Observation

Since September, I’ve been in a new role as Head of Teaching and Learning and KS2 manager at my school (as well as Year 6 teacher and Computing coordinator!). As part of this role, I get the amazing opportunity to observe teachers at least once a half term and have the privilege of being part of their development as practitioners.

Observations as a monitoring ‘tool’ come loaded with certain pressures. The pressure to perform in front of others is something that can cripple even the most experienced and confident teachers. The pressure to show learning ‘progress’ in a short amount of time can cause the opposite to happen. The pressure to feel prepared can result in reams of planning so detailed that it almost becomes an environmental issue. Certainly, I have found myself in the past ‘rehearsing’ a lesson on my own in my classroom the night before an observation speaking to imaginary pupils with imagined reactions to my input. It should not be like this.

Thankfully, many schools are now going to the triangulation approach, mine included. However, there still seems to remain a huge amount of pressure attached to the observation cycle. Quite simply, it shouldn’t be this way. And conversations around the cycle of monitoring and the performance management of staff should be constantly ignited by school staff and leaders in order to create a more effective and less pressurised climate.

Thankfully, this is a discussion that has formed the focus of many management meetings since September. Recent conversations in said meetings have surrounded the argument for not grading lessons and for observing more regularly and taking the ‘learning walk’ approach. We have explored current practice in other schools like the approach taken by a London school where ‘observations’ take place for 5 minutes every week. The outcomes of these take the form of 2 stars and a wish and everyone is invited to be observers: from NQTs to TAs. Whatever the approach, I believe what we need to strive for is a monitoring cycle characterised by an open climate where developing excellence in teaching and learning is the priority.

What I’ve learnt the most since starting my new role (in fact, even before this), is that I learn more from observing others than I do from being observed myself. Staff development is more effective when good practice is shared and modelled, not constantly ‘weighed’ and measured. Staff development is more effective when it forms part of a shared, exciting, positive process of growth rather than a process of judgement and often blame.

Inevitably there are potential issues with such an open approach, particularly when some teachers require more formal support than others. But a blanket approach to monitoring may not be the most effective and such systems could benefit from being tailored.

Would a system where all teachers observe each other be more effective in terms of pedagogical development? Would a system where ‘observations week’ means that all staff are released to observe teachers across the school be more beneficial to the professional development of staff? I’m not sure. What I am sure about is these systems need innovating and testing. And what I am pleased about is that there are many people exploring such possibilities.

There is a huge range of reading in this area available on blogs and Twitter streams across the online edusphere. When I’m able to, I’ll post links to them below. However, currently I’m about a minute away from my 28 minute limit and am on my phone, which makes searching for links much more difficult!

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