Can lesson observation be enjoyed?

Some former students have been talking, on Facebook, about the lesson observation arrangements at their respective schools. One of them said that she was making an effort to enjoy lesson observation.

Another former student told me how demoralised she was because the lesson that she taught while being observed did not go as smoothly as she had anticipated.

For some teachers in Hong Kong, lesson observation is a source of stress. Our culture of professional development through peer lesson observation is weak, while our evaluation dimension of lesson observation is strong. Lesson observation has become a high-stakes activity, to get over with as quickly as possible. Only lunatics will talk of enjoying lesson observation.

This is one maxim that I have created for myself for doing lesson observations: The lesson may be a disaster, but the teacher can still be wonderful. This is because there is an unavoidably artificial element about lesson observation. We will, either consciously or unconsiously, plan and teach differently when we are being observed. Also, unless we treat a lesson observation as a show so that we rehearse the lesson with students in advance, there is always uncertainty in a lesson, no matter how experienced we are. As a result, we (teacher trainers, curriculum officials, principals, panel heads, etc.) should avoid equating one lesson observed with the teacher’s actual teaching competence.

Personally, I would treat lesson observation as a means of collaborative professional development activity: we value good teaching, and we believe that we can always learn from each other. I would play down the evaluation aspect as far as possible. This may require some tact, but I believe that it IS possible to build a professional culture that enables teachers to enjoy observing others, and being observed. Here are some principles that have come to mind:

– Play down the evaluation or appraisal dimension as far as is practically possible;

– Look for and acknowledge generously the strengths of the teacher and the lesson observed;

– If possible, open up our own teaching for observation by our professional colleagues; and

– Vigorously and sincerely promote this message to the entire teaching team: WE VALUE GOOD TEACHING.

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