feedback, observation and learning

I suffer from periodic bouts of “lack of confidence”. I know most of it is from a recognition that I still have much to learn when it comes to teaching (and life).

It is for that reason that I have latched onto reflective practice with such intensity and joy. Reflective practice gives me knowledge, ideas, and confidence to get back into the classroom and try something new.

While reflective practice has been a joy, I have not had much else to help me along my professional development way.

Feedback was doing the rounds on the blogosphere in the last month or two. I have tried feedback, but only half-heartedly. It is one of those things that seems to get lost in the fray. One of those “I’ll do it next time” things that never gets done. I fully recognize and appreciate the usefulness of genuine feedback. At times, however, that genuineness (which is critical to helpful, useful feedback) is so difficult to draw out of students it sucks my enthusiasm out of the whole process.

The institution I am currently working for takes feedback very seriously. In fact, they are determining how to cut 40% of the work force based solely on student evaluations of professors. Now, while I am not averse to a student’s opinion, I believe there is more that defines a teacher than a piece of paper that allows the English staff with the highest scores to walk through the halls with beaming smiles ready to reenact Sally Field’s 1985 Oscar speech.

Observation is currently being discussed by a few fantastic educators over at (a series of blogs of which are highly recommended reading for any who are interested).

Observation is one aspect in which I believe I have been let down by the institutions with which I have worked. I too, have failed myself in being so lackadaisical in seeking out observing opportunities.

I have been let down by my employers because I have simply not been observed. Of my three years teaching, I have been observed a grand total of one time. That was one month into my first year teaching at a middle school. It was a horrific lesson. The lowest mark I received was a 93 (whatever that means).

In thinking about myself, I have realized that observing other teachers would be quite useful. However, as with feedback, it is one of those things that a busy teacher never quite seems to have the time for. Something I’ll get to next week.

Perhaps it’s always pushed off because observation scares me. Not for the reasons observation scares most. It scares me because I feel like I don’t know what to look for. I can go, and say “ooo, I like that. Or hmmm, that doesn’t seem to be working” but I don’t have the knowledge to accurately assess what is going on. I feel like I can’t adequately judge what can be useful for my own class and what wouldn’t be.

Even as I write this it feels like a cop out, and that frustrates me.

It’s also a major reason I am excited to be starting my graduate degree next year. A program focused on the practical rather than the theoretical with lots of opportunities to learn, observe, and reflect.

It’s a bit early for New’s Years resolutions, but there’s also no time like the present!

1) I am going to begin requesting feedback from day 1 of my next round of courses, and I am going to consistently request that feedback, on a daily basis, throughout the course.

2) I am going to observe and reflect on another teachers class once a month.

Reflection, feedback and observation. So much learning to do, and never stop doing.


3 thoughts on “feedback, observation and learning

  1. Hi John
    And again what you’re writing about relates to me. A lot.
    I suffer from periodic pangs of doubt, and I regularly reproach myself for doing certain things, not doing other things, not knowing what things to do. When I think about it for too long, I develop a headache and maybe even careless attitude as the worst consequence. I’m not pleased at all, that is one of the reasons I just started to fill the RP notebook. I’s one of my clearest PD goals for next year and the future in general, until I get to the place where I can have access to community interested in reflection, live.
    Thanks a lot for mentioning iTDi Observation posts. I think that has been the most thought-provoking issue, there has been quite a lot of thinking, tweeting, chatting and blogging around it.
    My own experience in observing/ being observed is remarkably similar to yours. And my resolutions are, too. I would like to be welcomed to sit in a class of another teacher, with a right attitude and understanding of why I’m doing it. Like you, I’m concerned about my expertise in trying to see things in a lesson and talking about them, or at least thinking about them. Luckily, there are people in our PLN who can help with some guidelines.
    As for feedback, I wish you best of luck!! Your plan is Big, gathering feedback every lesson. I’ll resolve to trying out new forms of collecting it next term, too. As well as reacting upon it.
    Thanks for the post which made me wish to respond straight away! No time like the present, right.


  2. Great post, Johnnie!

    I am sort of trying to catch up on blog posts I wanted to write comments on last year and this was one of your many posts that stuck with me. Please don’t feel the need to respond as it a long time since you wrote it.

    Some scattered thoughts and whathaveyous:

    It is great to see the intensity and joy with which you have latched onto RP.

    You said you were going to observe other teachers once a month. Did you do it? How did it go?

    I thought your points regarding feedback collected by the admin as compared to that collected by teachers was quite interesting. I suppose it is now your former place of work. I am always leery when end of course surveys are placed in such high regard.

    In a previous (unigwon) job teachers were (very frequently) let go on the basis of these surveys. I don’t think the students had any sense of the power they had. I remember one teacher telling students, “Look people will get fired if they get less than 4 of 5 consistently.” Please feel free to share your thoughts but remember people can get let go.” All the students in this class gave very high marks. Maybe they weren’t 100% thrilled with the teachers or their own progress but they weren’t interested in getting people fired.

    Your words about observation jumped off the screen to me. I was in two minds as i read it. You wrote that you felt let down by admin and I felt for a moment that this was the norm and
    how dare you (my response was not nearly actually this strong) assume that such PD chances
    would be afforded to you. In Korea. Then I thought about it for a minute and realized your desires were more than reasonable. I’d be thrilled to be proved wrong but I don’t believe there are many places in Korea within the uni system with peer observation schemes.

    I think sometimes we need to make our chances for observation because it is just not done very often. Then, when it is done (and I realize I’m painting with a very broad brush now) it is more just about retention and evaluation than development. Anyway congrats on the 93.

    Another random thought is that the jobs market in Korea surely seems to be undergoing some big shifts. Some extremely wishful thinking on my part is that some institutions will include professional development as part of their hiring package in order to attract more talented and ambitious teachers. Perhaps I am being overly naive though! I guess PD is viewed by many as a time such and unneeded. Gosh, i guess that is why I am always back to thinking it is up to individual teachers themselves.

    Finally, i loved this line: I believe there is more that defines a teacher than a piece of paper that allows the English staff with the highest scores to walk through the halls with beaming smiles ready to reenact Sally Field’s 1985 Oscar speech.

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

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