“Thou shalt not judge” – Lesson observation without judgements

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As I’m in the process of moving to a grade-less system I’ve been reflecting on one of the biggest issues I think it is important to deal with; no judging.

There is a difference between not giving a grade and not judging. I’m guessing that lots of schools will essentially carry on judging but just not put a number at the bottom of the page. I’m not convinced that this is the way forward.

The problem is that I, along with many other teachers have only ever experienced someone judging our lessons. There are huge issues with this. Many have blogged about the issues with an observer wanting to see a preferred teaching style. I’ve regularly heard people say ‘X likes group work so I will do group work’ when preparing for an observation. It’s natural to do so.

However I think we need a real shift in our focus of observations, particularly if schools take a coaching model. My belief is that we should ditch any form of judgement. This includes using the language of judgement.

If I say any of these, I am essentially giving MY view, my judgement:

“I liked the starter”

“It was good”

“It was an excellent task”

The problem with these is two-fold. They don’t have a specific definition as they are subjective; what I ‘like’ or think is ‘good’ is not what you think’. Secondly, they give the impression that what the teacher is doing is ‘right’ and conversely that there may be a ‘wrong’ way of doing things. Additionally if you happen to use the word ‘good’ there are still connotations with previous gradings.

But we’ve used this language for so long that it’s going to take a while to shake it off.

I believe the power in coaching observations is in the questions the observer asks the observed before and after the lesson. But these also need to be carefully considered. Look at these:

“Did you mean for that child to do that?”

“Did you realise they didn’t all finish?”

“How could you have done it differently?”

These are also laden with judgements. They are giving the observers view on an aspect of the lesson. Instead of these questions I would suggest:

“What were the students doing when..? Was this planned? Why?”

“Did all students complete what you expected them to? Why?”

“Do you think X was effective? Why? Would you change it if you taught it again? Why?”

So, for those moving to a coaching model, working on questioning and using as objective language as possible seems to be a key area for training and support.

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2 thoughts on ““Thou shalt not judge” – Lesson observation without judgements

  1. Coaching works well but we must remember that in a school environment we probably have to work on a continuum of support from being non directive (coaching) and directive (training and mentoring). Sometimes people need to be told and want to be told and this will often involve some kind of evaluative statement. A good observer can still make those statements but it is best presented as classroom data on which the teacher reflects. Hopefully the teacher identifies the issue but sometimes and actually quite often the observer will need to ask either scaffolded questions, present classroom data and evidence or simply state the issue. Just being non directive and sticking to ‘coaching’ can be the wrong thing.
    We need to work up and down this continuum – it’s knowing where to start from that’s the skill. Good luck with it!

  2. Interesting post – I have some observations to do. I’d like to adopt this ‘Coaching Model’ approach. Can you guide me towards more guidelines…Is there I can contact you to discuss further? Thanks

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