Efforts to improve teacher practice typically rely on classroom observations that give individual teachers direct feedback about multiple aspects of their teaching. The information is used in most states and districts to evaluate teachers and to shape professional development for improvement.[i]

But classroom observations can be challenging to implement at the school, district, and state levels. Some research on the effectiveness of classroom observation raises concern about potential bias in ratings and questions the tools’ alignment with what they purport to measure or what matters to improve learning. Equally significant, many administrators and teachers lack the training and pedagogical and content knowledge to provide useful feedback that results in better practice.

Cognia’s new formative Teacher Observation Tool—to be introduced in July 2021—eliminates these and other challenges. Developed by Cognia’s Innovation Lab to promote learner-centric classrooms, the tool is helps teachers improve their practice and can be used in all grades and classrooms, in remote or face-to-face learning environments. Rather than evaluating teachers, it provides actionable insights for improvement.

The Teacher Observation Tool is the newest resource Cognia provides to create an interactive educator learning community within buildings, across districts and states, and around the globe.

Powerful Feedback Across 23 Indicators

Using the tool, observers can provide consistent reviews—for teachers at all levels of experience—across 23 indicators.  Whether the observation begins at the start, in the middle, or towards the end of a lesson, it can be completed in 20 minutes.

The tool, which is easy to use and administer, enables schools to explore teacher instructional practices and delivery in promoting learner centric classrooms that meet the needs of every learner instructionally, socially, observable practices, exploring teachers’ best practices. In observing movement, active discussions, and instructions, observers can also determine content and pedagogical knowledge as well as how instructional strategies foster learner centric instruction. In so doing, it provides immediate information for teachers that supports their growth and development.

When used in concert with Cognia’s Effective Learning Environments Observation Tool® (eleot® 2.0), the new Teacher Observation Tool allows educators to get a 360-degee view of teaching and learning in the classroom. The eleot provides a clear picture of student behavior to indicate how well students are engaged in the classroom; the Teacher Observation Tool rounds out the picture by providing a nuanced portrait of what teachers do to provide learner-centric instruction.

Five Dimensions of Learner-Centric

Cognia designed the tool to help teachers focus directly on the learner and to stimulate dialogue among teachers and administrators about key aspects of teaching that make this happen. The tool enables administrators to gather information about teachers’ demonstration of specific research-based instructional practices and competencies across five dimensions of learner-centric teaching, including:

  • Culture and climate—Creating a positive environment that embraces each learner, creates enthusiasm for learning, and treats students equitably
  • Learning—Promoting clear expectations about the content and activity, implement lessons or activities that promote higher-order thinking skills, and deliver lessons that are relatable to students and aligned with their interests
  • Student Agency—Helping students develop a sense of self and demonstrate self-responsibility, efficacy, and determination
  • Essentials—Demonstrating core competencies of teacher effectiveness (including presence and disposition, pedagogical and content knowledge, and management of the learning environment), fulfil the needs of—and provide supports to—individual learners, and actively engage learners
  • Relationships—Building healthy relationships with and among students to foster growth

The tool guides observers to identify performance across three key factors—implementation of practices, how embedded the practices are in the classroom, and the effect on learners. Information is categorized on a four-point scale.

1 Not evident
2 Somewhat evident
3 Evident
4 Very evident


Benefits and Interactions Beyond the Individual Teacher

The Teacher Observation Tool is the newest resource Cognia provides to create an interactive educator learning community within buildings, across districts and states, and around the globe. This formative tools helps teacher learn through peer-to-peer observations and engage in reflective dialogue that comes from collaboration—where teachers work and learn together in a non-evaluative context. Through other interactive learning opportunities from Cognia, teachers can also share insights and successes with others, no matter what their level of experience, and regardless of distance and location.

At the district level, reports and data analytics will show aggregate performance in creating learner-centric classrooms. This information can help shape the focus of professional learning to address common challenges, paying attention to nuances for K–5 middle, and high schools.

Pilot Test and Implementation

Cognia conducted a pilot and field tested the tool with educators in Georgia, Kentucky, and Alabama in remote and face-to-face classrooms. Besides providing information that helped further improve the tool, the result of the pilot test and user experience focus groups revealed that:

  • Educators can gain a comprehensive view of teaching practice in 20 minutes.
  • Even the most experienced teachers gained abundant evidence from observations of each domain, which made the tool meaningful and encouraged them to change what they do in the classroom.
  • The most frequent domains requiring teacher improvement were in fostering student agency and relationships
  • A rubric provides guidance and is used to determine the extent to which teacher actions are observed in practice using the four-point scale in each domain.
  • According to teachers, the tool was sensitive to the flow of their lessons and the diversity of teaching practice. The tool proved to be flexible enough to recognize that there are different ways to ensure that learning is student centered, and teachers noted that the tool honored their work and is intuitive.
  • The tool is free from bias and sensitivity and is appropriateness for use in various contexts. i.e. across different content, grade levels, and instructional delivery models.

Cognia’s Teacher Observation Tool went through a rigorous development process that provided data for the Innovation Lab* to refine the content and was tested for validity and reliability.

The Teacher Observation Tool is expected to be available online in July to institutions that have chosen the enhanced or premium level of Cognia membership. Clear instructions will make it easy to implement, and a comprehensive resource guide will help unpack what observable behaviors indicate about learner-centric teaching.

As educators we too are committed to continuous improvement and refinement of our craft and practices. Cognia’s formative Teacher Observation Tool enables educators to learn and grow in our profession and to gain feedback that is constructive and learner centric.

* Cognia’s Innovation Lab is the ideation, data analysis, and solutions concept development arm of Cognia.

[i] Using Observations to Improve Teacher Practice, How States Can Build Meaningful Observation Systems, Reform Support Network, July 2015. https://www2.ed.gov/about/inits/ed/implementation-support-unit/tech-assist/usingobservationstoImproveteacherpractice.pdf  accessed 4/6/2021.

Miranda Bissoo, Ed.D.
Dr. Miranda Bissoo serves as the Senior Director for the Learning Lab at Cognia and works at the organization’s international headquarters in Alpharetta, Georgia, USA. IShe  is responsible for supporting the organization’s vision for education and continuous improvement by facilitating the ideation process, which includes environmental scanning, problem identification, researching, and conceptualizing and ideating new products and services, tools and resources.  Dr. Bissoo’s professional career spans 22 years in the field of education. Her experiences include classroom teacher, adjunct professor, and  state education specialist.  Dr. Bissoo has overseen several projects related to educational technology,  research and development, program development and evaluation, data validation and analysis  processes, and compliance monitoring.  She has earned degrees from Faulkner University, Auburn University at Montgomery, and Alabama State University.
Vicki Denmark, Ph.D.
Dr. Vicki Denmark previously served as the Chief Architect at Cognia. Dr. Denmark oversaw the design and development of solutions and resources for educational institutions to improve organizationally and most importantly, for students. She served as the subject matter expert for products, content, and solutions and identifies new opportunities that lead to innovative solutions for institutions. She holds a Ph.D. in Educational Policy Studies from Georgia State University.