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  • Writer's pictureallisonjolester

The Art of Non-Evaluative Observation




Hi There!


Every day, you step into the classroom equipped with wisdom, dedication, and a generous dollop of patience. But in the daily hustle of lesson plans, grading, parent meetings, and more, do you ever stop to witness your own magic in action?


Today, let's dive into the transformative art of cultivating a non-evaluative stance in observing your teaching practice. We'll slow down, leave our judgment caps behind, and discover the wonders of non-evaluative observation. And oh, there's a fun twist - we're bringing video observations and analysis into the mix!


Why Slow Down and Hold Your Judgment?

Let's start with a little experiment. Right now, pause for a moment, and observe your surroundings. The humming of your laptop, the soft whisper of your fan, the distant chatter outside your window - these everyday moments often go unnoticed in our pursuit of next, next, next.


Teaching, like any other profession, tends to lean towards evaluation, comparison, and self-critique. However, when we're always in the fast lane, we miss the subtle cues that our students, our teaching styles, and our classrooms offer us.


Slowing down and observing non-judgmentally helps us recognize these small but impactful elements. This is not about grading ourselves; it's about understanding our strengths and the areas where we can grow. It's about seeing ourselves as evolving entities rather than static 'good' or 'bad' labels.


On a serious note, practitioner inquiry serves as a powerful reflective tool for educators, designed to inspire continuous improvement and deeper understanding of both teaching and learning processes. Within this framework, non-evaluative and non-judgmental video observations are vital in ensuring the findings/learning from the practitioner inquiry research is trustworthy.


Counter to traditional research models (e.g., positivism), the philosophy of practitioner inquiry appreciates and leverages the teacher’s subjectivity as an asset; it recognizes that each educator brings a unique perspective and set of experiences to the table, thereby contributing to a richer, more nuanced understanding of classroom dynamics. This subjectivity enhances the interpretation and analysis of teaching practices, but it also necessitates cautious, careful consideration.


While our personal lenses can illuminate hidden facets of classroom interaction, they can equally blind us to others, subtly nudging us toward hasty conclusions based on our biases or preconceptions. Hence, maintaining a non-evaluative stance during analyzing video observations is crucial. It encourages educators to approach the observation with an open mind, cultivating a space where the practice can be viewed as objectively as possible, free from the immediate influence of personal beliefs or expectations.


By actively resisting the urge to jump to conclusions, educators engage in a more thoughtful, deliberative process of reflection and analysis, thereby fostering a learning environment characterized by ongoing professional growth and a steadfast commitment to educational excellence.


Lights, Camera, Action – Embrace Video Observations

Okay, it may sound a little scary (or exciting, depending on how you view it!), but one of the most effective ways to observe your teaching practice is through video observations. Yes, recording your teaching session and analyzing it.


Video observations allow you to be your own spectator. They can be paused, rewound, and played again, enabling you to observe moments that might otherwise be lost in the real-time flux of teaching. Video technology provides you the opportunity to not only see but analyze and reflect on your teaching.


Seeing your class from the 'outside' could be a game-changer in your teaching journey. It encourages mindfulness, promotes self-reflection, and lets you view your teaching with fresh eyes.


Key Concepts to Keep in Mind

So, how can you use video observations to illuminate your teaching and refine your craft? Here are a few strategies to help you become the Spielberg of your classroom:


1. Lights, Camera, Intention! Before hitting the record button, set clear goals. What part of your teaching do you want to focus on? Maybe it's your classroom management, your use of questioning, or the way you move around the room. Like any great filmmaker, know what scenes you're aiming to capture.


2. The Cut is in the Action: Don't aim for a perfectly choreographed performance. The real value comes from capturing the raw, unfiltered reality of your classroom. Embrace the 'bloopers' - they're often where the richest learning happens!


3. Watch, Rinse, Reflect, Repeat: The replay button is your best friend. Watch your 'performance' multiple times. On the first watch, observe neutrally. On the second, zoom in on your goals. On the third, note students' reactions. With each replay, you'll uncover new layers of insight.


4. Critique, Don't Criticize: This isn't about nitpicking every 'um' or 'ah.' It's about gaining a broader view of your teaching and honing in on areas of growth. Remember, you're not aiming to be the next Meryl Streep of teaching - you're aiming to be the best version of you.


5. Share the Spotlight: Consider sharing your video with trusted colleagues. This can open up opportunities for feedback, collaborative reflection, and collective growth. Plus, it's always a hoot watching yourself on screen with popcorn and pals! (If you are worried about the cringe factor of watching yourself teach, I've got you - check out this article!)


Techniques for Analyzing Your Videos


Noticing, Wondering, and the "See, Think, Wonder" Routine

Ready to give this a shot? After recording a video of yourself in your setting, here's a simple, non-evaluative approach to begin with:


1. Noticing: Before you watch your recorded class, let go of the urge to judge or compare. Instead, just notice. Pay attention to your body language, voice modulation, student responses, and classroom dynamics. Don't assign any value; just notice.


2. Wondering: Now, let curiosity guide you. Ask questions about your observations. "Why did I pause there?" "Why did Ari look confused during the explanation?" "Why did that joke work so well in lightening the mood?"


3. See, Think, Wonder: This Harvard-developed routine is a great way to deepen your reflections. 'See' by observing patterns, 'Think' by interpreting what these patterns might mean, and 'Wonder' by asking questions that lead to a broader understanding of your teaching practice. This technique is problem-solution focused and provides a richer analysis of your video data.


Check out this post to explore these two approaches more in-depth.


But remember, the point here is not to uncover some glaring fault or pat yourself on the back. It's to engage in a thoughtful process of self-observation and understanding that leads to professional growth. What insights am I gathering about myself? About the students that I teach? Our classroom? School setting?


Stepping back to observe your teaching practice might feel like extra work on an already overflowing plate, but trust me, the insights and the growth that come from it are invaluable. It's an ongoing process, a journey where every step, every observation, brings you closer to becoming the teacher you aspire to be.


Once you have collected about four or so more observations and analyzed them using the non-evaluative approaches, you'll start to collect a lot of information on your practice. This is where things get juicy. Like Sherlock, you'll begin reviewing your observation notes, scouring them for clues - themes, repeated ideas, and patterns. Oh, things get exciting from there on! In a future post, I explore how to analyze your video observations notes. But all in due time, my friends. Let's just focus on collecting one video observation and practicing the non-evaluative approach.


So, fellow educators, ready to step back, slow down, and see your teaching magic in action? Lights, camera, and non-evaluative observation!

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