Deliberate Practice in the Wake of a Bad Observation

Feedback comes in many varieties—and they’re all useful

By Scott Sterling

As a teacher, you’re used to observations, especially if you work in a Marzano-inspired system. You do your best to prepare, but sometimes things just don’t go as planned. Perhaps a projector bulb blows, a more challenging student had extra Nutella with breakfast, or it’s just that the lesson fell flat. It happens.

But what if the problems in your observation go deeper than that? How does the dedicated educator rebound and use that sort of feedback as an opportunity for growth?

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First, remind yourself that it’s not the end of the world. You’re not a bad teacher. You’re not going to be fired (unless it was a really bad observation). You’ve just received negative feedback. Everyone who has ever been great at anything has been in the same position. But now it’s time to go to work…

The Deliberate Practice Cycle

We’ve had a couple of posts about deliberate practice on Teach to Reach. One in particular introduced the Deliberate Practice Cycle:

  1. Find a model of effectiveness
  2. Set goals
  3. Focus your practice
  4. Receive targeted feedback
  5. Observe and communicate with other teachers


The response to a bad observation is slightly different only in that you’ve started at the fourth step. You’ve just received (negative) targeted feedback. It becomes the catalyst for the rest of the cycle, but the steps are the same.

An Example

Let’s say that the point your administrator made in your observation that stung the most was that your classroom management was lacking. Students in the back were not engaged, to the point of disruption. It may have been an off day for those kids, but it doesn’t matter. It’s time to find a model of effectiveness.

The best option is a colleague or mentor who you know has fantastic classroom management skills, especially if he or she has classes that are more behaviorally challenging than yours are. Worst-case scenario, there are plenty of books and blogs that cover the topic (including our sister blog over at the Marzano Center).

Study your model with an eye toward actionable goals that you can set for yourself. Once those goals are set, how do you know whether you’re on the right path? Is your practice improving? One of our favorite tools for deliberate practice is to set up a simple video camera during a series of lessons.

Eventually, you’ll stop performing for the camera and start doing what comes naturally (which may be what needs improvement). Study yourself with a critical eye. In the case of classroom management, there are also certain data markers you can study. How many redirections did you require during the lesson? How many consequences were handed out?

Don’t be afraid to receive feedback (again)

If you find yourself in a tricky spot, send the video clip to your mentor or the administrator who performed the initial observation and ask for their opinion. Not only is that feedback valuable, but it also shows that you’re being proactive. And you’re receiving more targeted feedback.

Your next observation might not be for a while, which gives you time to work on step 5. Observe more teachers, who are both great at classroom management and who also need some work in the area. Then get them together to discuss topics and improve everyone’s thinking. Think of it as a targeted PLC—and it’s a better use of time in the teachers’ lounge than gossip.

Remain positive during the deliberate practice cycle. The feedback you initially received was gathered by a fellow educator who wants the same thing you do: complete student success.

Have you ever had to bounce back from a bad observation? How did you do it? Share your thoughts with your colleagues in the Comments section.

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