Tim Cornwall

Encouraging observations

TEN welcomed Alan S Mackenzie as its February guest speaker

Alan Mackenzie, East Asia Regional Project Teacher Training Manager from the British Council led the 25+ Thailand Educators Network attendees into and through a comprehensive presentation concerning many teachers' greatest fear - being observed in class by administrators, teaching supervisors and even colleagues.

Fully aware of the sensitive nature of his presentation, Alan began by asking three pertinent questions related to teacher observations that helped to shed light on the diverse experiences and expectations teachers have: What happens in your school? What would you like to happen in your school? How could this happen?

With a shared view of how many teachers regard observations, Alan moved through a series of wh- questions concluding with concrete suggestions to employ when observing others or when reflecting on our own teaching.

In answering his first question, why is reflecting on teaching important, a number of ideas were raised including the fact that reflection encourages critical thinking, helps many teachers to make better informed decisions concerning classroom materials and management, increases confidence and abilities and helps to create better practitioners.

With this in mind, he moved to his second question - why encourage observation - and suggested that observations are an excellent way to learn about new methods; stimulate reflection on teaching, promote intra-faculty communication and, as many teachers present agreed, encourages learners in classes being observed to perform better.

The answer to who should observe included as would be expected, peer-to-peer observation and the various permutations of experience levels between the observer and the one being observed. Alan also suggested that observations do not need to be centered on the teacher, but could also include visiting classes to specifically observe the learners or the material being used.

Having already touched on the typical case in most schools in that observations are a one-time a year event, conducted by an administrator for contract renewal purposes, Alan suggested that observation were also useful when a new project is being implemented; when a teacher reports a successful learning event or a problem, when implementing a new idea and finally, when a manager notices a problem.

Having clearly defined why, who and when, Alan moved into the core of his talk and dealt with how observations should be conducted. First, classroom observation should be developmental and not judgmental; should also be seen as a two-way dialogue to be encouraged between peers.

Before the lesson talk through the plan, find out about students' previous learning, ask questions about the plan, and if necessary, make suggestions for improvements. During the lesson keep a complete and accurate record of what is going on and include notes as to learner responses and language use. Finally, immediately after the lesson review these notes, give the teacher a copy and ask them to read through and add comments for a discussion to be arranged later.

Alan also recommended that when observing teachers, the idea that sitting at the back of the room to avoid disturbing the class was, in fact, misleading in that no matter where the observer sits, students will be nervous. Instead, he suggested, sit mid-way toward the front, perhaps to one side, offering an opportunity to observe student reactions during the lesson.

Challenged on this point by a few teachers, Alan argued that he would even recommend sitting in the middle of the room and, if need be, move around. "While students," he agreed, "will be a bit nervous at first, they quickly adjust to the observer's presence and classroom dynamics should return to normal."

Returning to his core theme that observations should be developmental and not judgmental, Alan detailed how he saw this dichotomy reflected in the language employed by an observer when discussing an observation.

Judgmental language, Alan suggested includes statements such as good, bad, fine, ok, you should..., if I were you, I'd... and you didn't...

A non-judgmental approach would be reflected in comments that could include: if you were to do it again, what would you change; when X happened, did the learners do what you expected? Why?

Adding to these ideas, Alan recommended highlighting positive behaviour, I like the way you...
You got good results when... The students responded very actively to... You set up that activity very efficiently.

Adding to this repertoire of ideas to highlight the positive, Alan suggested teacher observations could be very useful in helping to identify talent and to encourage teachers to share it with their colleagues either as a short demonstration or in a how-to paper.

Alan also reviewed the need to encourage self-reflection:

• Why do you think that happened?
• What made that activity go well?
• How do you think you could get better results?
• What could you do to support the learners more?

Offered concrete suggestions to encourage change:

• Have you ever tried...?
• What do you think about trying...?
• What might happen if you...
• Do you think learners would respond positively to...?
• In the past, I have (seen other teachers)...?
• Do you think that approach might appeal to your learners?

And to promote action:

• So, how are you going to do it differently next time?
• When are you going to try this new idea?
• Why don't you try it out and tell me what happens after class?
• Let's work on a lesson plan together.
• Give me your worksheet for feedback before you take it into class.

Concluding on a short promotional message, Alan quickly reviewed six innovative video programs the British Council have produced using authentic footage from East Asian state school classrooms to showcase talented teachers from nine East Asian countries.

Centered on six areas, Storytelling, Meaningful Speaking Activities, Interactive Games, Teaching Aids, Classroom Management and Teacher - Student Interaction, the videos and manuals are available to help teachers in the region.

An extremely informative and lively talk, Alan's demonstrated his extensive experience in the classroom and as a teacher trainer and proved to be an excellent example of how the British Council continues in its role to

1. Offer practical assistance for teachers of English
2. Bring world class ELT experts to East Asia
3. Use international networks to create mutual understanding and share experience across borders
4. Build strong partnerships locally, regionally and internationally
5. Work with MoEs to achieve ongoing development goals

Upcoming Schedule

Wednesday, 10 March
**Tuesday, 30 March**
Monday, 10 May
Thursday, 10 June
**Monday, 12 July**

Teaching Tomorrow's Leaders
Pamela Hongsakul
Leadership Educator
Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Thailand's youth have witnessed a country in turmoil the past three years and been exposed to different leadership styles. What are they learning from it? Can leadership be taught? Some people have said you must be born with it - yet there are educational programs worldwide. Do they really work?

Pamela, regarded as Thailand's first Leadership Coach, has worked with student leaders and politicians since 2004 - including a governor, six MPs and four ministers. She currently offers customized leadership training classes to international schools to support the development of next generation leaders. Topics include Success, Power and Issues in Society.

Pamela's talk will appeal to anyone interested in programs that improve student leadership skills.

In 2004, Pamela created a groundbreaking Senior Seminar for students at Vajiravudh College, which aired on UBC-TV as ‘Future Leaders'. Taught to teenage slum leaders at the Duang Prateep Foundation in 2009 it is being introduced in international schools in 2010 to help develop multi-cultural youth.

Montessori 101 - A Thorough Intro
Patricia Barber
Shalini Dey
Modern Montessori International

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Started by the first female doctor in Italy, Dr. Maria Montessori, Montessori educational methods were developed over 100 years ago. Focusing on whole-child development, the method teaches children to become problem solvers and critical thinkers and since its start has been the educational beginning of many successful people.

During their talk, Patricia and Shalini will discuss Montessori benefits and will touch on the Montessori Philosophy including internal aides for child development, an absorbent mind definition, sensitive periods, laws of natural development and what is meant by a prepared environment, vertical grouping the role of the teacher.

Certain to be an extremely informative evening, their talk is certain to answer a great many questions a great many teachers have about Montessori, its practitioners and its students.

Thai Culture Course Unraveled
Dr Nikolaus Mische
United Educational

Monday, 10 May 2010

The 20-hour, Thai Culture & Ethics Course is required by all foreign teachers in Thailand. Why was it created and what can we really learn? How can we connect the dots and use cultural differences to student advantage in the classroom beyond what we already know.

Beginning with a closer look at us first, we will analyze and identify trigger points for frustration and self-improvement. Nik's talk will appeal to anyone interested in understanding important elements of Thai culture and what makes a good, 20-hour course.

Dr Mische, MD, UEC Thailand, an adjunct faculty person represents the State University of New York graduate program for international educators in Bangkok and international conferences. He is also a trainer at the TEFL Institute with an interest in culture and its impact on decision making.

Education in the UK - Past, Present and Future
Chris Thatcher

Thursday, 10 June 2010

The UK education system is one of the oldest in the world and has been recognized as one of the best by standards of the time. Is this still the case?

What are some of the key factors influencing educational developments in the UK? Are they sustainable and realistic and account for the needs of the various societal elements with an interest in a successful education process (indeed what IS a successful process)? What factors influence school success and what is the relationship with teaching and learning?

Is a good teacher in a bad school as effective as a capable teacher in a good school? How do we measure such things efficiently yet still maintain the right balance between assessment and teaching? Indeed what is assessment for?

Chris Thatcher was Head teacher of a large primary school in the UK for 20 years and became National Association of Headteachers President in 1999 working closely with the UK Government.

In 2002, he left teaching to work in the development of the then innovative on-line assessment field and in 2004 became SE Asia Education Development Director of Cambridge Education. In 2008, he set up a small education company in Thailand offering consultancy and support to international schools.

Challenges Facing Schools and Agencies in the Current EFL Market
Jason Alavi
Managing Director
The American English Language School

Monday, 12 July 2010

Recent changes in the EFL community have made it increasingly difficult for private language schools to make the same profit they enjoyed for the last 15 to 20 years. Why is this? How can language schools combat this trend?

The Teachers Council of Thailand, the government body that controls teacher licensing recently issued strict licensing requirements for those who wish to teach. Why is this and what can schools and agencies do to survive and prosper?

What are school and agencies legally required to do; and what responsibilities do teachers have?

Jason Alavi is MD and owner of The American English Language School, which provides English language instruction from a single student to large organizations. Its focus is recruiting, training and managing Non-Thai teachers in a variety of organizations, especially government schools.


TEN events start at 6.00 pm and our guest speaker starts about 6.45 pm.

For more information visit the TEN website or contact Tim directly on 081 834 8982 or via e-mail 


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