RIP Lesson observations. RIP feedback.


I’ve been thinking about and discussing lesson observations this week. So I thought I’d share my thinking.

A summary of mine and others’ experience of lesson observation is the following:

* You’re told (or sometimes not) that someone is coming to observe you. It could be anyone. Trained or not. SLTS or otherwise.
* They stay anything from 20mins to the whole lesson.
* They have a set of criteria they need to find evidence of. Until recently the evidence was just watching the lesson.
* They ticked what they saw or what they think they saw. Some came with ideas in their head already as to what does/doesn’t fulfil a criteria
*They complete the observation proforma. At the bottom there’s usually space for a grade (or four) and strengths/areas for development.
* They arrange a time to ‘feedback’
* In this time they say what they think they saw and what they thought was good and what they thought they didn’t see became an area for development. In some cases they might ask the observed ‘How do you think it went?’ They pass the observed the piece of paper.
* The piece of paper was filed and not seen again unless put in a PM/threshold folder
* And if the teacher was unlucky, had the ‘wrong’ observer, a pedant watching, an inhumane leader or untrained eye watching them it may finally result in soul/career destroying consequences. As a minimum, tears and at its worst losing their job.

So what was the point of all of this? In many cases it was done to say it had been done. For some they could enter the numbers on a spreadsheet and in rare cases it might link to some sort of CPD that might help address the area for development.
The benefit of this model was it was relatively quick (lesson, writing, feedback) and it didn’t require much thought or engagement from either side. It was mostly seen as a judging process and the judge had power to make or break.

Now things are moving on from this model and I’ve had thoughts on how things could move from ‘Lesson observation’ to a ‘Review of progress’ coaching process that is very different.

It is important at the start to say ‘why’ are we doing this? What is the purpose of this process? If it is for PM or to tick boxes we’re on a loser.

My belief is that anything that is done in this process should benefit the teacher and in turn directly benefit the students or help to develop the reviewer in a particular way, that doesn’t include for the benefit of their spreadsheet.

So I propose that a range of aspects are looked at some of which I will discuss:

  • Teacher discussion
  • Student discussion
  • Questions posed
  • Book look
  • Data
  • Live classroom experience

The first and most important throughout the whole process is…

Talking with the teacher (with all other documents with you)

Not one thing should be judged or decided or added as an area for development or written without a discussion with the teacher. The ideal that this is well before the reviewer goes into the classroom. If not, there should be a reasonable amount of time for the discussion after the lesson.

I propose we ditch the phrase ‘feedback’. It has developed connotations of judgement, that the person observing is in some way in a higher position to make a comment or that it is being ‘given’ to the teacher. In a coaching model what is recorded is what has been discussed. Strengths and areas for development are decided by the teacher in the after lesson discussion NOT on a piece of paper handed to them by an observer. Let’s say ONE thing is enough to develop, unless it is a simply resolved area.

The data must be discussed. No judgement must be made by a reviewer about the data without a discussion. Data can be very informative but also very dangerous.

Questions posed

I propose that as part of the review the reviewer comes up with key questions for the teacher and students before, during and after the lesson itself. These may change with the lesson. Every proforma should have a large space for questions and these must be asked either in the lesson or in the after lesson discussion.

It’s the answers to the questions that are important. They are the things that can help create a full picture of what is happening.

Have you ever asked a teacher you’re watching…

  • How is it going with this group?
  • How do you know?
  • What have you already tried with them?
  • Why did you do X? Did it work?
  • How might you resolve X?
  • What is working well with them?
  • What are the challenges?
  • What happened in previous lessons?
  • How does this lesson’s learning sit in the overall scheme?
  • What will you do with them next lesson? Why?

Coaching and asking the right questions is far more powerful in terms of development than giving a target in a ‘praise sandwich’ and writing down a target for a teacher they don’t agree with.

Book look

Another dangerous process that without full explanation from the owner of the book and the teacher can really misidentify what is going on. Is it really possible to see ‘learning’ from a book? Can you see ‘real’ progress?

In no circumstances should a teacher have their books reviewed and recorded ‘results’ on paper without a discussion about them.

Why are we doing this?

Giving grades has always been dangerous. They is a tendency to think that 2 is good enough and people take a sigh of relief when they get a 2. There are huge issues using numbers. We’re moving from using them with students so let’s replicate this with our own development. Using a coaching & reviewing model means that the teacher themselves are ‘in control’ of the outcomes and even someone considered to be ‘Outstanding’ has an opportunity to reflect and think about what they’re doing and the impact it is having. The review should not be in isolation and the decided areas for development should form part of the teacher’s personal development focus. If this model was fully implemented I can see that it could work with the PM process. But that’s another blog.

The past few years and weeks have reminded me…

Observations can be emotional & tiring.

We generally try our best.

We generally want a positive experience & to be appreciated.

We are humans.


4 thoughts on “RIP Lesson observations. RIP feedback.

  1. Very interesting, I like the ideas you propose as an alternative to the current model of CPD/required lesson observation. There certainly is a problem with the “tick box” approach, especially considering the constraints of watching one lesson in isolation. Your proposals seem very sensible and I would love to hear how it works as you implement it. Generally speaking I think the focus of observations, work scrutinies, etc is in the wrong place, we should be trying to share best practice from across a school, that’s where the emphasis should be.

  2. Pingback: The Twenty Five Four Percents – TLAB15 | tlamjs

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