‘I’d like to see them teach an outstanding lesson’ – Teacher responses to observation

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‘I bet they can’t teach an outstanding lesson’

Comments like this are starting to annoy me. It seems to be a reaction to anyone that observes, for whom teaching isn’t an everyday occurrence.

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The problem is, comments like these don’t get us anywhere.

The Critical Thinking teacher in me thinks it is going into the realms of ‘Ad Hominem’ (attacking the arguer instead of their ‘argument’), which is flawed logic. In many cases it is based on the assumption that this person cannot achieve an ‘outstanding’ lesson themselves, and therefore the judgement they make on the lesson isn’t valid. And finally, ‘Tu Quoque’ is implied to justify a low grade from the observed (basing ones actions on those of another) i.e it’s ok that I got a 4 because they can’t get a 1.

None of these provide solid reasoning why a particular person shouldn’t observe them.

The question is ‘Does it matter?’

  • Does an observer have to be able to teach perfectly themselves in order to evaluate the performance of someone else?
  • If so, how could this work?
  • Should they have to ‘prove’ it to the person being observed?
  • Does this apply to ALL people who observe lessons? Internal and external?

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Firstly, it would seem that teachers want someone credible to watch them and evaluate their teaching (interesting to note a Twitter conversation this morning about students observing, but that’s a whole different blog in itself!). They want to know that what this person is saying they are saying because they know it and have experienced it for themselves.

I mostly agree with this however do believe that there are professionals who have the knowledge about teaching and learning to support and advise but don’t necessarily teach (or have relatively recently taught) outstanding lessons. Think about the advisors, consultants and ‘famous’ educational speakers schools invite in to speak on INSET days. When did they last have full ownership of a class and be responsible for the classes performance and outcomes? But schools still pay them thousands of pounds because what they ‘say’ is knowledgable, comes from experience and rings true. They might not have actually taught for years but we give them credibility for this enhanced expertise.

So if people insist that the person watching them is an outstanding practitioner, how would this ever work?

Internal observations

This would seem to be the easiest to fulfil. A school would have the rule:

‘You can’t observe any other teacher unless you have been observed teaching an outstanding lesson in the past X weeks/months’.

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Let’s think about the practicalities of this.

A highly respected colleague of mine, suggested that SLT should have an ‘open door’ policy on their lessons and that these should be models of good practice. All SLT therefore would have to be outstanding teachers. Shouldn’t be a problem, but what about those that don’t teach? Some Heads do not teach. Would you make them teach a random lesson? Does that count? Surely cynics would then say ‘Its easy to pull off ONE lesson, how about teaching a full timetable?’. In fact this is the same for all SLT. Many teachers claim the reason that they do not teach consistently outstanding lessons is due to the pressures of time. Doing a ‘one off’ lesson isn’t enough to prove you are an outstanding teacher over time.

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But it’s not just SLT that teach. What about all the observations for trainees, NQTs, PM, peer and departmental? These could only be done by outstanding teachers. Some schools would be fine. Others would probably not get any observations done at all!

External observers

The big problem.

How can practising Ofsted inspectors ‘prove’ they are an outstanding practitioner?

I believe that the Ofsted agencies are looking for new recruits who are currently working in a school. Note, currently working in a school, not currently teaching! Maybe this recruitment could balance teacher’s desires to have someone who seems more credible watching them.

It is also very interesting to note that @kennygfrederick told me that these agencies will not accept SLT applicants that have worked in a school which has been in a category. This is fascinating (another blog!) but I’m not sure if it is an effective solution to making inspectors more credible. Some of the best practitioners are drafted into schools that are inadequate so to tar them seems incredibly unfair. Just because someone works in a successful school does not necessarily make them credible in observation, especially if their responsibility in school isn’t directly linked to observations.

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In a discussion with @RoyWatson-Davis, we highlighted that ASTs and Excellent teachers seem to have the perfect credentials for observing. The problem is, that if you start taking out the best teachers from schools to observe and inspect, what happens to the overall standards in schools? The whole point of an AST was to stay in the classroom.

Would we have enough Ofsted inspectors if we put in measures to ensure they are outstanding practitioners? How would we ‘test’ them? Is a ‘one off’ outstanding acceptable or do they need to get an outstanding once a week or once a month? It seems that to actually implement this would be incredibly laborious.

Does it matter?

If we look to other professions and practices that may involve some form of observation it would seem not.

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Can Alex Ferguson play football for 90 mins, scoring goals and/or defending his half? Probably not, but he knows what a good player ‘looks like’. He knows what makes a good player, the skills required and how to develop these in an individual. He has the expertise and credibility needed and so it doesn’t matter if he can’t actually play himself. His observational skills are so refined he can probably pick out the small things that players do that make them an overall good or bad player.

I’m not sure this situation is completely analogous but gives some support to the suggestion that maybe someone that observes does not need to be outstanding themselves or at least doesn’t have to show it, to be credible.

The solution?

The problem is, I don’t think the people who use these phrases really care if the observer can teach an outstanding lesson or not. It’s used as a defensive phrase. Even if an observer were to turn up with copies of their own outstanding lesson observations I still think they’d make a different reason to criticise their credibility.

Essentially it comes down to people not liking observations and this comes from bad experiences, almost certainly where ‘outstanding’ hasn’t been achieved or the observer has caused stress or upset.

So my solution is, if you’re working in a school and you organise observations bear in mind that observers should be credible in teaching and learning in some way.

As to Ofsted, the same applies with everything else they do, you just have to ‘put up’ with it.

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