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.