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Guidelines and Etiquette for Observers

Before Observing

  • Contact ELI Director Priscilla Faucette (faucette@) for recommendations and to receive permission to approach a teacher. Do not approach the teacher directly.
  • Once approved, you may contact the teacher directly to ask permission to observe their class, explaining your purpose for observing.  Keep in mind that it’s the instructor’s right and professional responsibility to decide whether or not you can visit their class.
  • Avoid observing during the first two or three weeks of a semester. Arrange to observe at a time that is convenient for the teacher.
  • Before  the observation, check with the teacher to see if they would like to meet with you in advance and if they are willing to meet with you after. It helps if you know in advance about the class you will be observing — what the course is designed to do, what level the students are at, what the teacher is planning to do in the specific class to be observed and why. This could help you to make more sense of what it is that goes on in the classroom.
  • Other things to double-check with the teacher prior to the observation are:
    • where you should sit in the classroom.
    • whether they will introduce you to the students or you should briefly introduce yourself.
    • whether or not it’s all right to move around from group to group during group-work activities.
    • whether or not you are going to participate in activities or just observe. Generally speaking, it’s  preferable not to participate while doing an observation.

During the observation

  • Arrive before the class starts (not at the moment the class begins) and wait outside until the teacher arrives and directs you where to sit. Stay throughout the entire class period.
  • No matter how non-threatening and cooperative the observer may be, observations are an imposition on the teacher and the students.  Also keep in mind that the observation should be a positive experience for both the observer and the instructor and students.
  • Remember, that it’s the teacher’s class, not yours. This seems obvious, but sometimes it’s easy to form impressions, without even realizing it, that may not fit with the context or the teacher’s goals.
  • Don’t do things that disrupt the flow of the class or draw attention to yourself (e.g., don’t chat with students while class is in session, don’t get up and walk around to observe individual students while the teacher is giving instructions or lecturing, don’t make facial expressions or gestures that indicate disapproval, or anything else that may interfere with what the teacher is trying to accomplish or with student-teacher rapport). Be as discrete as possible.
  • If the teacher is comfortable with having you move from group to group during group-work activities, it’s better to eavesdrop inconspicuously than to join the group.
  • When the class has ended, thank the teacher (and, if possible, the students) for allowing you to observe them.

Debriefing (optional)

  • If the teacher agrees to meet with you for a debriefing, it’s a good chance for you to ask any clarifying questions you might have and to learn from the experience.
  • Debriefing should be done as soon as is feasible after the class session, while the events are still fresh in mind but at the teacher’s convenience.
  • In a non-evaluative way,  you may ask questions to clarify some things that happened in the class (e.g., “I’m very interested in learning more about XXXX. Could you explain why you set up the XXXX activity the way you did?” perhaps followed by “How do you think it went?”
  • If you are a novice instructor observing someone with a great deal of teaching experience, it’s even more important to approach the debriefing from the perspective of finding out why the instructor made the choices they did, which can provide you with a number of insights to inform your own teaching. At the same time, just because someone is an experienced instructor, it doesn’t mean they are perfect, but you are not there to evaluate the teacher.

And After All is Done

  • If you write a report or paper that is informed by the observation, it is considered common courtesy to offer the instructor a copy.
  • A short note, or email message, thanking the instructor for allowing you to observe, is a thoughtful gesture.

Revised June, 2023