What can psychology contribute to lesson observation processes?
- The person centred approach.
- Self-Determination Theory.
- Motivational Interviewing.
- Solution-Focused Brief Therapy.
1. The person-centred approach
The person-centred approach to psychotherapy was famously pioneered by Carl Rogers (1951, 1961). At its heart is a fundamental belief in the capacity of others to grow and develop, given the right environmental and interpersonal conditions (Rogers, 1951). In the context of lesson observation, an approach informed by person-centred principles moves away from the traditional focus on judgement and evaluation, and away from questions of whether practice may be ‘good’ or ‘bad’; instead, the observer seeks to create a non-judgemental space in which the observee feels safe to openly explore the reality of their practice and its impact. To support this process, the observer uses a range of skills to support the observee in reflecting on their practice and drawing their own conclusions about what they see. This emphasis on guided self-evaluation keeps the teacher at the centre of the endeavour, ensures that they remain actively engaged in the process, and increases the degree of ownership they experience. As Rogers himself noted:
“I have come to feel that the more I can keep a relationship free of judgment and evaluation, the more this will permit the other person to reach the point where he recognizes that the locus of evaluation, the centre of responsibility, lies within himself.” (Rogers, 1961, p. 55).
A person-centred observer works to create an interpersonal climate that is conducive to change by: demonstrating regard for the observee as a person, and valuing their experience and perspectives; communicating empathy for the observee’s feelings and views; and behaving with genuineness and transparency (Carl Rogers referred to these as the core conditions that are necessary for change to occur).
2. Self-Determination Theory
- Asking the observee to identify what they would like the observation to focus on, and what they would like to achieve from the observation process.
- Encouraging the observee to take a lead role in reflecting on and evaluating their practice (although this process can be informed by contributions from the observer).
- The observee determining the actions that will be taken following the conversation.
3. Motivational Interviewing
In their seminal work on Motivational Interviewing (Miller & Rollnick 2002, 2013), William Miller & Stephen Rollnick observe that people can effectively either talk themselves into or out of changing. Miller’s research showed that the more people make the arguments for change themselves, the more likely they are to subsequently change their behaviour. In contrast, if the interviewer is the one arguing for change, the more likely the person will be to ‘push back’ and seek to justify the status quo. Applied to the context of lesson observation, this has significant implications for the observer’s role. An observer following this principle will not seek to persuade or argue for change; rather, the focus will be on eliciting the arguments for change from the observee, using a range of skills to guide their reflections (e.g. questioning, listening, clarifying, drawing attention, giving feedback about the specific impact of actions). Through this process, the interviewer aims to develop the observee’s awareness of a discrepancy between how things are and how they would like things to be, thus giving rise to a motivation to close the gap.
4. Solution-focused brief therapy
- Finding out how the observee would like things to be different in the future, and then supporting them to plan how they can begin to move towards that future.
- Supporting the observee to identify the successful aspects of their practice, and seeking to nurture and grow them.
- Maintaining an assumption that the observee is a resourceful person who will bring strengths, skills and qualities to the engagement, and seeking to elicit and harness these.
- Helping the observee to plan small steps forward that will constitute a meaningful sign of improvement.
In this way, the observation becomes a platform for eliciting, clarifying and harnessing the observee’s strengths in the pursuit of their goals.
- The principles of the person-centred approach inform the creation of a climate that is conducive to change, characterized by regard, empathy, and genuineness.
- Self-Determination Theory reminds us of the importance of the person experiencing a sense of ownership over the process and their planned actions, in order to enhance behavioural quality, commitment and persistence.
- The principles of Motivational Interviewing can be applied to elicit and harness the person’s motivation to change, by: (i) avoiding arguing for change, instead using a range of skills to elicit the arguments for change from the observee; (ii) seeking to develop the observee’s awareness of a discrepancy between how things are and how they would like them to be.
- The principles and practices of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy guide us to focus on the observee’s strengths and qualities, and how they can be harnessed in the pursuit of their preferred future.
This illustrates how evidence-informed psychological approaches can be applied to transform the process of lesson observation. My next article will outline what this looks like in reality, in the form of a seven-step model.
de Shazer, S. (1985). Keys to Solution in Brief Therapy. New York: W. W. Norton.
de Shazer, S. (1988). Clues: Investigating Solutions in Brief Therapy. New York: W. W. Norton.
Miller, W. & Rollnick, S. (2002). Motivational Interviewing: Preparing People for Change (Second Edition). New York: The Guilford Press.
Miller, W. & Rollnick, S. (2013). Motivational Interviewing: Helping People Change (Third Edition). New York: The Guilford Press.
O’Connell, B. (2002). Solution-Focused Therapy. London: SAGE.
Rogers, C. (1951, 2003). Client-Centred Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications and Theory. London: Constable & Robinson Ltd.
Rogers, C. (1961). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy. London: Constable & Robinson Ltd.
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55: 68–78.