December 10, 2018

What can be learnt from a lesson observation? – Mike

What can be learnt from a lesson observation? How does this impact upon your strategies for behaviour management?

The term ‘Lesson Observation’ often connotes being observed for quality assurance and feedback on practice. However, as a trainee, observations offer an excellent learning opportunity to see different pedagogy and strategies that can later inform your own teaching. Although focused on university teaching, Bell, Hendry and Thomson (2013) highlight the usefulness of watching colleagues teach for your own practice. They mention that pigeon-holing ‘observation’ in terms of peer review means that staff miss out on the important learning gains that can be made by watching another person’s practice. When observing simply for one’s own learning, their qualitive and quantitative research showed that 19 of the 20 people who participated in the study later implemented something new that they had observed into their own practice.

Being at the start of my career, lesson observations have proven valuable learning experiences. It allows one to reflect on different styles and what sort of things may work for you. Entering another’s classroom comes with a certain etiquette that Peter Master (1983) highlights. As the foreign agent in the room it is important to not be too imposing. Master points out that making endless notes will detract from you being able to fully observe the lesson and so short sentences that can be expanded on later are best. This is approach I myself took while observing.

I believe that it is probably natural as a trainee to want to observe with a special focus on behaviour management as this, in my experience, was the most daunting aspect before beginning to teach. Observing colleagues offers a useful chance to pick up key strategies and tricks. I noted in observing a Citizenship lesson that picking students to answer questions as opposed to asking for hands created a calmer learning environment where the teacher seemed to be in complete control of the discussion. This was something I later implemented into my own practice.

As useful as these observations are, when it comes to behaviour management, I have found that the best type of observation to learn from is actually ‘the unseen observation’ that is, an observation of yourself. Immediately after the lesson I will jot down my thoughts about what went well and what didn’t. Later, typing and expanding on these notes into an established reflective framework allows for true reflection to occur. In one particular lesson I faced behaviour management issues that I was able to see where down to an unclear task which was frustrating for pupils to complete. Rather than remedying the situation with sanctions, I went back to the drawing board and redesigned the task so that it was differentiated and clearer for those who had proved difficult and I told the class that they were to complete the task again. This time, without the confusion, I faced nearly zero behaviour issues. In this sense, my behaviour management was not improved by a strategy observed in another, but a failing of which I had observed in myself.


Bell, A., Hendry, G. D. & Thomson, K. (2014). Learning by observing a peer's teaching situation. International Journal for Academic Development. 318-329

Master, P. (1983). The Ettiquette of Observing. Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc (TESOL). 497-501

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