After the lesson observation: Getting it right

Written by: Archie McGlynn | Published:
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Last week, we focused on how schools and teachers can ensure ‘better’ classroom observation and evaluation. Archie McGlynn now looks at how we can get the
post-observation interview and follow-up right

It can be argued that the post-observation interview is the most important part of observing and evaluating learning in the classroom. And yet, in my experience wherever I have worked, it is often not done well.

This can be for a variety of reasons, such as the interviewer sometimes lacking essential interviewing qualities and/or experience. Sometimes insufficient time or priority is given to the follow-up or sometimes momentum is lost because there is a long delay between observing and interviewing. And sometimes the focus is on weaknesses, with little mention of strengths.

Last week I described a workshop process I have undertaken in schools to help establish better classroom observation practice (see further information for link).

In these workshops, at the end of the evaluations of learning in the videos observed and ensuing discussion about what makes for good observation and evaluation, I introduce the importance of the post-observation interview and follow-up.

I ask a volunteer to role-play a teacher from one of the lesson videos and a second one to be the line manager doing the interview. I usually repeat the process with two new volunteers and sometimes I suggest we have joint interviewers.

Participants are asked to note the questions, issues and overall style of the interview, and evaluate critically before coming up with a standard agenda which could form the basis for all post-observation interviews.

I find the participants really get involved and start reflecting on their own interviewing style. On some occasions, I have enlisted the support of the actual teachers featured in the videos by inviting them to be interviewed live following the workshop’s deliberations (it is always a big surprise to unveil the teacher and it enlivens things).

I now play a recording of my real post-observation interview with the teacher. I use it to get across the messages below in my guidelines for the interview. Participants are invited to observe, note my questions and how the interview is structured into four stages (see below). We discuss participants’ observations and compare these with my own so as to come up with an agreed agenda for action as a basis for all interviews.

Interview: Basic guidelines

Here follows my basic guidelines for the interviewer and for the process of the interview.

  • Agree time and place for the interview, which should take place within one to three days of the observation.
  • The setting is crucial and should be comfortable, non-authoritarian and private (I advise headteachers/principals not to use their own office).
  • Set aside adequate time, free the diary, give this priority (remember that teachers are, along with pupils, the key players in the success of a school).
  • Empathy is all-important – what is it like to be in the other person’s shoes?
  • The division of time should be around 70:30 in favour of the interviewee – the principal aim is to allow the teacher to talk about the experience and self-evaluate.
  • Allow around 45 minutes – and allow no disturbances during the interview, and certainly no mobiles.
  • Organise your feedback – show that you are focused.

Once the basic guidelines are in place, I then go on to break down the four stages of my approach with the workshop participants.

Structuring the interview

After setting the tone – relaxed and positive – for the meeting, step one is to share how I would like to structure the discussions (I also remind the teacher that it is fine to take notes as we proceed).

  • Stage 1: Teacher shares her/his thoughts.
  • Stage 2: Interviewer offers her/his views.
  • Stage 3: They reach agreement on three or four action points which are written down to form the basis for follow-up professional development.
  • Stage 4: The teacher is given the final word before closing the meeting on a positive note.

There is, of course, interchange and overlap during the four stages. Here is my usual approach to these four stages, which can be varied according to the circumstances – flexibility is all-important:

  • Invite the teacher to review the lesson, how they feel about it, what went well, the strengths.
  • Let the teacher talk about the aims of the lesson, what the pupils were expected to take away from the lesson, and what did he/she feel about the quality of learning.
  • Ask the teacher if there was any particular aspect they really liked or enjoyed (a highlight).
  • Ask if he/she would change anything if the lesson was to be repeated.
  • Close this stage by giving the teacher the opportunity to express views on aspects not touched upon.

Interviewer feedback

I share my overall thoughts and always focus on strengths to begin with, and try to relate what I have to say to the teacher’s own evaluation in stage one.

I then highlight two to four aspects for improvement and ask the teacher to comment. It might be, for example, about the time management of the lesson or classroom management or questioning techniques.

I encourage interaction and always draw on the lesson and my notes to illustrate key points. Teachers are impressed by an interviewer who can talk through the various parts of a lesson with exact timings.

At this point the two of us share our evaluations in line with the school’s approved methods for evaluating learning. This is coming after I have established good rapport and we are engaged professionally.

I make sure the teacher knows that I have written down my evaluation before he/she does the same. Openness is all-important in creating trust. This is not about giving some definite judgement, it is about getting a good feel, a good indication, for where we both judged learning to be.

I have found time and again that in the vast majority of cases the teachers’ evaluations are more or less in tune with mine. While some teachers place themselves higher than my assessment, there are equally just as many who place themselves lower (interestingly enough it is often the teachers given the top evaluations who are the most critical of their performance).

The coming together is about mutual trust; the teachers being observed and evaluated need to feel a sense of objectivity and fairness – always underlining that the aim is to improve learning and teaching.

I also evaluate every lesson observed on what I call the learning-teaching continuum – student-centred learning at one end and teacher-centred at the other. I ask teachers to do the same. We can use the outcomes in a professional way to get an overall feel for style of learning and teaching, not only in the one lesson but also for the school in cases where the observation covers many teachers. Again, our views are usually very close.

Action points and a final word

The third stage is to agree three or four (and no more) aspects to be followed up by the teacher, building on strengths and focusing on aspects to be improved. The on-going professional development will be tailored to the individual school policy. My experience is that for most of us three or four follow-up points is quite sufficient – focus on what really matters.

And then, the teacher should always be given a final word before closing the meeting on a positive note.

Follow-up workshops

I have also introduced a fourth stage in recent years in my work with schools, and I encourage the school leaders I train to do something similar. At the end of the observations and follow-up interviews, I prepare a learning and teaching workshop, around one hour in duration, for the teachers I have observed.

It is interactive with a focus on how to improve learning. I tend to draw out some of the highlights while giving teachers opportunities to share experiences of the observation and evaluation process.

I find that teachers really enjoy the interaction and the opportunity to consider learning and teaching as a group. It also sends a message that the observer, the reviewer, is willing to practise as well as preach.

Nine things to always remember

Following the workshops I run with school leaders, I always leave the following advice:

  1. Always remember that the aim of observing what goes on in classrooms is to bring about improvements in learning and teaching. The follow-up is crucial.
  2. Always remember the importance of empathy – treat others with the respect that you would expect from them. A teacher who feels that the process has been objective and professional will be more likely to follow-up your advice.
  3. Always remember: it is a privilege to observe and evaluate a colleague in the classroom. The teacher deserves your full, undivided attention during the observation and in the follow-up interview.
  4. Always remember to start with the strengths and the importance of giving praise when praise is deserved.
  5. Always remember to be rigorous and objective when observing and evaluating – just highlighting good points and forgetting to discuss aspects for improvement will not do any favours for the teacher or the pupils in the school.
  6. Always remember to take notes in an organised way during observation and record personal highlights that can help illuminate the sharing of feedback to the teacher.
  7. Focus on what really matters, not minutiae.
  8. Always remember that the way to improvement is through knowing thyself – self-evaluation is a strength not a weakness. Ask yourself how do I compare in my classroom.
  9. Always remember that the art of classroom observation is a learning process – there are always new things to be learned and new experiences to be gained.


  • Archie McGlynn is an independent education consultant. He is founder-director of the Hong Kong Schools Self-evaluation Network (2004-2015) and founder-director of the Hong Kong Scotland School Improvement Partnership. His book, co-authored with Professor John Macbeath, entitled Self-evaluation: What’s in it for schools?, has been translated into Swedish, Italian and Slovene. Archie was formerly HM chief inspector of schools (Scotland) where he put in place How Good is Our School, self-evaluation guidelines.

Observation: Part 1

Archie’s first article, Getting observation right (SecEd, October 2018), can be found at http://bit.ly/2OimUF3


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