Over the years there has been one or two S.M.A.R.T. goals that I have repeatedly failed to meet. Observing others and being observed in the classroom is high on that list.
Classroom observation has always been on my lists of “should-do’s” and “I know it’s important buts”. I have got other things to take care of. And of the times I have been observed, nothing much special has come of it. The experiences have been inconsistent and peripheral to what I do.
In my first encounter with observation, my class was taken to a special room for the occasion. A panel of the school’s teachers sat in the back while I did my thing. This highly rewarding enterprise saw me receive papers from each of the teachers with a numerical score and some comments. The lowest score was a 93 and it came from the vice-principal. His comment, “you should get the students to speak more”. And so ended my first observation, six weeks into my teaching career.
Since then there have been sporadic times when people have ‘popped into class’ to watch for 20 or 30 minutes. I receive notes on what they thought went well and what might be improved. It has all been quite useful in setting my mind to the fact that observation is not a waste of time, but also not something that really deserves the effort.
That line of thinking has come to an abrupt end recently. This semester I am participating in my MAT-ESOL teaching practicum. It involves a number of cycles in which:
1) I develop a lesson plan and have a detailed discussion of it with my advisor.
2) I teach the lesson in front of a critical friend (with attendant pre and post meetings).
3) I write up an analysis of the lesson.
4) I finish with another in-depth meeting with my advisor.
These cycles have really pushed me to open up the dynamic interactions that regularly occur in my classroom. Meetings with advisor and critical friend have served as both a source of enlightenment and a jolt of encouragement.
The effects of all this have not just been to improve my practice, but to open up previously unseen paths of thought that have gotten me thinking about the art of teaching in wholly new ways.
What I have found most surprising is that the after effects of these cyclical observations leave their imprint on me and my classes for days and weeks after the cycle of observation has completed. The mental combustion that the robust, frank and supportive discussions brings about has led to a real and very noticeable increase in my ability to better understand the Thou-It and I-It relationships of my classroom, in real time. This in turn has been a major boon to the corresponding I-Thou relationships.
The cycles of observation have acted as real catalysts for self-produced solutions to my own uniquely observed conundrums of the classroom.
Now I see how observation, when done well, can be such a massive asset to a teachers growth. And as before, being observed and observing will be a S.M.A.R.T. goal. However, in deference to achievable (the A in SMART) I will aim to be observed twice a semester. For all the good observation does, if done well, it is quite an additional amount of work.