It’s time to rethink the way my school approaches lesson observations again. I have not done traditional graded lesson observations for some time now and have flit between thinking this is a good and a bad idea. In truth I am not sure an ‘observed’ lesson can truly escape the judgemental realms. Last year we populated the observation with a set of Non-Negotiable elements we expected to see in the lesson, such as:
Links to data
Knowledge of interventions and their impact
These were then developed into an ‘expected standard’ and this was the aim of the lesson observations – to prove that this standard was evident. If it was not then this became a development point. If it was – Hurrah, you met the standard expected… If it was strong it was shared as ‘good practice’. I feel we need to move away from this ‘accountability’ function to one in which true development can become the central purpose of the observation cycle. For too long observations seem to be a way of testing that teachers are doing what the SLT want them to do. The autonomy of the teacher is secondary to the whims of the SLT.
So, this year we are evolving:
Part 1: Pre – Lesson
The first development we are making is in the fact that the ‘teacher’ will meet with the ‘observer/s’ the night before the lesson. The purpose of this is to give the teacher an opportunity to clarify, share and contextualise their lesson. A chance to ask questions such as:
What are your concerns? What are you expecting to happen? What could go wrong? What could go right? What would this lesson look like if it goes well? And a bad lesson for you would be?
We are also trying to change the language we use as a school as well. Last year we had non-negotiables… this year my deputy has convinced me to use, ‘Certainties’. The things that make up the core elements of learning within the context of each class. I envisage there will be common themes as well as some nuances within certain settings (Especially our Specialist Provision lessons). We are looking to go in to discover the positives. Therefore another aspect of the pre-lesson discussion is around:
What do you want me to do, look at, challenge, support etc?
This is based on another deputy once telling me, “Brian, don’t bother turning up unless you are going to offer the teacher something in this lesson observation.” This was great advice.
Part 2: The Lesson
During the lesson the observer needs to keep to the topics discussed during the pre-lesson discussion. This will be a challenge from time to time but if we are to value this process and develop it we need to do this. Our lesson proforma has two distinct areas.
Strengths – things we observe that seem to add to the learning processes and seem to enable the learner to achieve the objectives;
GAPs – things that we observe that seem to block, confuse or add to the difficulties needed to be overcome so that learning happens.
Strengths are gathered and used to inform developments across the school.
GAPs are sometimes developed via CPD, PM or more general support.
You note I use the word ‘seem’. If I have learnt one thing from years of observing hundreds of lessons… Nothing is certain.
Part 3: The Feedback
This will be a revisit of the initial conversation. What were we talking about before the lesson? What are we talking about now? Why? Was the observer able to offer support within the key areas discussed? What conclusions have we come to? What are we going to do next? What have we ALL learnt?
The form will then be filled in together.
I have no idea how it will pan out. I know that it means it will take longer to do the traditional round of lesson observations. I know that we will still have to ensure that we have trust and the skills to make the right decisions… But, it’s got to be an evolution of what went before – and it is centred on learning about learning and teaching rather than listing teachers in order of perceived performance.