Making the Most of observations


The great thing about being DoS is that you occasionally get to behave like Darth Vader – marching through the corridors, menacing footsteps echoing as you strike terror into the heart of the innocent hero of our story – the poor teacher. When? On observation day, of course.

Observations can have devastating effects. I once observed a teacher going way off script – he started to introduce inversion in conditionals to a beginner class that were supposed to be doing days of the week. He suddenly stopped and swallowed hard. ‘And now,’ he announced after a few moments, ‘I’m going back to the staff room to get the right lesson – your lesson – and start again.’ I tried to smile as I heard the poor teacher sobbing in the corridor.

Why do observations cause so much terror? What’s the worst that can happen? I truly believe they are the best development tool for a teacher.

Here are my tips for making the most out of observations –

1. Welcome them

Your attitude before an observation really counts. Your sentiment at the end shouldn’t be ‘Yay! I wasn’t fired!’ but ‘Yay! I’m a better teacher’. You don’t get observed very often so you need to be focused on getting as much development out of them as you can. So, welcome them!

2. Make it your responsibility to learn from the observation

The objective of the observation is to learn something very specific about your performance and it is your responsibility to ensure that happens, not the observer’s.

That’s why, to some degree, it isn’t always that important who observes you. Being observed by an experienced teacher can, of course, result in a wealth of great feedback. But newly qualified teachers can also give you a great deal of food for thought.

Now, what do I mean by taking responsibility for the observation?

3. Think about what you want before the observation

The observation is not the place to hide your weaknesses, nor forget your strengths. Chose one weak area and one thing you consider a strength and ask the observer to give you tips on how to address the weakness and how you can make the most of your strength. In this case during the lesson show the DoS what you normally do.

Another option is to do an ‘experimental lesson’ – Choose something you’ve never done before, and try it out. You can get concrete feedback on how to do it better next time.

Whatever you do, avoid ‘the show lesson’ that says ‘Step back and feast your eyes!’ You won’t learn anything useful and nothing disturbs the observer more than when the teacher looks like they are expecting a round of applause!

4. Seat the observer well

There are differing opinions on where the observer should sit. I would argue that in order to be most effective, the observer should be able to see the reactions and expressions of the students – that’s where the learning is happening – fingers crossed. Make  sure you seat them appropriately.

It can also disturb students to have a presence lurking behind them. Especially one dressed as Darth Vader.

5. Reflect on the observation afterwards

Your assessment of the lesson should be as vigorous and insightful as that of the observer.

What worked?
What didn’t?
What would you change if you did this lesson again?
How would you adapt the lesson/material for another class, level, etc?

This might just be where the most useful learning takes place.

6. Ask to be videoed

Ask your DoS to video the lesson and look through it during the feedback session. “Sure, Mike,’ I hear you say. ‘I’m gonna go to my DoS and say ‘bring the video camera, afterwards we’ll put it on YouTube. We can get some popcorn in.’ Very funny.”

I’m not joking! As painful as it might be to watch yourself, it can be very instructive. Have a look at TeachersTV show Teaching with Bayley (see for an insight into how useful it can be to watch your own lessons.

If you’re not lucky enough to get formal observations, you can always use technology to record yourself – set up a video camera or iPad and record the lesson.

7. Listen to the feedback

Feedback sessions can be as nerve-wracking for the observer as they are for the teacher. But it should never be a confrontation. Indeed, it should be a collaboration. Be respectful towards the observer, listen and reflect on what they have to say.

8. Make some action points

Feedback is most effective when it leads to action. Find at least one point you can act on.

Write it down, make it specific and share it with your DoS. For example, ‘By the end of April I will report back to the DoS on three lessons I have done using Macmillan English Campus games.’

9. Observe your peers

You can learn as much from observing as from being observed. I’ve stolen hundreds of ideas from many great lessons.

When you observe your peers, make notes and be sure to give them some positive feedback at the end!

10. Observe online

Anyone asking to observe you on-line should  – of course – be treated with caution!

However, if you are in an isolated teaching situation, perhaps you could pair up with a teacher and observe each other’s lessons through streaming or recorded video.

11. Enjoy the experience

Try and enjoy it and ask for more!


Read more in Mike’s ‘Making the most of…’ series by following the links below:


Making the most of training sessions

Making the most of your time

Making the most of your career

Leave a Comment