Friday, May 19, 2017

Second guessing the observer

Schools usually observe their staff three times a year and a typical observation in a typical school goes along the following lines. The management (SLT) inform the staff when they will be observed. The staff check the dates then plan over the top lessons to show off their teaching skills and a multitude of learning activities that they think will meet the needs of the observation form. The observer comes in for an hour, observes the prepared lesson and checks it off against the school's so-called Ofsted proof observation check list. The teachers have access to this so called Ofsted proof list so will try to make sure the prepared observed lesson meets all the points on the it.
Instead of an example of how the teacher teaches on a day to day basis we end up with an all singing, all dancing, resource filled, three part mini plenary firework induced New Year's Eve lesson that attempts to check off all the ticks on the observer's form. The observation takes place and if the majority of ticks/green highlighted marks are in the outstanding columns the lesson is deemed outstanding which in turn promulgates the SLT deemed outstanding lesson format across the school. If the marks are found further across/down the tick sheet the lesson is deemed good/requires improvement/something you don't want to hear.

I would like to state that the above is a farce.

Teachers do not improve their teaching through this inane process. It only permeates the fallacy of the show off lesson and makes teachers work towards a box ticking exercise that has somehow being tied into performance management. Unfortunately, this is the current teacher improvement process that exists in schools today. It's an absolute joke and must be done away with. It does not improve teaching, it only makes teachers more stressed in an environment that has already become overtly stressful. So what can be done to alleviate the show off lesson observation culture and create a culture that helps teachers to improve their teaching? I recently read a post from a head teacher in London that has created such a process.

The idea is that schools rid themselves of the ridiculousness of one hour lesson observations carried out three times a year to be replaced by 10 minute weekly drop ins with same day feedback via email. The process is simple - it's built on trust, guided by a philosophy to support and improve teaching and agreed upon by all staff. The post was from Clare Sealy, a Head Teacher in London, and I suggested the same approach to my own school. They read her post, followed it up, asked more questions and low and behold, they are trialling the approach this term.

If you have an idea to make observations work for your school then talk to your SLT. Tell them, show them, explain it and who knows, maybe you too can have an observation process that improves teaching and learning rather than promotes the New Year's Eve Lesson display.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Enforce your primary school behaviour policy

Riot Control Formation (13253163743)

Thankfully we have no need of riot control in Primary Schools but according to some out there, behaviour in the primary classroom is getting out of control. I hear stories of teachers that dread a certain class because they know who is coming up, they despair at the thought of no uniform day because they know how certain children will react, they complain to SLT about the same children day after day but nothing ever seems to be done. Behaviour in a primary school must set the standard, there should be no excuses for poor behaviour. None. Yet, stories like this and many more tell a different story. So why does this happen, why does poor behaviour exist in primaries and why do some allow it to fester?

Every primary has a behaviour policy. That policy has to be followed, no, enforced, by every member of staff in the school. Not just the teachers but everyone. Even the caretaker. Everyone has a part to play to make sure the behaviour policy of the school is enforced. From the moment children walk into the school in EYFS until they leave Y6, there should be no excuses made for not following it. And this is where I consider the problem to be. Not with the so-called misbehaving children but with the staff and SLT who are not enforcing their own policy. 

Enforce your behaviour policy and stick to it. Never deviate from it, don't make exceptions. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Teaching and Learning metaphors

There are those that teach and there are those that create visual metaphors about teaching and learning. I present a few of the many teaching and learning visual metaphors currently to be found online and even on some school walls.

Thank you to @C_Hendrick, @HeyMissSmith, @MrHistoire and @StuartLock for the conversation that spawned this post.

There are probably many, many more but I think I've assaulted your senses enough. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Developing mastery in the classroom through personalised learning


To master anything you first need to be taught how to do it then have the opportunity to practice it, test what you've learned and practice some more until you get it. That's about it. Yet in schools we seem to ignore this and revert to a list of lesson requirements that appease an observation checklist. My presentation at The Telegraph Festival of Education explored this and suggested a few steps that any school can implement quickly to rid themselves of the unnecessary requirements that they have imposed on teaching.

During my time at the Festival I heard a number of teachers having conversations about education, as they would at such a festival, and the topic of mastery often arose. I used the image of the young child leanring to ride a bike as an example of what mastery is. The opening line of this post also defines it quite simply. So with my definition out of the way I got onto examples of great teaching provided by Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby from the brilliant Bright Spots post . I've appraoched teaching in this way for most of my career. I have also been made to teach according to what my SLT deemed Ofsted wanted to see in a lesson. What I have found about both approaches is that the latter doesn't work. It does nothing to help teachers become better teachers and creates the culture of the show lesson for observation purposes which has become so prolific across schools today, in fact my partner has just spent the better part of the evening creating her show lesson for a lesson observation she has tomorrow. And for what? So a member of SLT can feel important at having judged a colleague by ticking a sheet of paper.

So, let's say that you get this and want to know where persoanlised learning fits in. Well, I'm an EYFS teacher and have been for the last 3 years. What I have discovered working in this age group is how essential it is to build a complete picture of every child in your class. EYFS teachers build these pictures up through daily observations of the leanring that happens and we use this knowledge to provide opportunities for children to practice what they have learned, test their understanding through feedback that happens there and then and helps move the child on to the next steps. Lessons flow into one another, timetables are written in September and never followed from then on, the daily learning structure depends almost entirely on the needs of the child. And it works. Yet when those very same children go into Year 1 and they enter 'Proper Primary' the approach is dropped in favour of the 'what we think Ofsted want to see' approach. Children are herded into ability groups, lessons become forulaic due to the schools accountability regime and immediate feedback is replaced with multi coloured marking that takes hours to do. Personalising learning goes out the window and mastery becomes another box to be ticked in a lesson observation and book scrutiny.

Hammering mastery into your curriculum whilst still expecting teachers to teach according to what you think Ofsted want to see does not work. And it will never, ever allow children to master anything they learn.

I suggest you start looking for answers by reading Tom Sherrington's excellent 'Principles of Effective Teaching' post to gain an insight into how your school can start developing effective teaching and learning. And if you want to improve teaching through obsevations then please read Tom Boulter's recent post 'Making observation optional'.

For further information on how you can personalise learning in your classroom check out these posts 'Innovating learning requires innovating the classroom' and 'Personalising Learning'.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Switching on the Outstanding Factor

Every teacher has faced the impending lesson observation. Your senior leadership team have told you the date and what the subject will be. So you go home and start preparing for it, usually a few weeks in advance. You believe that you should approach the observation as you would any other lesson you teach but you know that your SLT want you to pull out all the stops. 

What should you do?

Leadership teams have an unfortunate habit of using Ofsted's whole school observation checklist for individual lesson observations. Many teachers will add bells, whistles and even a few fireworks to make sure the observed lesson has all the outstanding features that the Ofsted whole school checklist appears to mention. To gain outstanding you must tick all the outstanding boxes after all. Teachers will also add in additional features the SLT have deemed necessary due to reading up on other school Ofsted reports. These features may or may not help improve teaching and learning but because the school down the road had them in their latest Ofsted report then your SLT wants to see them included.

So your not planned for outstanding lesson looks like this.

  • Write the Learning Objective on the IWB (use of technology ticked)
  • Discuss said LO with the class and what it means - tick
  • Write a list of success criteria to achieve said LO (add additional criteria as you know your SLT like to see lots of them - tick)
  • Show a video/image to draw in the class (this can be related to the LO or not, just make sure the children are engaged - another tick)
  • Ask questions about the video/image but make sure you follow the recent no-hands up policy, use lolly sticks or even better use the class set of iPads lying in the ICT/Computing (what's it called?) suite/trolley and that app someone mentioned where you hold up a printed out QR code or something (lots of ticks here)
  • Model the lesson and play a game on the IWB (children can't come up to use the IWB as that would take up too much time) - ticks galore
  • Make sure children are not sitting on the carpet/chairs for too long as you have to make sure there is pace in the lesson (Mastery hasn't quite made it into your school's SLT lesson observation guidelines yet)
  • Send your Higher, Middle and Lower groups off to complete their differentiated work (tick, tick and tick)
  • Make sure your TA is with your Lower group and ask a few pertinent questions to show your control of the TA's function in the class -tick
  • Sit with one group for at least 10 minutes, ask lots of reasoning type questions and listen intently. Try that bouncing question technique someone mentioned last term (ticks)
  • As children are working interrupt them with inane questions so your observer sees you (tick)
  • Do not mark any work during the lesson no matter how strong the urge as your SLT said no marking during lesson time (see next point)
  • Lesson marking should be ticks and corrections, use corrections on the visualiser to demonstrate powerful learning opportunities (someone in SLT read this online and said it would be food to Ofsted) - ticks all round
  • Add a mini plenary every so often, not because you and your class need one but because your SLT insist on them - a tick for every plenary
  • Keep an eye on the time, the lesson cannot run over time nor should it end too soon. Let the children know when there are 5 minutes left.
  • Plenary time, your SLT want you to move the learning on so do not use this as an opportunity to go through errors or misunderstandings, this is a time to move the learning on. (ticks, ticks and ticks)
  • The observed lesson is over

Later that day you will discover whether or not your lesson was outstanding. 

Your class on the other hand will wonder why you were being such a idiot.