each teacher was
observed by me or one of my colleagues two times.  These
observations had absolutely no bearing on hiring or rehiring
decisions.  The purpose of the practicum was to give the trainees
the chance to try out new techniques learned in classes to see how
they worked in practice.

I know that most of the teachers appreciated the observations
because:

1)  They said so.  In the course of the feedback sessions, there was
ample opportunity for dialoguing and I could tell when one of my
comments hit home or when a teacher had an insight into her/his
teaching.  I do not think they said something  just to please me--
there were plenty of times when people disagreed with me about
teaching or other matters.

2)  Comments on anonymously-written evaluations of the practicum
were unanimously positive.  Of one group of 26 trainees, all 22 who
returned the questionnaire said the feedback sessions--which were a
result of the observations--were beneficial.  Of the other group of
26 trainees, all 25 who returned the form wrote that the feedback
sessions were very useful or useful.  (I don't remember why the
others didn't return their forms, but I doubt that it was because
they had something negative to say.)

When I observed teachers in the US, we all knew that hiring/rehiring
decisions would take into account my observations.  However, I [-24-]
said that the first time I observed someone, the purpose was for the
teacher to get used to me in the classroom and to become familiar
with the process.  I tried to make it clear that my feedback based
on my observations was meant to be supportive and helpful for
further developing their teaching skills.  (Most of the teachers had
very little, if any, formal training in TESL; most had less than
three years teaching experience; and none had taught at that school
for more than 8 months.)  Consequently, when they said they found
the feedback helpful, I believed them.  That's not to say they
agreed with everything, but that the process was useful. I left that
position before doing the other observations, though; maybe the
reaction would have been different then, but I still maintain that
most teachers at that school found my observations helpful.

Susan L. Schwartz
Newton, MA, USA
slschwartz@earthlink.net

================================================================
Date:         Thu, 6 Aug 1998 14:55:45 EDT
From:         Anthea Tillyer 
Subject:      Different observation standards?

Something that has not been noted in this discussion of teacher
observations is the issue of full-time teachers and part-time
teachers. The issue of F/T-P/T permeates almost any discussion of
our field, and it is a pivotal point in evaluating teachers.

I do not believe that part-time teachers, who suffer from job
insecurity, poor pay, and no benefits, should be subjected to the
rigorous observation schedule and standards that full-time teachers
are. After all, if an institution does not value its teachers enough
to treat them properly, what right does the institution have to
further subject them to stresses like observations? Observations are
more stressful for part-timers than for full-timers simply BECAUSE
their situations are so tenuous and insecure. Claims that teachers
"appreciate" the feedback on their teaching might possibly be true
for full-time teachers, but I very much doubt that any part-time
teacher appreciates anything that adds even a slight sense of
additional insecurity to their lives as teachers and as human
beings.

Every part-time teacher I know is dedicated and wants to do the best
possible job, and many of them are more successful in the classroom
than some of their full-time colleagues are. But, if the institution
that they work for does not think enough of them to give them "real"
jobs with "real" benefits, why should anyone expect the part-timers
to perform to the same standards as full-timers? That part-time
teachers almost always try to reach the highest standards possible
is no reason for supporting holding them to those standards without
suitable compensation. [-25-]

In a recent official report about the use and abuse of part-time
faculty in the USA, it was noted that many part time teachers are
absolutely EXCELLENT teachers and most really love teaching....they
have to love it because there are no other advantages to their
situation. The report noted that it cannot always be assumed that
full-time faculty love teaching...for some, a few, it is a cushy
job.

By the way, this report (a statement that came out of a September
1997 conference on the Growing Use of Part-Time and Adjunct Faculty
in U.S. colleges and universities) is available from the TESL-L
archives. To get it, send email to LISTSERV@CUNYVM.CUNY.EDU

As the text of the message, type
  GET PARTTIME FACULTY TESL-L

While ordering that file, you might be interested in adding a line
to the message, like this:  GET PEER OBSERV TESL-L
This command will get you another file....about peer observations.

Anthea Tillyer  City University of New York (USA)
ABTHC@CUNYVM.CUNY.EDU

================================================================
Date:         Thu, 6 Aug 1998 17:20:04 EDT
From:         Bruce Rindler 
Subject:      Re: teacher observations

In response to the comments made recently by Rex Alexander who
wrote:
>An anonymous, blind survey exploring teacher attitudes toward
>observation might potentially reveal some interesting and
>unsuspected information.

And to Anthea who wrote:
>...I honestly believe that no teacher really appreciates the
>process. Several netters have claimed that their observations and
>feedback have been appreciated  by the teachers concerned, but I
>find that hard to believe.

I was skeptical myself until I did some research.  I would like to
share a snapshot of a study I completed a few years ago on teachers'
perceptions of the value of teacher evaluation on their development
as teachers.  The research was conducted by sending questionnaires
to 435 full-time faculty members at intensive English programs
around the country.  The teachers were asked to rate the different
attributes of their evaluation experiences for the impact on their
development as teachers.  The attributes included the techniques
used, the person conducting the evaluation, the environment, the
feedback provided and attributes of the teacher being evaluated. 
[-26-]

Teachers also were asked to comment on their experiences in open-
ended questions.

The results of this research indicated that the technique used in
teacher evaluation, whether it be student evaluations, peer
evaluations, portfolio assessment, self-evaluations meetings with
supervisors or classroom observations, was not the determining
factor in the teachers' satisfaction with the process.  In fact,
teachers reported a range of experiences with each of those
techniques.

In the case of classroom observations, what determined the value for
teachers centered mainly on 2 items: Feedback and the Evaluator.  In
situations where the feedback the teacher received was characterized
by the depth of the information, the quality of the ideas, the
amount of the feedback and the specificity of the information, the
teachers reported that they valued the process and that evaluation
had a positive impact on their growth as teachers.  The second
factor was who evaluated.  Evaluators who provided positive
classroom observation experiences for teachers were characterised
as: credible, trusted, knowledgeable, persuasive, having useful
suggestions and having the capacity to model.

I very much appreciated the comments of Susan Schwartz and other
administrators who I feel correctly perceived that at least SOME
teachers found value in classroom observations.  I undertook this
research because I too had doubts about the efficacy of different
evaluation techniques.  The questionnaire results along with the
data I gathered from interviewing teachers and collecting many
written anecdotes convinced me that it was how, when, why, and by
whom observations were done that made the difference.

Regards,
Bruce Rindler
*            *           *          *            *            *
     *
Bruce Rindler, Associate Director, CELOP, Boston University
E-Mail: brindler@bu.edu     Voice: 617-353-4870  web:

http://web.bu.edu/CELOP

================================================================

Date:         Fri, 7 Aug 1998 14:50:57 EDT
From:         Kara Rosenberg 
Subject:      Observation

Ken Ikeda points out an observation problem, the
> pull to identification of problems linked with the performance
>of the teacher, no matter how the supervisor initially
>comments on the lesson. [-27-]

I appreciate this problem. It is a hard role to step out of. One of
the things I like about cognitive coaching is the time spent before
the observation, coach and teacher discussing together the proposed
lesson. Issues of curriculum, classroom management, instructional
strategies can be discussed together, as <...name deleted>
mentioned. The post-observation focuses not only on what happened,
but what will happen next. A good coach doesn't actually have to say
much. It's okay to let problems go undiscussed because the process
is designed to bring the teacher to a higher level of reflective
thought.

's point that observations are often used to "catch"
problem teachers is a good one. This does engender distrust in the
faculty. Any suggestions? The substantive discussion about education
that she mentions should be the heart of the observation.

Lastly, I must second Anthea's observations about part-timers.
Institutions expect part-timers to behave like professionals, but
don't treat them like professionals. It's an appalling situation.
Some people do teach part-time by choice. Part-time teaching has
allowed me to do something I love and focus on my family. I don't
mind the stress of observation. If no one ever observed me I would
assume that they didn't really care. A good half of my part-time
staff feels the same way. They would put up with a lot more,
however, in exchange for benefits!

Kara Rosenberg  
Palo Alto Adult School
Palo Alto, CA USA

================================================================
Date:         Sun, 9 Aug 1998 08:30:34 EDT
From:         David Adams 
Subject:      Teacher observation

Following this thread - a few days late, sorry - two things have
surprised me: the number of references to hiring and firing in
connection with observation, and the faith some administrators seem
to place in their ability to judge on the basis of their
observation.

When I've been the top-down observer, I've rarely - if ever - seen
'normal' teaching in progress. If I've accepted the appointment of a
teacher to my staff, I consider it's my job to make sure the
teaching is of the standard I'm trying to maintain. What I look for
is teachers in need of help. Yes, of course I've had the distasteful
job of recommending firing a teacher, but never on the basis of an
observation or even a series of observations; on the basis of
repeated failed attempts to generate improvement, maybe, but that's
a different story. [-28-]

Anyway, I dislike classroom observation - I now prefer to observe
from outside the classroom. Students' faces and body language before
and after lessons, conversations in the teachers' room, students'
and their parents' comments, attendance and punctuality, and finally
results, these are my standard indicators. These show me when
there's a need to work more closely with a teacher.

And when I do need to observe formally, I prefer what I call the
'talkback' method. After a lesson, which I haven't observed, I ask a
teacher to 'talk me through' the lesson, chronologically or however
they like to recall it. I question anything I don't understand or
want to know more about. I may ask about the teacher's aims, or the
students' reactions or achievements, and so on, but I avoid pointed
or accusing questions. My feedback is often also in the form of
questions, and sometimes I also suggest a teacher to talk to or
arrange peer observation with, a book or article to look at, and so
on.

If you haven't tried it, give it a go: it's relatively stress-free
for both observed and observer, it's less time-consuming than most
other forms, and it doesn't interrupt the teaching.

And if you're a course director, before you consider firing a
teacher, ask yourself if you've done your part in trying to make the
teaching successful...
--
David Adams
IBI, Brasilia, Brazil
dadams@rudah.com.br

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