Can a Checklist Really Give You a Clear Picture of a Classroom?

Based on Dr. John Tenny’s whitepaper Observation Checklists vs. Observation Data


All professions have a system that measures performance. Employees establish measurable goals and document progress toward attaining those goals. Throughout the process, employees most likely meet with their supervisor to discuss progress and determine if change is necessary.

In education, a Professional Growth Plan (PGP) is equivalent to this in the business industry. Teachers use student and performance data from the year prior to establish goals for improvement in the current school year. After the PGP is approved, an administrator will conduct classroom walkthrough observations which are informal as well as district required observations which are formal as part of the performance evaluation system.

John Tenny, the developer of the Data Based Observation Method and ClassGather Software, found a common trend in many of the observation forms used by districts in this process that concerned him.  Since the observations are intended to be unbiased and data driven, he was struck by the “general nature of most them, and the lack of specifics in the descriptors.” He noted that most were checklists based on a Likert Scale by default – observed/not observed, rating scale, poor to great, and so on. The problem with this is that those checklists do not produce an accurate picture of what happened.

eval checklist

Dr. Tenny was bothered by the checklist or scale methods and believed that they were not helpful in having authentic discussions with teachers on their classroom performance.  For example, if the standard to be observed is, “Establishes and maintains an orderly and supportive environment for students,” and the observer checks ‘observed’, does that mean the class was at one point orderly and supportive? Or does it mean that the teacher was able to bring the class back on topic when they became disorderly? Or perhaps it means that what was observed was actually that the teacher made positive, encouraging comments since the standard to be observed also includes that criteria.  Do you see where this ‘checklist’ method of observation could create a problem?

With these problems in mind, Dr. Tenny designed the ClassGather Observation tool to compliment the Data Observation Method.  This method consists of five parts:

  • 1) Identify Standards
  • 2) Create Indicators
  • 3) Set Criteria
  • 4) Collect observable objective data
  • 5) Analyze and Interpret Data

ClassGather allows an observer to complete steps four and five with the assistance of software.  The ClassGather software tool is an easy, efficient way to collect the objective data needed. By using the time sample data collection approach and repeated sweeps of the class to record student behavior, an accurate, data based, objective picture of the class is produced.  Once the data has been collected on a mobile device, it can then be synced to the program on the user’s computer.  This allows data reports to be created based on the objective data collected.

By using a data driven observation tool, such as, ClassGather, the bias and judgement often associated with classroom observations can be removed. This creates a more receptive environment for the teacher being observed and makes the post observation conference more meaningful.  Teachers appreciate nonbiased feedback to assist in their professional growth, but this can only be accomplished with concrete methods for collecting the data in a nonjudgmental fashion.

Interested in learning more about Dr. John Tenny’s research and the ClassGather tool? Visit us at and download a trial version. We also encourage you to read some of the whitepapers available and request a demo.  ClassGather has the ability to transform the way observations are conducted and perceived making the process healthier and happier for all!