Do teachers benefit from evaluative observations? #ELTchat summary 25/05/2011

A PLN for ELT Professionals

Do teachers benefit from evaluative observations? #ELTchat summary 25/05/2011

Summary of #eltchat at 21.00 BST on the topic of evaluative observations provided by Diarmuid Fogarty, @Imadruid on Twitter

25th May 2011

 On Wednesday 25th May 2011, 53 people sat down at their computer or stared hard at their mobile phone and between 2100-2220 GMT, they sent 699 tweets consisting of a total of 11949 words. Hospital departments around the world wondered at what could have provoked such a peak in the number of Texting Thumbstrain and poor eyesight. Of the 11949 words, 1563 were distinct.  Kind of humbling, I suppose. 70% of the words used were drawn from the 1000 most common words in English. 3.4% were drawn from the next 1000 most common words. 3.45% were drawn from the Academic Word List. All that education squandered. The most common word used was “a” or “an” which was used 230 times. When you see it all on paper, and considering that “aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa” and “aaahhhhhhhhh” were also used, it all looks slightly more pornographic than it turned out to be. And it would explain why @caligula and @marquisdesade were bemoaning the fact that they’d missed UK TV show The Apprentice  – a show made to reassure the older generation that there is nothing wrong with getting old and that death will be a welcome release. I tried Wordling it all, but it ends up making us look so self-referential, I destroyed the image and burnt the computer on which I’d tried it. This caused a wider conflagration with the end result that I will have nowhere to work on Monday. I wasn’t going to burn the computer at home.

2013-12-10 14.38.28

photo by @Marisa_C

At times the chat moved so quickly that I was terrified to write anything in case I missed something while looking at the keyboard, but in that hour and twenty minutes, the person who tweeted most (is that an irregular verb…should it betwatted?) was the despicable @shellterrell with 72 contributions. I think I have managed to hold my envy in check. I was second with 70 contributions. When I woke up screaming in the night, my wife told me that it wasn’t the number of contributions, but their quality. I felt even worse. My contributions varied from “Why? How?” [22:10] to “Burn the school down if they sack you” [22:17]. Terrell gave us, “For most tchrs they’ve never seen their observer teach so why would they feel that person best 1 to observe them?” [22:05] and “Both evaluative and developmental  have their place, but  many folk try to do both at the same time.” [22:13] I took the decision to play The Hooded Claw to Terrell’s Penelope Pitstop.

Let me put the chat in context. I am currently doing an MA and my dissertation is going to be about evaluative observations (at least it will be if the board give me the nod). I work as a DoS (Dogsbody or Slave) at a language teaching centre in Manchester, UK (not the home of the European Champions of Football). Once a year, the Voice From On High speaks through the clouds and asks, “Have you started doing the observations yet?” This is my cue to abandon all of the other work I am doing to try and negotiate an observation schedule with some twenty teachers. We arrange a pre-observation meeting, which we frequently have to rearrange, then we arrange an observation, then we arrange a post-observation meeting. Paperwork has to be sent out, forgotten, lost, sent out again etc. In the post-observation meeting, the teachers hear what I say, sometimes engage with what I say, walk out of the office and forget all about it for another year.

I thought that there might be a more effective way of going about the whole process.

So, I suggested the question to the ELTChat community and it met with favour. This may or may not  have been the result of FIFA-style horsedealing on my part. Suffice to say that nobody will be hearing any more from some ex-regulars. You cross the Hooded Claw at your peril.

OK, enough dross from the narrator (who is just making the most of his time in the limelight), let’s get jiggy. I’ve decided to put some structure on the chat by giving you mini-summaries of ten minute periods. Let us hope that it works. ¡Adelante!


The community was reminded of what the topic was: Do evaluative observations benefit teachers? and the term ‘evaluative observations” was defined, Eval. obs are those which many teachers have to undergo (usually once a year) as part of their appraisals.Interestingly, the next ten mintues brought out the following reactions:

  •  The amount of paperwork doesn’t benefit me when I have to do lesson plans for lessons lasting from 2 hours to nearly 4! Timed!!!
  • My feeling is that evaluative observations are a waste of good time for many people.
  • As a DOS I end up spending hours and hours on one observation and don’t think that the feedback is particularly useful.
  • Some times you cam be observed by someone who doesn’t know anything about language teaching and that is difficult.
  • no focus or structure for ob., no real rationale, don’t see who benefits!
  • Ts terrified of formal obs.

 It was hardly a ringing endorsement. Inevitably, suggestions for alternative approaches started to emerge: peer observation was suggested, but it was not clear if this was being put forward as a way of evaluating teachers or simply (!) developing them. The confusion between the two ends was commented upon later in the chat. It was made clear that for evaluative observations to work, total transparency was needed with teachers being well-informed of the criteria against which they would be assessed and the purposes for which the evaluation was being carried out; the observation should be done by an experienced and sympathetic evaluator who enjoys the respect of the observee. The orders were already getting pretty tall.


The new theme that emerged from this section of the chat was the frequency of observation. A number of people reported not having been observed since they had finished their training. They’d been appointed to the job, given a room to teach in and left to get on with it. An attractive option?

There was also some discussion in this section about why teachers were so lukewarm about observations. The fear of having your performance judged, the uncertainty of how the observer would apply the criteria, the difficulty separating criticism of you as a professional from criticism of you as a person, the lottery of being observed teaching the right kind of students, the inconsitency and the subjectivity of the observers – all of these were factors that came up (and which are to be found in the literature on observations).

And, again in keeping with the problematizing aspect of this chat, some suggestions were put forward: they centred around increasing the teacher’s control over the observation. Teachers should either be able to choose their observer or they should be able to design the framework and the parameters of the observation.  One even more radical solution was to do away with the observer all together and replace them with a video camera. This would facilitate the teacher’s self-critique of the lesson.

2121-2130 SHOULD I? SHOULDN’T I?

Should features a lot in this section. Admittedly, there are a lot of retweets, o the data may be skewed. So, what should people do? Well, if I might interject briefly, if they are interested in observations, they should visit @cybraryman’s  Observations page:

Observations should feature the views of parents and students.

The feedback should flow from the teacher to the observer.

All teachers should observe each other on a rotation basis

Observation should lead to better cooperation and understanding between colleagues

It shouldnt be the DOS observing

It should be more organic process

There should be a kind of rubric for observation

There was even advice for those asking themselves “What wireless routershould I buy?” One that works well, I reckon.


There was a sizeable amount of chat here about the observers. The comment was picked up that evaluations went wrong when the “wrong observers” were in the room with you. What are the wrong observers?

Well, they fail to inspire confidence and they don’t have much in the way of teaching experience. They don’t tend to be on the receiving end of observations and they rarely kiss their observees…They are a bit less forthcoming with positive feedback and they tend to dominate the post-observation discussion. These kinds of observers five observation a bad name.


This section concerned itself with the kind of feedback that comes post-observation and from whence it should come. One participant argued that not looking for feedback can lead to arrogance and fossilization. So, what are the guidelines for giving feedback?

Well, one view was that the observer shouldn’t feedback – they should aim to provide reflective questions that allow the teacher to look at their class in a different light. Building on that, came the support for the  “is there anything you would do differently? / another strategy could be” approach to fdbk

There was a view that feedback should seek to be positive. Teachers are hard on themselves, went the argument, it does them no harm to hear that they are doing a good job from time to time. Even bad lessons, it was said, contain positive features that can be singled out for praise.

But if we encourage people’s need for praise, aren’t we reinforcing what the transactional analysts among us would regard as a Parent-Child relationship. Do I need to praise you for you to know that you’re doing a good job? What does my opinion count for anyway?

2151-2200 LET ME IN!!!

What about opening your classroom to your colleagues? @antoniaclare told us about how IH has a process whereby teachers put up post-its with what, where and when they are teaching and colleagues make arrangements to go an see them. There was some interest in the idea and the idea was floated (and applauded) of recording our own lessons and uploading them onto the ELTChat wiki.

But other teachers reported that an open door policy would not necessarily work in their contexts. Colleagues would find it distrustful, even rude for people to just walk in on them and see what was going on. Time was an issue – although, I have found that with marriage and children, the rule seems to be that if you wait for the right time or until you’ve actually got the time, you’re likely to die single and childless; so I have generated the theory that if anything is worth doing, time has to be made to do it in. Most of our lives are filled with doing things that are perhaps less worthy.


OK…not Maria exactly…but what do you do when you have a teacher who doesn’t want to develop?

Swap, teach the class while he [sic] observes then sit and discuss how they differed and how sts reacted?

You can’t support those who don’t want it, focus on those who do.

help the teacher reflect on their teaching, not to tell them what’s wrong.

students are the first ones who will evaluate him/her, too hard [in a perfect world]

Teachers are only ones who can evaluate their work meaningfully. DoS’s can really just point them in the right way.

How much do you (dis)agree with the last sentence? If teachers, like students, only learn from what they regard as meaningful input, then all change comes directly from what they have identified as meaningful. It has to take place within the teacher – I don’t think it can come from another. Teaching is too caught up with what we believe about the world and its ways (our ontologies) to be swayed by someone else telling us that we’ve got it all wrong.


And as we moved towards the end of the chat, it became clear that for some, at least, change was a much sought after thing. Who was to do the changing though? Did it make sense to make for the administration to realise that whatever was in place was not fit for purpose? Why not start the research yourself now? Surveymonkey provides free (or inexpensive) online software to generate a free questionnaire. Sound your colleagues out about the observation process or the lack of observation process. Present the school/centre with an alternative that enjoys the support of the observed.

Change at this level also needs to come from within. Teachers can be evaluated by a system but the system needs to be one that they have developed, not one that has been thrust upon them. And we shouldn’t wait around asking to go and invent an alternative – the tools to research it and to build it are now within our reach. If you want a non-threatening, developmental, meaningful, collaborative and purposeful observation instrument, create one yourself! Share it with all and sundry and, it is my contention, the recalcitrant teachers will take care of themselves.

Thus ended the ELTChat on observations and thus ends my summary. 2227 words, of which 739 are distinct. It may not be much of a summary, but it does allow itself to be Wordled without being too self-reverential. Here, for your delectation, is the Wordle. I don’t know what to expect when it hatches – a velociraptor, a crocodile or a phoenix?

1000 most frequent words




@AFTTeach, @AndreaBudding, @AnnLoseva, @AnthonyGaughan, @antoniaclare, @ayatawel, @cgoodey, @CriticalValues, @cunningcanis, @cybraryman1, @DaveDodgson, @DrSmartEd, @eRomanMe, @europeaantje, @eyespeakbrasil, @fgandol, @Fuertesun, @hartle, @hollysuel, @hrogerson, @humbledaisy, @Imadruid, @japglish, @jbjimenez, @jmaraldo, @Jon_Torbitt,  @juandoming, @jurylady, @KarenInGreece, @lauraesol, @legyened, @lolonagi, @lookforsun, @MagicinEdu, @Marisa_C, @mthornton78, @mubeenfk, @NoraTouparlaki, @pacogascon, @pamwesely, @pjhiggins, @seburnt, @sedayyildirim, @Shaunwilden, @shaznosel, @ShellTerrell, @stephchbeach71, @sueleather, @tdsig, @vickyloras, @WavenyEd, @web20education, @yohimar