Looking in classrooms is one of the most basic requirements of school improvement, and yet it is one of the least practiced skills of teachers and one of the most contentious methods of educational researchers. When it does occur, it is difficult to agree on what to look for and even more difficult to agree on what is seen. This paper describes the approach to describing classroom practices adopted in a three year research project in four schools working under challenging circumstances. The research aimed to describe how these schools were attempting to change, and how they might conceptualise the process of change under these conditions. The 'findings' of the research were developed in the form of stories, that framed and documented the conversations between the participants and the researchers. The introduction of classroom observations, day diaries of the experiences of one class, was designed to disrupt the classroom practices that were taken-for-granted in these schools and leverage support for improvement focussed on teacher professional learning. The methods we adopted to write non-judgemental accounts of classroom practices are described, as well as the use we made of these accounts in reflective dialogue with school leaders and teachers.