Mixed Feelings on Observation

iTDi Observation Issue is out!

Extending the dialogue to my blog as to keep my own record of my feelings towards this topic. I have mixed-feelings. On one side, the feeling that observation must be great when you are taking part in it with the only aim to grow yourself and help others grow as well, judgemental free, and on the other side the feeling that observation is often more about judging and ticking on our own set of what should and should not be like in a classroom. As I used to think like that myself and my own perspective about myself and others has changed, I feel things have changed for me, but fear is still in the air.

Dont Give up! Source: ELTPics taken by @sandymillin

Don’t Give up! Source: ELTPics taken by @sandymillin

Changing my own mindset did not help change the whole picture. At some point this year, I even thought I’d lost the fear of being observed and being judged. But in an environment where the concept of praxis is not fully understood, fear rules. NO matter what.  I am still being ruled by fear. And I, personally speaking, see culture as the agent to which might be preventing us to embark in this wonderful thing that is observation. Because once a group (or most people in a group) thinks in a certain way, changing seems mostly difficult. It will only, again in my opinion, happen if one makes the effort and break their own personal rule or the fixed rule set before us. Or if there is a deep need for it. And seriously at this point, I have no idea how to change the big picture. I’ve tried so far few things and none seem to work. There might be something else I haven’t tried yet, but I am clueless to what it is exactly I should be looking forward to regarding this topic for the greater good.

Trying to expand the possibilities for me and going past my own fears and trying to rise above my own trouble waters I started blogging. In fact my wordpress account is 5 years old and without iTDi support I would have probably continued struggling longing for  someone to share with – my doubts, my struggles, the need for pointers, to be inspired, to take my PD to a step further… iTDi did not only helped me connect to other likemind teachers and find the spaces to learn and feel as part of a community which I needed to fear no more and could talk freely about about teaching/learning, they helped me also to find my own voice. My world changed. My perspective about myself changed and it also helped me change my ways of seeing the big picture.

Looking back and taking into consideration what I have just written and reflected upon, what is or is not observation for me right now?

Observation for me is NOT about just having someone for a moment in your class, it is the journey one takes alongside you. It is not about teaching you, although teaching will surely happen as well as learning for both sides. It is not about giving opinions even after one has pondered hard enough to have the right to do so. It is about being interested in your journey and your students. It is about being the voice of reason when you feel at a total loss and feeling discouraged. It is about caring about what you do and taking the time to think together and be willing to look for answers that may none of you not know at a particular time. It means open your heart, mind and your class without fear.

But if observation is just a moment. If it is just something it needs to be done and it does not invite dialogue, It won’t provide space for praxis and mutual growth.

Blogging then is the nearest I got to peer observation in a sense that I have opened my very heart, my mind to be open to others and my classroom by describing the best I could. My mixed feelings is not the fear of sharing as I tried to be as candid as possible in my posts through the year. What counts at the end is always the journey. A journey in which my students took part this year and also the teachers online who took an interest in our journey, and cared to read and make comments.

I’m also taking the opportunity to celebrate then a year of blogging, of sharing. And say thanks to Ann Loseva whose blog I had the pleasure to write a blogpost when her own blog completed a year last year, thank YOU Anna. Your post at iTDi (and only the first part of it) generated this post. The second part will have to wait until next Monday, for today I’ll keep just the feeling that I have that today for the first time I made sense of what observation is for me.

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8 thoughts on “Mixed Feelings on Observation

  1. Rose – I feel your pain! That said, observation has never been an issue for me. Not because I am some sort of superbeing (although that undoubtedly helps), but because it has never been an issue for me. If my memory was any good, I would probably be able to search through it and might conclude that I have never had an unpleasant experience of being observed. So, it’s no big deal for me probably because nobody ever made it a big deal for me.

    You, on the other hand, don’t enjoy observations. And you feel that you should. But why should you? What is there to enjoy about being watched and judged? Foucault made the point that this is the kind of treatment that we subject the criminally insane to.

    Most of the arguments that say that we have nothing to fear from observations come from people who have nothing to fear from observations. There are very few -if any?- articles that extol their virtues which are written by people who find them terrifying. That sounds facetious, but it isn’t meant to be. I hate certain exercises in the gym, but I will happily sing their praises because I know that they are good for me.

    I think that observations are very unthreatening to some people because those people recognise, at some level, that the conclusions reached after an observation are pretty worthless. As such, it is inconceivable that they can be used to make any judgement of value. My advice would be to avoid observations if they make you feel uncomfortable. They are not particularly helpful and the people who observe you most frequently – your students- will always be abl to provide more useful data for professional development. Look for alternative means of reflecting upon your practice, like blogging…oh wait, as you say yourself, you are doing this already!

    When it comes to observation, I think it might help to remember that it is not you that needs to change, but the system itself. It makes no sense and serves primarily to enforce submission and compliance. The sooner our methodology reveals praxis, the better!

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    • Thanks TSD for reading and commenting. Your comment has generated a new blog post that I will be publishing soon. 🙂 I hope to make my ideas in this post more clear in the next one. Being observed is not a big deal for me nowadays, it was once. I learned to deal with that. You make a good point about the system and my point is we ought to change it to make observation a valid means of PD.
      Do I actually think too much? Reflect too much? The system does make me feel bad about it and the more I read about education system, more dishearted I get.

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  2. Rose,

    Thanks for this post. Knowing how it actually came about is quite helpful in seeing through your thread of idea, the reason behind.
    I hear you very well when you speak about an individual vs system. I tend to think of it as one of principles of our society, we see individuals, or groups of individuals, trying to break one rule or a fixed set of rules in many other spheres. And here the only thing that comes to my mind is the idea of a small change, one at a time. For you’re so right in mentioning in your post that “it will happen if there’s a deep need for it”. To be honest, I”m very individualistic myself, and it’s sometimes good, too (possibly). I explore my own attitude first, then make a change and reflect on it, then I may try to involve other teachers to follow – because I”m enthusiastic about the idea…but other people will only catch this bug when they’re in certain conditions. There’s no pushing change.
    As for mixed feelings – I can say that to me, alongside with questioning something, it’s a chance to spend time thinking. Which I am a big fan of, and it looks to me that you are, too .=)
    Such a big thanks to you for reminding me of blogging as a type of observation. It is, for some of us, again. AND I’m very, very happy to have had you write that guest post for my blog. it’s been almost a year, and when I look back I”m amazed at what change I see. Both for you and myself. It’s great to have been (and mb still be) part of your journey.

    Look forward to your comments or further posts on this.

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    • Anna I think that fear is the reason why people will not move forward. Paulo Freire’s quote, the one I use in this blog, summarizes it and constantly reminds me that this is the only thing preventing me from understanding (or partly understanding) my reality. As for reality, it is my classroom, the people who are together with different agendas, beliefs, experiences and background knowledge about the world; it is actually myself as a person and a teacher. Transformation is knowing and knowing is not simply being told. Even when we are enthusiastic it can be difficult to implement and frustrating. I don’t mean to be negative towards it with my post, nor discouraging the kind of observation that should be really productive for observer and observee, be it a colleague or the senior teacher or even our own students. On the contrary, I am saying that I would love to be able to be part of it but with a very different focus that the current system offers. Thanks for offering your thoughts and make me reflect.

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  3. “Blogging then is the nearest I got to peer observation in a sense that I have opened my very heart, my mind to be open to others and my classroom by describing the best I could.”

    Absolutely! In many ways, Rose, you’re one of the most observed teachers in the entire world (!), because you allow your peers to observe huge chunks of your internal thought processes, not just the ‘finished product’.

    Which neatly connects to your other other wonderful point: “Observation for me is NOT about just having someone for a moment in your class, it is the journey one takes alongside you.”

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    • Thanks for the feedback Graham! This summer I have a little project to train recording, transcribing and analysing my own teaching. I hope to share the transcriptions and invite others to help me analyse. I’m inviting couple of neighbors and my daughter to have classes during the week. It will probably be a group of 3 students, but I’m hoping for 5. Not going anywhere this summer, just a swim in the nearby beach and enjoy my house which has a lovely fruit garden. I might as well dedicate few hours to brush up my daughter’s English skills and her friends. Plus, a great opportunity for me to learn something new.

      I really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. Thanks!

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  4. Pingback: Taking Mixed Feelings a bit further | ROSE BARD – Teaching Journal

  5. Pingback: Out with the old… | ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections

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