AITSL The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership

Observations on being choosy

Are you shopping for Classroom Observation Strategies? Good news! You’ve come to the right place: we have a choice of six. No, wait! Come back! What’s that you say? Too many choices? Surely not… But then again, maybe you’re on to something there.

In theory, we all like to have lots of choices in life, right? And to flip that idea over, there’s a school of thought that defines poverty as ‘the absence of choice.’ Nobody wants that. So could a situation of ‘too many choices’ really arise? Well, according to a feature in The Economist, the answer to that question is a resounding ‘Yes.’ It seems that for many people, having too much choice can be utterly confounding and paralysing.

The Economist reports on a consumer experiment conducted in a grocery store in California. On one day, shoppers were presented with a table of 24 jams. Plenty of people stopped, but only 3% bought a jar. On another day, only six jams were presented. Fewer people stopped, but 30% of them went on to purchase a jar. The lesson drawn from this experiment is that as options multiply, there comes a point where the effort required to differentiate sensibly overwhelms the benefit of having extra choice. The result is that baffled people choose to not choose, for fear of making the wrong choice – even when that ‘wrong choice’ concerns something as trivial as a jar of jam.

Sure, there are some people who embrace endless choices. Drop by an inner Melbourne laneway café and try listening to a hipster’s eye-glazingly detailed specification for his favourite concoction. It’s enough to drive you off to a corner shop for a jar of Maxwell House.

But let’s get back to where we started, with AITSL’s new offering of Classroom Observation Strategies. Our foundation idea is that classroom observation, when done well, results in colleagues collaborating to improve teaching practice and consequently student learning. As we suggested at the outset, there are several ways that you can go about it. Our dedicated web page sets out the choices clearly and simply, while enabling you to drill down to greater practical detail with some engaging video and written resources. We are really pleased with the way these resources have turned out, so we hope that they will add further impact to your professional practice.

I guess that the presentation of choices in some surprising places is not completely new. I remember in my younger days reading a novel called The French Lieutenant’s Woman. It was a great book, but a chief ‘novelty of the novel’ was that it offered three alternative endings for the reader. ‘Don’t like that ending? Here, try another.’ Maybe it was the author’s wry commentary on the consumer society, but I must confess that I did choose one ending and adopted it as ‘my own.’

With AITSL’s new Classroom Observation Strategies, here’s your opportunity to choose some classroom observation pathways and likewise adopt them as your own.

Please do visit the Classroom Observation Strategies page on the AITSL website and let me know your thoughts. 


Submitted by Shelley Callender (not verified) on

Hello, I love the way you have laid out this process. I like that you have a video and a pdf for help follow up. I have a question about the classroom observation strategies. I really like the idea of capitalizing on peers talents and making it non-threatening. What I would like to know is how did you release your teachers? I can see the value getting several together to observe each other, but what means do you do this through?

Submitted by editor on

Thanks for the feedback on the resources - we always love to hear that they're useful and that people find them valuable. Each of the schools in the videos put in place different structures to undertake the observations for example -  some used video to capture the classroom practice with conversations taking place in other scheduled PL time, some juggled timetabling to have groups of teachers out of classrooms at the same time to facilitate the observations and following conversations. While we can't tell you the best way to make this happen for your context, you might want to check out this report from the Grattan Institute that contains some ideas and examples of how other schools have made time for professional learning and development (including observations). Hope that helps!

Submitted by Shelley (not verified) on

Thanks for recommending this article I found it very informative. It had some really useful ways to free up time for teacher learning. I like how they state" More effective teaching is the key to improving school education. The best way to do this is through professional learning programs that seek to continually improve classroom learning and teaching. Professional development days in schools are too often spent updating teachers on changes to regulations and school policy instead of improving teaching and learning"
In an ideal world we could make sacrifices and allow time for PD. However, the article feels that "We cannot expect teachers to lift our students to the world’s best while also insisting they spend time on yard duty, pastoral care, and supervising extra-curricular activities." Unfortunately, that is the life of a teacher and it is almost impossible to eliminate those things. I'm wondering how the community took these sacrifice trade offs (ie. cutting back extra curricular?) I work in a small school (8 teachers) and unfortunately scheduling yard duty is a chore. That is one area where it would be impossible to "free time up"
I do agree that most teachers spend too little time on active collaboration and too much time on administration and coordination of PLCs. and allowing time for those things is an integral part of raising our teaching "quality."
The change strategy outlined also has some value. What do you do about those colleagues that don't embrace change as much as others do?

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