Taking Mixed Feelings a bit further

My previous post was built around three specific points:

1- Mixed feelings that are not exclusive mine as Kevin Stein shared in his introduction to my previous post on Facebook and Michael Stout comment to my post over Facebook. As I haven’t read Kevin Stein, Josette Leblanc and Ann Loseva (not entirely at least) yet, but I’m sure there will be much more to think about and different perspectives. In the previous post and now, I’m just offering one side of the issue. People do tend to have mixed feeling due to the nature of how observations are seen and carried out.

kevin stein observationmikestout observation

2- Mike Griffin earlier this year raises a nice point about why one should or should not care about someone’s else classroom. One of my favorite posts actually. A post that has been in the back of my mind ever since I read it, and was somehow present while I was writing my previous post. I highly recommend reading in case you wonder why I had been thinking of it.

mikegriffin idontcareabturclass

3- As far as my own PD goes, I don’t see the point of having someone observing my class if it is only about quality control based ONLY on a person’s point of view that is fully at work before, during and after the feedback session, even if it is my own without any effort to dialogue honestly, without being judgmental and with the learners in the center of the conversation.

When I read/heard for the first time John F. Fanselow talk about exploring our classroom in a playful manner, I could not get it. And as I see it many of us don’t get it either but continue to neglect the importance of having knowledge but not fixed rules, to experiment and reflect on learning rather than just teach and expect results without ever questioning and considering the context. Something that not only teachers need to learn to do but also the learners themselves.

While exploring John F. Fanselow’s blog I found a chapter of a book I have not read yet, but I’m sure it won’t be any different from the other three books I have from John. The consistence in his writings and talks is mind blowing and again and again he helps us see the light of how to change one-side dimensional judgment through recording, transcribing and analysing a portion of our class. I should blog soon about the two courses I have taken with John and an amazing group of teachers through iTDi which the first one was exactly about a year ago. Now it all comes to place!

Now, taking into consideration the points above, I would like to state that my problem is not with observation as much as it is with how feedback if ever gets carried out afterwards is actually done. In a way that it not only overpowers teachers need for development and becoming critical about their own actions and how it impacts their Ss, but also implies that there is only one way of teaching and that is fixed business. Moreover,I just don’t see the point of praising it if it is just to keep the system rolling. Nope, that kind of observation I will go through and accept as part of the job, but I know at the end it will be just that.

So, why should I care or long to be observed if I won’t be able to share my struggles, my doubts and my deep need to investigate them further with another pair (or pairs of eyes, ears and with different points of view, knowledge, experiences) if I’ll be misjudged even beforehand? I believe observation is a great tool for PD, but only if done in a way that is not threaten to the teacher and with an honest need for the observer and observee to grow as they share more questions than answers.    
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7 thoughts on “Taking Mixed Feelings a bit further

  1. So good to see John Fanselow’s work highlighted in this sensitive post. John is, IMHO, an inspiration to all who read him. Why isn’t he more widely recognised??? His teacher observation matrix is unfortunately complex, but the general humanistic tenor of everything he writes, and, more importantly does in his training sessions is, IMHO, unsurpassed. Earl Stevick told me that he thought John was in a class of his own; now there’s a compliment!

    You’re right, Rose: teacher observation rests on trust and its aim should be to help both the observer and the observed to grow as they respectfully share their views.

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    • Thanks Geoff for commenting. Before I took the course with him and started engaging in conversations with other teachers online, I’d had a good knowledge about methods/techniques and had no problem applying the standard practice around (more in a copy cat mode). But the process you go through when you start looking at what you do and how it impacts the people in your classroom and how it impacts you back is mind-blogging at first. It really helps when you have something more solid to look into it. Although his matrix is complex as you said, it answers for some unanswered questions we usually have about classroom interactions. And interesting enough he does not ask us to go through it in the course because his course (even though I took it online with live sessions) is very practical, but his words is a constant reminder of it so I got his books. The main problem for a teacher in a position like I was and gradually learning to understand my own process of teaching and students process of learning with the students in the process is that it takes time. I just wish that I had known about it about 15 years ago instead of being trained to copy procedures expecting to the same result to happen over and over (semester after semester) again if you followed just followed the Teachers book. Funny enough I see a lot of teachers leaving graduation (I was trained to teach) with the same attitude when they start teaching. They follow procedures hoping by doing so they will have a wonderful result. They will actually long for the best method/technique that is most effective and frustration free. That is one of the things you start learning when you start feeling there is more to it. I had been in this search since 2008 and I’m happy that the frustration has gone away to give place to something as John calls Playfulness! I love the sound of this word now and I’m even able to smile while I am saying that.

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  2. Rose,

    Thanks for bringing Mike’s pst back to my attention. I vaguely remember reading it, but now that I’ve done it again it makes a lot of sense. Re-reading posts is so exciting.

    To other things that caught my attention for a comment:
    – “there is only one way of teaching and that is a fixed business”. What a repelling idea.

    – why should I care indeed? Why should I care about some future observation feedback if it’s going to be done in a way I don’t see valuable or valid for me? Then should I really care to set up an informal peer obs program at my department if that’s what it could end up with? Good questions.
    Probably I care a little bit, though. I’s my choice to care to a degree that will it leave me frustrated when things go in the wrong (for myself) way.

    Write on, Rose!
    Thank you

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    • Anna dear, thanks for leaving your thoughts here and for keeping the dialogue going both here and in your blogpost at iTDi. My words are from the perspective of someone who has no power to set up anything. Hence, as I said before it is just one side of the whole story. MY story actually. If you feel you can, then by all means go for it. You know you have enough support from your PLN to keep going even if things go in the wrong way. There are people out there doing it and benefiting from observations which I think is amazing. If you are ready to invest on it, I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t. And you seem to be ready to deal with whatever happens. In my case, there is nothing I can do. If there was, I would. You know how enthusiast I am about PD and sharing/collaborating. 🙂 I just read your reply to my comment over iTDi blog. Now eager to read Josette and Kevin’s. 🙂

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      • This whole observation issue and the stream of dialogue that followed and keeps being alive is just astounding. I so love it!!
        Seeing that people care and are ready to air their views. Amazing!

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  3. Hi Rosie,
    Thanks very much for the excellent post (and for the mention of my crazy one!)
    It was very nice to revisit this post and see the comments from Geoff and Anna and your responses.

    Regarding my post, I am not sure if I made as much sense as I wanted to. But, I do think that it is too easy for teachers to care too much about the decisions that other teachers make. I think this is potentially problematic when observation is brought into it.

    This post: http://peacecorpsworldwide.org/teaching/2009/06/03/11/ from John Fanselow really impacted me when I read it and I think it is related to what is being discussed here.

    I really liked your points here regarding praise and criticism.
    One thing I heard from working with public school teachers in Korea is that often after a peer observation the peers spend a lot of time lavishing praise on the teachers. The problem with this as i heard is that that teachers don’t believe it.
    (This is why I always encourage and try to use specific moments and examples when giving feedback.

    The other thing I remember hearing is that after the praise comes the picky suggestions.. I think this relates to your point about the implication “that there is only one way of teaching and that is fixed business” I think this idea is something we need to be aware of as feedback givers.

    You wrote, “I believe observation is a great tool for PD, but only if done in a way that is not threaten to the teacher and with an honest need for the observer and observee to grow as they share more questions than answers.” I am trying to think of ways to set this up so it might be more likely to happen. I can’t shake the feeling that individual teachers interested in development is the way to go (rather than top down measures)..

    Thanks for the thoughtful and thought provoking post, Rose!

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

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