ERIC Identifier: ED364926
Publication Date: 1993-00-00
Author: Aiex, Nola Kortner
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Reading English and Communication Bloomington IN.
A Communicative Approach to Observation and Feedback. ERIC
Classroom observation and evaluation of teachers by supervisors or principals
is a delicate process. This Digest focuses on the cultivation of a communication
approach to that process.
Most teachers would welcome feedback from their
supervisors about improving teaching, but they rarely receive it (Ingham, 1990).
Instead, supervisor feedback many times takes the form of one-dimensional rating
scales, or is seen as a tool in the hire-fire process (Dunkleberger, 1982).
Some teachers seem to like to be helped, and they expect to be told what to
do as well. For them, evaluations containing prescriptions of what to do are
welcome. Beginning teachers, for example, seem to prefer models and direction to
collaboration. However, many other practice teachers and inservice teachers have
a keen interest in seeing how others teach. Observing others in order to get a
different perspective on teaching is not the same as being told what to do by
others. Observing to explore is a process; observing to help or evaluate is a
Many times the role of the principal is
unclear in this observation process. Some states have attempted to legislate the
observation and evaluation process, setting minimum criteria that teachers must
meet (Sullivan and Wircenski, 1988). In many communities the school board will
have an approved observation instrument, which may or may not be satisfactory
for principal and teacher.
A number of standardized observation formats are available to
principals--those of Ned Flanders, Pamela Noli, and R.T. Hyman are popular and
are recommended by many supervisors. Each contains valuable clues as to which
variables contribute most to effective instruction. In effect, they represent an
ideal of instructional style based on a specific theory of teaching.
When principals have the freedom to choose how they wish to evaluate
teachers, they may need to design their own instruments (Lockledge, 1984). The
development process might involve reviewing the literature, examining existing
assessment instruments, developing a rough draft, and then asking teachers to
review the instrument to provide input regarding the criteria.
The standardized observation formats sometimes fail to accommodate the skewed
patterns of instructional delivery found among a particular group of teachers.
Having evaluation personnel develop a school-specific format, based upon
existing teaching styles, would be one alternative to using a standardized
format (Cuccia, 1988). This process avoids the common assumptions about
"correct" teaching methods and offers three advantages to both evaluators and
teachers: (1) the format is consistent with the teaching styles practiced in the
school, so its use is compatible with the teaching practices observed; (2)
through the use of a lesson observation form, specific baseline data can be
systematically collected for the purpose of improving instruction; and (3)
lesson observation feedback can be clearly and precisely communicated to
teachers based on observable instructional variables.
School-specific lesson observations are usually a positive experience for
both teachers and evaluators. This is especially true if they include peer
evaluation, flexible criteria, and professional development or recognition as
components in the process.
One such research-based strategy of clinical observation, developed
specifically for elementary and middle school use, involves the entire school
staff in designing teacher observations to fit the needs of the particular
school and its personnel. The supervisory process includes the steps of: setting
objectives; observing and recording data; analyzing data; providing feedback;
taking corrective action; and offering constructive criticism (Lockledge, 1984).
Another model for teacher evaluation is the anthropological field method
(Streich, 1984). This is different from either the checklist or rating sheet
method, which evaluates teachers against a uniform set of criteria, or the
clinical-supervision method, which focuses on the supervisor-teacher
relationship. The anthropological field method encompasses both of the more
widely used methods already mentioned, and also provides insight into highly
complex educational phenomena. The method proceeds in three successive stages:
(1) the supervisor unobtrusively observes characteristics of the classroom
setting, and of the behaviors of teacher and students; (2) the supervisor
formulates, then verifies through further observation, propositions regarding
classroom behavior patterns; and (3) the supervisor holds a conference with the
teacher to discuss the latter's performance and design an inservice training
course based on the aforementioned propositions.
TEACHER ADMINISTRATOR COMMUNICATION
The feedback conference
should begin on a positive note with a discussion of the effective practices
used by the teacher as observed by the principal. Throughout the conference, the
principal should keep the focus on the data collected during the observation. In
fact, it is critical that the feedback be on recorded data, and not strictly on
the principal's memory. Miles (1989) and Brinko (1990), who both see feedback as
an important communication strategy in the school culture, emphasize that
feedback should deal in concrete, accurate description and specifics and be
focused towards a few definite goals.
For example, assume that one of the agreed-upon areas for observation was
"questioning." The data might show the number of questions asked, the level of
questions, the amount of time given a student to respond, the number of student
questions, and similar observations. The teacher and the principal can then
analyze together what actually occurred during the classroom observation period.
If a teacher is experiencing difficulty, the principal may wish to focus on two
or three behaviors rather than asking the teacher to change a number of
behaviors. Just as holds true for students, improvement and a feeling of success
will be more likely to occur if the teacher does not feel overwhelmed by the
enormity of the task.
As the supervisor goes through the observation process, the establishment of
supervisor-teacher rapport is the most important element. The observation
process, often criticized and abandoned by supervisors because it is time
consuming, is one of building relationships between the individual supervisor
and the individual teacher. Humanness, self-respect, relaxation, communication,
contracts, agreements, collaboration, helpfulness, and therapeutics are all
components of the supervisor-teacher relationship. A skilled supervisor, no
matter which observational method he or she chooses, should be able both to
achieve organizational goals and objectives, and to meet the individual needs of
Clinical observation and evaluation afford both the teacher and the principal
an opportunity to engage in discussions regarding the improvement of
instruction. The supervisory model to aim for is one that is interactive rather
Educational supervisors have placed a high priority on classroom observation
as a means of appraising or evaluating teachers and of improving instruction.
But the observation experience needs to be a positive one for both teachers and
principals, and the responsibility for this lies mostly with the principal. The
probability of a successful observation process where mutual communication
occurs between teacher and administrator improves dramatically when the criteria
for observation are mutually agreed upon, and when the supervisor proceeds with
sensitivity and skill.
Brinko, K. (1990). Optimal Conditions for
Effective Feedback. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American
Educational Research Association. [ED 326 155]
Cuccia, N. (1988). "Systematic Observation Formats: Key to Improving
Communication in Evaluation." NASSP Bulletin, 68(469), 31-38. [EJ 294 877]
Dunkleberger, G. (1982). "Classroom Observations--What Should Principals Look
For?" NASSP Bulletin, 66(458), 9-15. [EJ 274 276]
Ingham, P. and Greer, R. (1992). "Changes in Student and Teacher Responses in
Observed snd Generalized Settings as a Function of Supervisor Observations."
Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 25(1), 153-64. [EJ 448 630]
Lockledge, A. (1985). "Elementary Classroom Observations: Offering a Menu."
Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the National Council of States on
Inservice Education.[ED 280 824]
Miles, Paul L. (1989). "A Communication Based Strategy to Improve Teaching:
The Continuous Feedback Technique." Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the
Speech Communication Association. [ED 314 787]
Streich, W. (1984). The Anthropological Field Method of Classroom Observation
and Teacher Evaluation. [ED 243 196]
Sullivan, R. and Wircenski, J. (1988). "Clinical Supervision: The Role of the
Principal." NASSP Bulletin, 72(510), 34-39. [EJ 377 508]