Classroom Observations: Think Holistically

Why this topic is important:

With the national focus on teclassroom observation 5acher accountability associated with state dictates related to Race to the Top Funding, principals must not lose site of the first priority of classroom observation: student achievement through classroom improvement. Many of the instruments being employed in the field today (Marzano, Danielson, MET, Strong) are valid and reliable, but not utilized to gain the maximum benefit. Due to time and personnel concerns, these observation tools may not be generating the reflective dialogue between principal and teacher needed to achieve desired improvement. Unfortunately, the push for classroom improvement may be falling short of the desired outcome and reflect Seymour Sarason’s (1982) fear of education reform: The more things change, the more they stay the same.


  1. Principals and other classroom observers need to utilize observation tools in a holistic manner, avoiding the temptation to view instruction as a series of parts or independent quadrants (reductionism).
  2. Look holistically at the entire lesson, asking the questions: What were the stated objectives? At the end of the lesson:  Were the objectives achieved?
  3. Adopting Hunter’s (1980) assertion that at the heart of teaching is teacher decision making, analyze the various teacher decisions and subsequent activities that either lead to student achievement or student failure to learn the stated outcomes.
  4. Analyze the outcome of the lesson and use the criteria on the observation instrument to categorize and document teacher successes and/or failures.
  5. Engage in reflective dialogue with the teacher during the post-observation conferencing by preparing inquiry-based questions related to the teacher’s decisions and subsequent student learning.

–Blog post by Gary Cooper, Ed.D, Executive Director