Three Steps to Heaven (or at least making observations more meaningful).

This academic year, I have observed, and been observed in, an enormous number of lessons. Some of these observations have been useful, informative and helpful to those involved; most have not; and most of those that were not were ones where a judgement on the quality of teaching was made.

The following three practices are far from revolutionary, but they all offer opportunities for teachers to develop, both on their own terms and when working with others. Perhaps because of this, I have seen each of these processes going a significant way towards restoring (if it originally existed!) faith in lesson observations and, more importantly, increasing professional trust and respect between colleaugues.

1. Observing the observer- For every lesson that was observed by a senior teacher, the teacher observed had the opportunity (not always taken up) to watch a follow-up taught by their observer. Follow-up lessons focused on modelling / demonstrating pedagogical points discussed during the original feedback. The impact of this on professional trust was enormous.

2. Reducing formal, graded observations but increasing ‘drop-in’ developmental visits- In my current school this is an accepted and welcomed practice. Drop-in visits are unannounced, short, focused and regular. No judgement is made but two positives and one point for development are discussed in a very brief feedback session.

3. Increasing opportunities for peer-observations- Is this an underused means of professional learning? Although the logistics can be difficult, we have worked in pairs to identify and develop pedagogies and strategies which will improve our teaching. The simple opportunity to spend the occasional hour in somebody else’s classroom is enormously beneficial: gains have been made in marking techniques, behaviour management strategies, inclusion and the use of learning walls to reference just some of the positives.

And so a final thought: ought not the ultimate purpose of a lesson observation be to improve learning? Through using a variety of non-judgemental, development-led models, we can begin to dismantle the fear and mistrust that surround lesson observation; we can begin to help each other learn professionally; and we can use our own learning to improve children’s learning.

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