Making the Most of Observation Feedback

Image courtesy of WLC Feedback

Dave Dodgeson had a post a little while back on the benefit (or lack their of) of observation feedback.  As a trainer and manager, I also often wonder about its efficacy.  These sessions can often be charged with tension or result in few changes if not approached or conducted in the right way.  I’m sure we’ve all seen that teacher storm out of the feedback session in anger or tears.  However, observation feedback can be a fantastic tool for professional development, so what are some ways to make the most of it for both teachers and trainers?

For teachers:

-  Be open to the feedback.  Approach it as a discussion and opportunity to develop rather than as an argument.  I have experienced teachers that argue about every little thing.  The point of the feedback is to look at what worked and what didn’t, not necessarily the reason it was done.  Feedback is also not about being right or wrong; it’s about what we do with the information that helps us improve.

-  Seek to understand.  If you are unclear or disagree with a piece of feedback, try to understand where the trainer is coming from before getting defensive.  Asking open questions will help a lot here.

-  Discuss the observation in question and don’t take it personally.  For a particular piece of feedback, some teachers will say, “Well right, I usually do that, but when you were watching me I didn’t”.  You’re not discussing your lessons in general, your discussing the lesson that was observed and in that lesson you did not do X.  The fact that X wasn’t done well does not mean you are a bad teacher, it means, for that lesson, X was not done well.  As a trainer, I think the greatest potential for conflict in feedback comes from this tendency to take any criticism of a lesson as a personal attack on general character or ability.  Try keeping things in perspective.

-  Focus on what you can do to improve when dealing with corrective feedback.  One of my favorite phrases is “reasons are not justifications”.  Sure, Johnny may be really loud and obnoxious.  That’s your reason for giving him less attention in the class.  However, it doesn’t justify the fact that he’s receiving less opportunity to develop compared to others in the class.  We often have a strong tendency to use reasons as excuses to not make things better.  Instead, think about “what I can do better”.

-  Take notes or request a copy of the feedback if one isn’t provided.  Refer to these notes the next time you plan a lesson.

-  Ask for specific examples on how to improve.  If a trainer says, “You should encourage more student talking time”, make sure the trainer provides you with examples.

-  Create a simple action plan.  Choose three things you can improve starting from your next lesson and determine how you will implement those changes.  If you walk away from the feedback without making any changes, what was the point of doing it?

For trainers and managers:

-  Ask lots of open questions.  Let teachers uncover the feedback on their own rather than delivering it to them.  They will be much more receptive and the process of reflection yields much better results in terms of implementation for future lessons.  A skilled trainer can actually get the teachers to find all the highlights and criticisms on their own.

-  Prepare.  Before you meet with the teachers, sit down and think about what you will focus on and how the conversation will progress.  Think about how the teachers will react.

- Stick to the facts.  State observations and results rather than opinions or judgments.  You can’t debate or argue a fact.  For example, “I noticed you interacted with Johnny much less than with the other students.  As a result, he only produced 3 sentences the entire class and there were fewer opportunities to assess his level or correct his language.”  The teacher can make all the excuses they want, but that doesn’t change the fact Johhny was not interacted with and produced less than the other students.  It’s also not something open for challenge whereas a statement like “you need to engage the learners more” is.  This also avoids the huge pitfall of pronouncing judgment on a teacher as in “You’re not showing any improvement”, which will create large defensive reactions.  Instead try, “In the past 3 observations, I have not seen improvement on X.”  Notice how that statement sticks to the facts, localizes the issue, and focuses on what you have seen rather than on what the teacher hasn’t done.

-  Be specific.  Vague feedback is the worst.  Things like “that was a great lesson” or “you should be more clear” are extremely unhelpful.  What was great?  When and how should I be more clear?  When observing, make a note and then make sure to note down the details of the situation or exactly what was said.

-  Be flexible and adapt to the situation.  Sometimes teachers just need to hear the positives to help encourage them to continue. If a teacher had a really bad lesson, they probably already know it.  There’s no need to point it out.  On the other hand, some teachers won’t show improvement without additional pushes.

-  Give feedback as soon as possible.  It becomes less likely to have an effect the longer you wait.  Scheduling the feedback session along with the observation time is a good way to do this.

-  Keep it simple.  While you can discuss a number of points if you want, the meat of the feedback should stick to 3 highlights and 3 areas to improve.  Anything more and the conversation will lose focus.  Teachers are much less likely to make changes if there is too much as well.  They could become overwhelmed or they could focus on the least important areas.

-  Always finish with an action plan.  Ask the teachers what immediate changes they will make regarding their planning or teaching after the session is finished.

-  Follow up.  Make notes on what should be improved and then check in with teachers to make sure they are following up.  Also, by noting down what your teachers are great at, you know who to send people to with questions in a particular area.

Do you have any other tips for either teachers or trainers when it comes to observation feedback?

Related Posts:

Observation on Observation

Getting Classroom Observation Right & Misfires in Classroom Obs (6 parts)

A Personal Misfire as an Observee



  • By DaveDodgson, April 11, 2012 @ 1:10 am

    Hi Nick,

    Thanks for the mention and for your take on things, which offers a balanced perspective from both ends of the observation line

    The main thing that struck me while reading was that observation really should be an on-going process with action plans being made, targets set and reviews conducted. Too often it’s just a spot check to make sure everything appears ok and that’s that.

    Next time you’re in Turkey, why don’t you come and observe me and give me some useful feedback? (Perhaps hand out some tips to the observers as well ;) )

  • By turklis1, April 18, 2012 @ 12:56 pm

    Hi Dave,

    I competely agree that all too often observation is just a spot check. I personally find it very challenging at times to make it something more. I’ve found the action plans are key and then making the time to follow up regularly, but when you’ve got 20 teachers and only have a few hours a week where you aren’t in meetings or they aren’t teaching, it’s hard to do so.

    Next time I’m in Ankara, I’ll definitely give you a head’s up. I haven’t been there in years, but some of my best Turkish friends are there.

  • By Tony Gurr, May 23, 2012 @ 2:54 pm


    Many, many thanks for the nod (and for giving my man Mike, in Korea, a shout out) ;-)

    It’s a pity we so often fail to get observation “right” – as it can be such a powerful teacher development tool. Reflection on one’s own practice is so much better than dreary “learn-by-listening” workshops – and so much more rewarding for all involved (esp. when we start to use video) and when we drop the “quality control myth” and start really trying to help each other grow ;-)


  • By turklis1, May 28, 2012 @ 9:29 am

    Hi Tony,

    Yeah, the quality control trap is an easy one I find myself falling back into from time to time as well. Reflection and sharing are definitely the best tools to grow. Thanks for stopping by.

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