Good Observation in Teacher’s Career and Policies

As of today, classroom observation continues to remain the main methodological instrument of assessing the professional adequacy of teachers and evaluating the effectiveness of the learning process as a whole. After all, the assessment technique’s theoretical premise draws from the assumption that, when it comes to evaluating teachers’ performance, one must never cease adhering to the principles of impartiality and objectiveness, within the context of how he or she goes about addressing the task.

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In their turn, these principles are consistent with the socio-cultural discourse of modernity, reflective of the idea that rationality represents the first key to solving different problems in the public domain. Observation of teaching can provide valuable information about useful models and techniques; however, it is crucial to have a systematic approach, institutional support, and employ technology as well as an understanding of the thinking process to enable the successful development of expertise.

Literature Review

The process of observation is part of the experience that helps one become better at teaching. There are two aspects of it that one should be aware of, firstly, educators should pay attention to their students and their learning process, and secondly, they can be subjected to evaluation to improve their approaches and models they use by applying feedback. However, the question of what can be considered a good observation remains because, on the one hand, the process is highly subjective.

On the other hand, it should be noted that assessing learning outcomes of students is not always a proper approach to examination because each of them may have a different perception of the material and learning skills. The literature examined below will provide insight into the models and concepts of observation that will help determine the best practices.

Issues with the Provision of Coherent Assessments

There can be very little doubt as to the fact that the objective of providing a sound assessment of one’s efficiency as a teacher in the classroom settings poses many challenges. One of the reasons for this has to do with the sharply defined transformational essence of a teacher’s professional responsibilities. As Wragg (1999) noted, “during any one day teachers may fill a variety of roles in carrying out their duties, and these can include “the transmitter of knowledge, counselor social worker, assessor, manager, even jailer” (p. 5).

This, of course, poses a question: what should be the primary focus of assessors’ attention, within the context of how they go about observing the performance of a particular teacher? Moreover, there appears to be nothing spatially stable about the currently deployed educational paradigm in the West, in general, and the UK, in particular, as well. After all, it does not represent much secret that, as of today, the methodological approaches to endowing students with knowledge are becoming increasingly student-centered, with the emphasis being placed on guiding learners through the educational process, rather than deeming the former to be merely passive recipients of knowledge.

Due to these issues, there continues to remain much ambiguity as to what should be the axiomatic premise for constructing the actual appraising criteria, in this regard. What adds even more complexity to the issue is the highly interactive/systemic nature of teaching as a thing-in-itself. As Westrick and Morris (2016) pointed, “the complexity of teaching requires that teachers continually process information at the moment and react immediately, without time to consider the effects of their behavior and its underlying causes” (p. 159).

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The reason for this is apparent: to provide an entirely objective assessment of a teacher’s performance in the classroom means to take into consideration just about every internal and external factor that has played a role in affecting it, which is itself a rather impossible task.

Nevertheless, despite the abundance of entirely objective difficulties in the way of defining the characteristics of a genuinely useful observation, there remains one universal principle for conceptualizing the former – good or effective observation must be contextually appropriate, “the methods of classroom observation should suit its purposes” (Wragg, 1998, p. 3). This is the main idea that will be explored throughout the paper’s entirety. The author will also seek to examine the soundness of the suggestion that the very realities of a post-industrial living call for the adoption of the specifically ethological approach (Wragg, 1998) to both evaluating teachers’ performance and gaining insights into the ontological essence of the learning process.

Purpose of Observation

As it emerges from the thematically relevant literature, there is much variance to how different authors perceive the meaning of classroom observation. This, in turn, has to do with the fact that, being inherently speculative, most educational and pedagogical concepts lack axiomatic integrity. The validity of this suggestion is best illustrated regarding the absence of any objective preconditions for the results of every particular observation to be reproducible, “one of the most difficult problems occurred with teachers who were generally incompetent, but who were able to stage a satisfactory lesson when they were observed” (Wragg, 1998, p. 104).

Nevertheless, most authors agree that the concerned activity serves three main purposes: to evaluate the observed teacher’s performance, to collect the empirical data as to the transitional features of the process in question, and to attain a better understanding of what accounts for the teaching process’s systemic components.

The actual procedure of collecting the relevant data, in this regard, is rather straightforward. In essence, it is concerned with observers making notes, as to the observable aspects of how a teacher engages with students while trying to ensure that the former are emotionally and cognitively comfortable with processing information to which they are being exposed. The observers’ foremost responsibility is to make sure that the process never ceases to be observant of the principles of systemness and objectivity.

In its turn, this brought into exigence the concept of “observation protocol”, which is best defined as the set of ad hoc checklists for identifying (and sub-sequentially quantifying) different dimensions of the deployed teaching strategy, on the evaluated person’s part. As Bell, Dobbelaer, Klette, and Visscher (2019) argued, “observation protocols (feature)… categories or rubrics which a rater uses to judge the quality of teaching in a lesson. The dimensions of teaching judged are rated, and the ratings are aggregated into a score” (p. 6). The most popular approaches to conducting classroom observation are reflective of the quantitative and qualitative paradigms of setting up a scientific inquiry.

Teacher-Student Observation

Firstly, it is necessary to identify whether the existing examples of observation practices provide a valid model for determining good approaches. Pounder, Hung-lam, and Groves (2016) experimented in an attempt to determine the meaning of observation in teaching and implications for good observation. The authors argue that the quality of education is the primary concern of policymakers and researchers in modern times. Pounder et al. (2016) used student assessment in a university using a variety of tools to determine the approaches that faculty members use. While this approach is criticized by many due to the possible bias of students, it possible that student observation can provide valuable insight into the teaching process.

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The primary idea introduced in the article is that students who should benefit from appropriate teaching can be the ones evaluating the process. It is essential to ensure that individuals are “trained in observation and feedback techniques” (Pounder et al., 2016, p. 1194). This is a critical component of the research because in most cases improper evaluation can lead to adverse outcomes such as decreased motivation.

The conclusion provides an understanding of the fact that the results of improving professional competency by examining feedback from the student evaluation are positive. Pounder et al. (2016) argue that their system helps enhance the understanding of learning and pedagogical goals as well as improvement of motivation and engagement. Therefore, based on the article it can be argued that good observation is facilitated through proper techniques that help analyze the methods and requires the participation of students that helps understand the context and implications of the process.

Six Models

It can be argued that a standardized approach to teacher observation practices is crucial because it enables cohesiveness in the application of different concepts. Ofsted (2018) provides a model that consists of six observation practices that can be used by individuals to improve the quality of their teaching techniques. The systematic approach used when designing these systems ensures that they are efficient. Moreover, all of them provide quantitative data that allows evaluating the outcomes of teaching effectively.

All six model has the following features in common – management of the environment in a class, instructing individuals, and monitoring behavior and attitudes towards material (Ofsted, 2018). Observation has been and remains to be an essential assessment tool for control and improvement. When explaining the importance of observation to the enhancement of professional qualities of educators, Ofsted (2018) states that “at one time, it was expected that 60% of inspection time in schools should be used to observe lessons” (p. 4).

The previous model that was used for school inspections includes an assessment of planning, discipline in the classroom, the level of challenges that a teacher presents to students in regards to learning outcomes, and the application of time and usage of homework as a method for enhancing knowledge.

In some cases, video recordings can be used to improve the understanding of the teacher’s behavior. However, Ofsted (2018) argues that there is no objective measure that can help one define the outcomes of teaching such as knowledge of students or increase in their perception of information that will provide accurate data. Thus, the researchers have to focus on assessing the qualitative indicators of the teacher’s methods that help him or her convey information.

The new concepts that Ofsted (2018) recommends are – Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), Framework for Teaching (FfT), International Comparative, Analysis of Learning and Teaching (ICALT), International System for Teacher, Observation, and Feedback (ISTOF), Mathematical Quality of Instruction (MQI), Generic Dimensions of Teacher Quality. The aspect of learning is not included in the criteria of these approaches because, as was previously mentioned it done not present objective data.

Visible Learning

In his book, Hattie (2012) describes the meta-analysis of various teaching techniques that have a positive impact on students. In essence, this work is an assessment of multiple observations that can be used to improve professional knowledge. The author argues that the process of visible learning involves an evaluation of the learning process through the view of the students (Hattie, 2012). Besides, students must view teachers as a critical element of their knowledge obtainment process.

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The primary idea is that educators should know their role and the impact they have on individuals. Hattie (2012) encourages dialogue between the two stakeholders – students and educators, which enables an understanding of the outcomes. From the viewpoint of the author, cooperation is an essential aspect of good observation, together with a proper relationship with pupils that encourages the former to gain more knowledge. In this regard, good observation is a crucial element that allows one to evaluate the existing teaching techniques and alter these models to suit the needs of students better.

World Bank Perspective

The World Bank is an international organization that operates in many countries and provides assistance in a variety of social domains. The establishment offers two models – CLASS and Stallings as the best approaches to good observation in an educational setting. The World Bank (2017) states that “by observing teachers in the classroom, it is possible to measure the impact of training programs and other interventions on teachers and, in turn, on student learning” that enables the development of better policies (para. 2). The primary objective of the process is to create a framework that school executives and government officials can use when developing programs.

The essential components that The World Bank (2017) points out are the use of supplementary materials, application of instructional time, and utilization of best practices. In cases where the conducted observation indicates that an educator takes advantage of all of these components, one can conclude that the outcomes of such lessons will be successful. Based on the criteria it can be argued that a good observation has to consider the four components that were mentioned.

Peer Observation

Good observation strategies can be applied not only to schools but also to other educational facilities. Bell and Thomson (2016) conducted research in which they analyzed how universities encouraged observation among peers for enhanced performance. In general, the authors noted that the practice of observation is not common in higher education falsities; however, it has obvious benefits. Bell and Thomson (2016) concluded that explaining the benefits of good observation, focusing on cooperation between staff members, and promoting autonomy are the best practices for educational facilities. Besides, “disciplinary differences, personal experiences and institutional pressures” are cited as the common issues that obstruct the professional development of individuals (Bell & Thomson, 2016, p. 276).

This study provides implications for understanding how teachers can use observation for their benefit. In this article, the process of “‘a university teacher watching another colleague’s teaching, without necessarily judging their practice or being required to give feedback” is investigated by the authors (Bell & Thomson, 2016, p. 276). The results indicate that the techniques enhance the confidence of educators and improve their understanding of the learning process, which is critical for creating engaging educational plans. Additionally, the overall teaching awareness of individuals participating in this peer observation increased, including their

It should be noted that this article discusses the importance of institutional support that facilitates the proper execution of this model. Bell and Thomson (2016) argue that in most cases, an adverse effect such as the perception of the model as highly subjective and time-consuming as well as invasive can be present. Therefore, both teachers and policymakers should be aware of the implications and proper methods of implementation of the observation practices.

Measures of Effective Teaching

An excellent observation implies a cohesive understanding of the appropriate practices that educators can apply to enable successful learning. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (2013) developed a framework that can be used to evaluate the outcomes of teaching. This measure includes observation of classroom activity and assessment of student surveys and their achievements. This model can be used by schools that want to improve their performance and educate their teachers on the possible approaches to improvement. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (2013) argues that teaching is a complicated matter and thus it requires a comprehensive model that will helps assess the outcomes and implications of a particular person’s work.

Thinking About Patterns

As previous literature indicates, to create an appropriate teacher observation model it is necessary to have a systematic approach. One of the aspects that contributes to the matter is an understanding of perception and thinking strategies that can help understand both the perception of learners and educators. Gladwell (2015) argues that people can make conclusions based on small amounts of information that they receive. Moreover, such decisions can lead to better outcomes when compared to carefully planned ones. In regards to teaching, these aspects mean that educators should change his or her approaches after analyzing the engagement of students and making a conclusion about the efficiency of the current method.

The concept of “thin-slicing” refers to the process of making conclusions based on limited data that a human brain can collect in a specific timeframe (Gladwell, 2005, p. 50). The idea is that people can notice patterns of behavior and predict the outcomes of situations. For instance, an experienced teacher can know models that work for a particular set of students and that will help them learn better based on previous observations.

Thinking, Fast and Slow

The book Thinking, fast and slow provides an insight into the topic of cognition that can be helpful when developing strategies for good teacher observation. Similarly to Gladwell (2005), Kahneman (2011) aims to determine the thinking patterns, which should help teachers have a better understanding of the learning process and develop more expertise. From a perspective of observation, most individuals will be able to perceive information through the first model that describes a fast-thinking process.

Gladwell (2005) argues that this can present individuals with essential conclusions about the specific approaches that a teacher uses because the long-term analysis can sometimes misleading. Gladwell (2005) introduces the concept of system thinking that allows one to process information more efficiently. However, a second thinking model exists that involves careful consideration of facts and the development of conclusions based on them.

In regards to teacher observation, it can be argued that the papers and policies that are connected to this issue should be perceived from this perspective. Therefore, to determine the meaning of good observation, it is necessary to define the specific approaches that one uses to evaluating teaching skills. Understanding of the complex psychological concepts that describe the functioning of a human mind can help educators develop better practices of observation. The book also outlines the specific issues of perception that one should understand. For instance, small samples do not always represent an accurate description of the phenomena. Therefore, good observation practices have to consider the changing nature of approaches made by teachers.

Examples from Different Countries

Martinez, Taut, and Schaaf (2016) examine sixteen observation systems in both developed and developing countries to determine the best model. Although in all the countries that the research took place in the stated purpose of teacher observation was similar, the underlying principals, systems, and appraisal techniques differed drastically. According to Martinez et al. (2016), the primary aims is reflected in the “concerns about shortcomings in educational quality and equity, reflected in the state, national, or international student achievement testing results, either in absolute terms or concerning peer districts, states, or countries” (p. 19). The aim is to provide teachers with feedback that they can use for professional development.

For instance, the US system is transforming valuing highly qualified educators towards highly effective individuals that help learners achieve results that change the approach to classroom observation as well.

Value-added models (VAM) help determine the achievements students make during their studies and should be incorporated as part of the excellent observation practices. According to Martinez et al. (2016), the standard observation model focuses on components such as the quality of instructions provided by the teacher and practice within the classroom. Another approach is connected to observing the learning outcomes of students by evaluating relevant achievements.

Martinez et al. (2016) offer the inclusion of formative practices that encourage teachers to improve their professional skills on a national level. This is consistent with the conclusions made by + because the authors cite support from the government or an educational institution as the primary component that enables proper observation of teaching.

Literature Summary

In general, the researchers provided sufficient evidence that supports the argument that teacher observation is essential. It can be concluded that observation has a central role in the process of improving teaching as well as policies and practices that apply to it. Educators can use different models; however, institutions must support these efforts. Classroom observation offers valuable input into the understanding of teaching in the real-life context, which is helpful for policymakers and educators. Good observation can use different approaches and techniques. However, the crucial element is the fact that student achievements should not be considered as part of the evaluation.

Case Study and Discussion

The literature presented above provides an understanding of the need to develop a standardized practice of proper teacher observation techniques that can be applied in schools within the UK. The case study that will be reviewed in this paper is by Cuthrell, Steadman, Stapleton, and Hodge (2016) titled Developing expertise: Using video to hone teacher candidates’ classroom observation skills and it examines the video observation that engages a different model of thinking, which implies cohesive analysis and offers a better approach to understanding the observation practices and models.

Table 1. Case study analysis (created by the author).

Reliability Validity Generalisability
The authors are disinterested, and the results can be reproduced using a similar design study and video observation approach. Cuthrell et al. (2016) concluded that teacher candidates (TC) are more likely to learn more from the observation conducted through the video when compared to the traditional in-person approach. The results of the examination support the findings because the evaluation of the professional competencies of the TC group was higher than of the control subjects. The approach offered in this study can be easily replicated in other educational facilities. Therefore, the results can be applied in different situations. However, the study examines the perception and skills of TC; thus, the question of its applicability to experienced educators remains.

The modern teacher development strategies should apply information technology. Cuthrell et al. (2016) state that “over the last several years, however, teacher-education programs and professional development efforts have begun turning to video” because the approach helps share classroom interactions and mitigate the inconveniences of in-person evaluations (p. 5). Previous findings that the authors of the research cite indicate that vide observation encourages a better understanding of the teaching process and improves the outcomes of the observation.

Thus, Cuthrell et al. (2016) suggest that the Video Grand Rounds (VGR) model can be used by education facilities to enhance the professional development of their teachers. As was stated by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (2013), teaching is a complex matter that incorporates several domains. Therefore, good observation requires a throughout analysis of classroom interactions, which cannot be conducted on-site.

The design of the study is comparative research that combined the values of variables that are independent in different groups that are being observed. Thus, Cuthrell et al. (2016) examined the effect of video observation, in-class approach, and observation using a structured protocol on teacher candidates. Because only seventeen individuals participated in this research, it can be argued that more examination into the matter is required. However, Cuthrell et al. (2016) state that “thought the small sample size could be misleading, the Cohen’s d can suggest a large practical significance in which the large effect size is controlled in regards to variance in standard deviation” (p. 12). Therefore, it can be concluded that the findings described in this article are reliable.

The interpretation of results was made based on the reflection essays that each participant wrote at the end of the study. Besides, quantitative data was collected using observation protocols and exams to identify the improvement of expertise within the test subjects. Therefore, because the authors used a variety of approaches to evaluating the results, it can be argued that the outcomes are measured and not overconfident. Cuthler et al. (2016) claim that application of video improved an understanding of “salient features of classroom interactions, the ability to identify the complexity of classroom interactions, and the ability to readily transfer observation skills from a video platform to an in-school platform” (p. 20). It should be noted that the researchers do not offer other explanations for their findings.

The claims are that video sessions have a significant impact on the overall results of teacher observation in the context of improving professional skills. Based on the thinking models described by Kahneman (2011) it can be argued that the results correlate with other studies. A more thorough evaluation of a lesson with the application of critical thinking can provide individuals with a more cohesive understanding of the process. A methodology introduced by Hattie (2012) also corresponds with the findings because the author suggests that visual techniques are useful in improving one’s teaching capabilities. However, the author suggests that cooperation is critical for this as well. Therefore, it can be argued that a further examination of a combined video and on-sight observation is required.

It can be argued that the study design should be improved by the inclusion of more elements that impact good observation. One issue that arises with the findings by Cuthrell et al. (2016) is the studies by Bell and Thomson (2016), Pounder et al. (2016), and Ofsted (2018) that suggest assessing feedback from various sources, including peers and students for improving the understanding of one’s teaching capabilities.

This is necessary to ensure that educators are capable of understanding how the learners perceive the information presented to them. Although Cuthrell et al. (2016) do not elaborate on the explanations for the inconsistencies mentioned above, they suggest carrying out a longitude study that will examine the various elements of their model. This will include a comparison with other approaches presenting valid results regarding a specific model that educators can use.

The findings suggest that good teacher observation practices incorporate the concepts of information analysis and allow educators to reflect on the classroom engagement and techniques used by other teachers. The literature review also indicates that a variety of approaches should be used for enhancing the positive effect of observation because the concept of teaching is complex. Martinez et al. (2016) argue that classroom observations are undergoing considerable policy changes in many countries across the world because current strategies are undergoing criticism.

Their report provides an assessment of educational systems in sixteen states with a quantitative analysis of outcomes. However, none of them applies video to assess the skills and knowledge of teachers. The contrast is evident because the concepts described by Martinez et al. (2016) employ the system that uses thin-slicing described by Gladwell (2015) who defines it as the model of thinking that helps draw immediate conclusions, which are subjected to bias and possible misconceptions. Therefore, changes are required to the current strategy of improving observation skills because the concept of good observation incorporates various domains and procedures. Table 1 provides a representation of the reliability, validity, and generalisability of the results.

Conclusion

Overall, observation has a significant role in the improvement of teacher’s professional capabilities and for the development of appropriate policies. This paper analyzed literature that explores specific frameworks and models, which help create a comprehensive assessment of proper observation techniques. In general, several models can be used, but all of them emphasize the need to examine the engagement of students and the use of materials.

Some articles suggest that observation conducted by students can provide valuable insight into an understanding of how learners perceive the methods that teachers use. Besides, peer observation, supported by institutions is an excellent approach to improving personal techniques. The case study and literature examined in this paper provides an implication for defining good observation as a strategy that incorporates a variety of domains, including assessment of feedback from peers and learners, and application of video to enable cohesive analysis.

References

Bell, A., & Thomson, K. (2016). Supporting peer observation of teaching: Collegiality, conversations, and autonomy. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 55(3), 276-284. Web.

Bell, C. A., Dobbelaer, M. J., Klette, K., & Visscher, A. (2019). Qualities of classroom observation systems. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 30(1), 3-29.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (2013). Measures of effective teaching project releases final research report. Web.

Cuthrell, K., Steadman, S. C., Stapleton, J., & Hodge, E. (2016). Developing expertise: Using video to hone teacher candidates’ classroom observation skills. The New Educator, 12(1), 5-27. Web.

Gladwell, M. (2015). Blink: The power of thinking without thinking. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. Oxon, United Kingdom: Routledge.

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Martinez, F., Taut, S., & Schaaf, K. (2016). Classroom observation for evaluating and improving teaching: An international perspective. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 49, 15-29. Web.

Ofsted. (2018). Six models of lesson observation: An international perspective. Web.

Pounder, J. S., Hung-lam, E. H., & Groves, J. M. (2016). Faculty-student engagement in teaching observation and assessment: A Hong Kong initiative. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 41(8), 1193-1205. Web.

Westrick, J. M., & Morris, G. A. (2016) Teacher education pedagogy: Disrupting the apprenticeship of observation. Teaching Education, 27(2), 156-172.

The World Bank. (2017). Conducting classroom observations: A guide to the Stallings and CLASS methods. Web.

Wragg, E. C. (1998). An introduction to classroom observation. Oxon, United Kingdom: Routledge.

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