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How Observing with the CLASS is Like a Painting of a Bowl of Peaches

22 Aug 2016 by Becky Danis

Sometimes people want the CLASS tool to be something it isn’t. They want it to be a checklist, perfect, or easy. Some people in observation training want to get all of the answers or codes “correct” (you know who you are). When I remind them that we focus on observers being reliable, or within one point of the Master Code, rather than being perfect, some people get frustrated (yes, you know who you are) and reply, “Yeah, but I want to be RIGHT, not reliable.” And this is my usual reply...

There is no way different people can see things with the same eyes. We all have different experiences we draw from when observing. We all have different ways of perceiving our environment. That is why we ask trained observers to make standardized, professional judgments using the Manual. There is no possible way for any two people to see the exact same thing. We cannot leave a classroom with the exact same photograph in our mind of the interactions as another person, due to our different life and professional experiences and our different ways of seeing the world.

But we can come away with a similar image.

We may have seen things slightly differently, but the overall image is the same. It's as if a group of art students was painting the same still life – a bowl of peaches, or an evening of Wine and Design with your best friends. The paintings would be different– there might be heavier brush strokes in one area, maybe a slightly brighter yellow used on another canvas, but if the participants followed the instructions (or in CLASS language, used the Manual) the paintings would be of the same image– a still life of a bowl of peaches. That is how I see observing with the CLASS tool. You may have caught an example of physical affection on one side of the room while another observer caught back and forth exchanges at the snack table. Because of this, we will never come away with the exact same photograph of a classroom, but if we are reliable and use the manual to guide our observations, we can come away with a similar image of the interactions.

So for those people who still are looking for perfection, (you know who you are), keep it up, the world needs over-achievers... but be kind to yourself in the process. And remember, you’re still reliable if your score is within one.

How do you respond to trainees who focus on always being "right," instead of on being reliable?

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