What’s wrong with more lesson observations?

I have two lesson observations per year.  One as part of an internal ‘mini Ofsted’ and another linked to one of my performance management targets.  Are these two observations enough for me to improve my teaching and therefore the students learning? I would say it is not.  I always self review my lessons and offer students the chance to offer open and honest formal feedback on a termly basis but sometimes I want another professional’s ‘outsider’ perspective.

From my knowledge, I believe we are only legally allowed to be observed once per term per academic year (= three altogether).  Does anyone else find this insufficient?  The majority of full time teaching staff at my school are timetabled for 26 out of 30 lessons per week which, over 37 school weeks (I think!), amounts to 962 lessons.  Even if we are observed just ten times over the course of a school year that is still only 1% of our lessons being observed during that window.  That’s not over doing it is it?

How would you feel as a parent if your son or daughter was only offered constructuve feedback from their teacher on three occasions in 37 weeks of school?  Would you deem that to be unsatisfactory practice?  I would guess that you would!

I think the current structure of so few lesson observations needs to be transformed quickly for both the teachers’ and students’ benefit.  I understand some teachers do not like the whole observation experience but that could be due to experiencing so few?  Some of these observations could be more informal ‘conversations’ with no Ofsted judgements awarded. Instead, the real focus would be on a two way professional dialogue on why parts of the lesson were successful or unsuccessful.  You could use the  ‘what went well’ (WWW) and ‘even better if’ (EBI) tactics here.

So, what do we all think?

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10 Responses to What’s wrong with more lesson observations?

  1. Viz says:

    Stick approach: first of all it’s a ‘recommendation’ that 3 obs are done – not a ‘law’.  How can ML effectively run a dept if they are not monitoring staff, i.e. observing on a regular basis; depending on size of dept at least one obs a HALF term.  It should be an expectation, by staff and SLT, this is done. If SEF is to be taken seriously OFSTEd will want to see a database on lesson obs –  can school / dept make effective judgement on 3 obs a year?  Therefore, schools have to make regular observations part of its culture; accountability at ML level.

    Carrot approach: I set up a ‘ champions’ team.  In this case each dept put forward their best KS5 deliverer.  They offered a ‘specialism’, starters for example, and invited staff to observe whenever convenient.  We agreed on brief IBI, WWW feedback for CPD.  it was start of what is now a very ‘comfortable’ observation culture.

    Sent from my iPad

    • Thanks for the response Chris. The ‘champions’ idea isa great one. I’ve read of something similar in Alistair Smith’s ‘High Performers’ where a school had ‘Lead Learners’ in different subject areas. Think I’ll share this one at school!!

      • Viz says:

        The other thing to consider is ensuring consistency in judgements. Another nice idea is to film someone, edit it and then get dept for example to fill in an obs form. I did this with our HoDs…got someone to film me…quite revealing how the judgement differ; what one person considers good another feels is not so good. We then ran CPD on effective obs and linking comments to evidence based observations. Judgements are now more secure and feedback much less subjective and therefore more effective.

      • You’re reading my mind pal. I have this on my ‘idea’ list for WHS. Thanks for the break down of how you did it, greatly appreciated! I will be getting back in touch for help.

  2. TAH says:

    http://community.tes.co.uk/forums/t/375385.aspx This is an interesting thread that picks up on PM and union ‘guidance’. I would agree that a max 3 hours of formal observation is appropriate according to need; but an open learning culture through ‘buddy’ style observations and a ‘coaching’ environment is by far the best one to nuture. Student teachers and NQTs are very used to this approach why stop it as soon as you are ‘fully qualified’ ??

  3. Zoe Elder says:

    Make a distinction between the purpose of observation:
    1. Observation AS development…learning from the process of observing, noticing, implicitly sharing effective practice. Do it with a colleague, leader, mentor, coach…
    2. Observation FOR development…select a focus (questioning, quality of teacher/student talk, explaining, pace, collaborative learning etc) and design a ‘capture sheet’ for that specific focus. You use the descriptive (not evaluative) information from the lesson as the basis for a coaching discussion (added impact with video & decent sound recording)
    3. Observation for benchmarking/ QA…relating to agreed criteria linked to OFSTED framework

    I do lots and lots of 2…happy to share formats & experiences with you! I use as the basis of a coaching programme and action research. Triangulate the three different types for a really rich reflective learning experience.

    Hope this is useful.

    Z

    • Zoe, thanks for your response. Your three distinctions make a lot of sense to me. I understand some teachers really fear any type of observation, but why should they? I love getting feedback on WWW or AFI whether it is a formal or informal observation. In my opinion, it is the main way to enhance both your experience of teaching and the students learning.

      I would love to pick your brain on this as from my own experience in the schools I have taught in, the observation strategies need a transformation so that a ‘rich reflective learning experience’ can be truly achieved so there is no fear factor involved for the teacher.

      Thanks,
      Matt.

  4. Viz says:

    The ‘union’ approach, as often is the case, generally obstructs rather than enhances what really matters. We should always ‘want’ to improve; it’s what we expect from students. How can this be done without effective feedback? Whether it is pitched as buddy, coaching, formal etc, it all adds up to the same in the end…what did I do well, what do I need to do to get better. As adults and professionals we should be capable of taking criticism and / or constructive feedback. I’ve become a better teacher because people took time to watch me and tell me bluntly, when needed, “that was crap”(cic). I would love to hear some good arguments as to why being observed is such a no no that it needs to be restricted to 3 a year….

  5. Ed says:

    Observation per se is not ‘a no-no’; excessive observation is. Perhaps you may work in a school where the senior staff are supportive, many are not so lucky. Lesson observation is an extremely potent tool for the bully. Bullying of teachers, especially NQTs is becoming more of a problem; see this article in the Guardian http://tinyurl.com/c8gyvph. Limits on observation exist to protect class teachers from intimidatory, negative and excessive observations. Schools leaders are coming under increasing pressure from Ofsted and some are transmitting that pressure downward to other staff in the school. You may be very comfortable having your lessons observed; many are not. Not because they’re ‘crap’ but because they just feel uncomfortable. Teaching is high pressure enough without the added stress, however light, of frequent observation.

  6. April says:

    You have to think of it as an overall aspect taking Students and Teachers into account. Although the teachers have a lot of pressure on their teaching techniques from the outcome of the students, schools and Ofsted observations which can indeed lead to bullying (depending), stress and mistakes. It is in fact the Students which have a mass amount of pressure. They are the ones which are observed by all their teachers every lesson, every day, that pressure is increased also by lesson observations made on the teachers.

    The point is that the teachers may have a lot of pressure on them during observations and i agree it may be due to the lack of these, but if the students have to learn to handle the constant pressure, why can’t teachers? They need more observations than we are getting so that they can learn that feedback both positive and negative is a good thing it is a way to develop, learn and improve.

    If the pupils can be put under pressure, the teachers can too and a way of that is to up the observations to a more reasonable number. Constant learning is what a school needs… It needs to be a balance of development.

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