A Safe Space for Post-observation Feedback – Josette LeBlanc
It is safe to say that if you are an English language teacher someone is going to observe your class at one point in your career. In Korea, most English teachers are required to plan demonstration lessons at least once a year for supervisors, principals and fellow teachers, and maybe even twice a year for parents. Knowing this fate, when I ask teachers how they feel about being observed and receiving the feedback that follows, they often have two reactions:
- I don’t like being observed. It makes me nervous.
- I learn a lot from both being observed and getting feedback, and also from observing other teachers. It’s really valuable to my development.
The funny thing is that it’s usually the same teacher making both these statements. Why such extremes? I’d like to share my observation experience in the hopes of shedding some light on this paradox. Then, I’d like to look at some ways we could prevent a moment like mine from happening, and the implications these suggestions could have on how we not only give feedback to teachers, but also to students.
One experience with observation
The first time my colleagues (only two of them. We were in the same graduate program, and they were also my friends.) observed my teaching, I cried uncontrollably. It was embarrassing. I even had to leave the room because I couldn’t stop! Truthfully, I hadn’t even taught the lesson. I was pretty much just telling them about the speaking lesson I had planned a few nights before.
The crying began when one of my colleagues started asking what felt like were too many Why? questions. During the questioning, I felt overwhelmed because I was having a very hard time answering clearly and confidently. And that’s when the waterworks started. I think we were all shocked. What had happened to create such an uncomfortable moment? Needless to say, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on this experience to find out what triggered me.
The conclusion I’ve come to is that I didn’t feel safe. Even though I trusted my colleagues, I felt like I was being interrogated and judged. I was already feeling insecure about my lesson, and so I interpreted these questions as a confirmation of my inadequacy.
Puzzles can shed a positive light when shared in a safe space (puzzle from Centro Espiral Mana)
How to create a safe space for post-observation feedback
Knowing this was part of the reason I had my mini breakdown, when I started training teachers, it was very important that I try to create a safe observation space. I feel so grateful to be surrounded by educators/friends who could help me do just that. When I first started teacher training, Tana Ebaugh (SIT TESOL trainer and co-founder of the Pioneer Training and Education Consortium) was my guide. Most recently, I’ve had the privilege of training under SIT TESOL trainer, Mary Scholl, at her amazing school, Centro Espiral Mana in Costa Rica, and she has also given me invaluable guidance. The suggestions I offer below on how to begin the process of giving post-observation feedback are a combination of what I learned from them.
- Before anything, ask how the teacher/student feels about what just happened. If you are dealing with students, you may imagine a scenario where they just did a presentation or wrote an essay. By asking them how they feel, you give them a chance to vent, and most often, a chance to tell you what you were already thinking. If I put my experience next to this, if I had had the chance to share my feelings first, I may not have felt overwhelmed by the questions and suggestions I was receiving.
- Once they have shared their feelings, ask them if they are ready for feedback. The power of choice here is incredible. By giving the feedback receiver the choice, you give them a sense of security and control over a situation that doesn’t feel so secure. If I could have answered this question after the experience I shared above, I probably would have said no. I just wasn’t ready. Perhaps after a few minutes, I would have been ready to move on to the suggestion I offer below.
- If the teacher or student is ready or feedback, you can give them the choice to listen to positives (things that went well) or puzzles (things that didn’t go so well). Again, this choice gives the feedback receiver a bit of control. By being able to choose what they want to listen to, they are more prepared for what is coming, and as a result, they may feel less defensive.
Maybe I over-reacted. Maybe I’m too sensitive. But just maybe I represent students in your classroom or teachers you will observe someday. I hope these suggestions help you create a space where observation doesn’t have to be such an overwhelming experience.
Connect with Josette and other iTDi Associates, Mentors, and Faculty by joining iTDi Community. Sign Up For A Free iTDi Account to create your profile and get immediate access to our social forums and trial lessons from our English For Teachers and Teacher Development courses.