Formal observation – change in approach

IMG_20160324_113709I’m doing another round of formal observations and I’ve decided to change my approach a little bit this time. Well, I’d say my decision is not really a conscious one; it’s actually a result of my previous experience and my mixed feelings towards formal observation in general.

I’m the kind of person who benefits from any kind of criticism and I rarely make the same mistake when my attention has been drawn to it. Metaphorically speaking, explicit ‘correction’ always works best for me, no matter how unpleasant it is and how much I grumble at first.

That’s probably why I was rather harsh when I did my first round of observations. I would write down every detail of the lesson and I would be quite open during the feedback sessions – I would offer loads of tips and advice, and I would explain explicitly why I thought something might (not) be effective. These, for me, were pretty difficult conversations, and I’m convinced that I hurt people’s feelings on a couple of occasions. Simply put, despite my attempts to sound diplomatic, I ended up being too blunt anyway. I fear that not only is bluntness not the best approach during feedback sessions, there’s always the danger that the observer may be completely wrong when judging advising the observee.

That’s why I’ve decided:

  1. to relax and take it easy. My train of thought is that if I enjoy the lesson, I’ll see it in a better light.
  2. to be as unbiased as possible. This means blending with the class and observing without any assumptions and presuppositions. In other words, I’ll take off the what-i-think-is-good sunglasses and I’ll put on the what-the-teacher-knows-is-good-for-this-particular-class dioptric glasses.
  3. to always have two sheets paper – the official box-ticking form and my personal, off-the-record sheet which I fill with loads of notes (hopefully, nonjudgmental observations).
  4. to share tips for improvements (from my personal sheet) only if I’m asked for them directly. If I’m not asked, I will forever hold my peace.
  5. to try really hard to look at the lesson from various angles if I can’t help feeling that it was not very good. There are always little gems hiding somewhere, waiting to be uncovered.

I agree with Zhenya Polosatova when she says in her post that it’s important to ask yourself a few questions before you start any potentially difficult conversation (and I’m sure feedback sessions can be difficult for both parties). For me, the most relevant questions in such a situation would be:

  1. Based on what I know about this person and our relationship, what can I realistically hope to achieve by having the conversation? (change/progress/improvement or indifference/hostility/anger/frustration?)
  2. What is my “secret agenda” or “hidden hope” for this conversation? (change/progress/improvement or proving myself and my colleague that I’m more knowledgeable/experienced?).

By the way, after my first observation this term, I was directly asked for some tips and advice, even though this was the same teacher who hadn’t taken my first attempt at explicit feedback very well in the past. We both have come a long way since then, I assume. 🙂

About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for almost 25 years and I still love my job. You can find out more about my passion here on my blog.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Formal observation – change in approach

  1. Zhenya says:

    Hi Hana

    So much agree that (formal) observations + feedback are potentially ‘difficult’, and loved the idea to prepare for them being aware about this possibility. Great that you were able to make progress with the teacher you are talking about. Thank you for the mention too!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Thanks, Zhenya. Guess what! I only bumped into your post yesterday, more than a month after you posted it (thanks to Chewie), and I thought: what a coincidence! I was just about to write this post when I saw yours, and I thought it would be relevant to mention it here. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Chewie says:

    I like how you’ve reflected on observations and how you can improve upon the feedback you give teachers. Bluntness works better than sugar coating for me as well. If I’m wrong, I want to know it. But as you know, not everyone feels the same way.

    Good for you (and Zhenya) for thinking about outcomes–what you would like the conversation to achieve and what could realistically be achieved with the person in question.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Hi, Chewie. I’d like to thank you for your comment and for sharing Zhenya’s post. That’s how I actually discovered it – through your blog. 🙂 As you say, bluntness doesn’t work for everybody; in fact, I think it can be a double-edged sword. The problem is, as I already mention in the post, that the one who is being blunt may be completely wrong in what he or she says. So, we always need t consider this.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Matthew says:

    Very helpfully thought provoking for me. Thanks Hana!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s