Over the next few months we’re going to share our research, experience and thoughts on how best practice in lesson observation can drive a school forward, change the culture and improve teaching and learning.
Our articles will cover the following topics…
- Creating a lesson observation programme for teacher development
- 10 things to do before you observe a colleague
- 10 things to do before you are observed by a colleague
- What to do after an observation
- How to ensure observations lead to better teaching over time
- Using observations to drive wider school improvement
- The best and worst observation feedback we’ve seen
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Creating a lesson observation programme for teacher development
There’s an obvious need for lessons to be observed occasionally – to check that teachers have a level of competency in communication, the right academic and pedagogic ability and that their classes have a suitable level of behaviour. But beyond that, why do it?
In the recent past many school graded observations and used them for performance management, with the ‘punishment’ for a poor grade being more observations, while others used ‘tick boxes’ to check the ‘right’ processes were being followed – usually in anticipation that external inspector would be looking for the same things. Observation for development in many schools tended to be limited to trainee teachers. However, there’s an increasing amount of evidence that shows that lesson observation can make a real difference to teaching, learning, behaviour and teacher engagement – indeed it may well be the best form of CPD available. So, how can you set up an effective lesson observation and coaching programme in your school?
The first step is to set out gain buy-in from the top and set out what you want to achieve – the ‘vision’ for the project. Given the mixed experience that many teachers have of lesson observation, this needs to state clearly that the aim of the programme is to improve teaching, that the necessary time and resources will be allocated, and that it will be supported by a named senior leader.
You then need to communicate this vision and engage a group of teachers to deliver a pilot project. Given that observation works best within a subject or phase grouping it would be better to select on this basis rather than choosing participants from across your school. Let them work with you on the project plan and timing. Here are some further ideas to think about at this stage.
- Work on specific issues, rather than trying to feedback on every part of the lesson as often happens in formal observations. For example, you could look at how best to introduce new concepts, questioning or in-lesson assessment.
- Make it as realistic as possible. In many formal observations, the teacher is ‘on show’ teaching a highly polished lesson that took them hours to prepare – and with a colleague in the classroom, children become much more focused than you would normally find.
- Try to watch small parts of multiple lessons rather than whole lessons (this may make cover easier as well). Professor Rob Coe of the University of Durham told a Teacher Development Trust/Teach First seminar, ‘it’s pretty clear that if you watch three separate 15 minutes from three different lessons you get a better judgement than watching 45 minutes from a whole lesson’1.
- Make it reciprocal. You learn just as much from observing a lesson as delivering one, so it’s important that everyone gets the chance to watch and share their lessons, however senior they are.
- Use subject experts to give feedback. In many areas, especially in KS4 and KS5 classes, only teachers of that subject may understand the knowledge behind a lesson. In smaller or less experienced departments it is often a good idea to bring in an experienced external mentor to help here.
- Make time for it to happen regularly. CPD often fails when teachers are expected to do it in their ‘spare’ time (as every teacher knows, this disappears very quickly!), while waiting for the next formal ‘INSET’ day means teachers will forget what happened in the lesson. The best solution is set aside an hour a week or two hours a fortnight for dedicated feedback and coaching. At Aston University Engineering Academy, two hours a week are set aside for CPD2.
- Make it easy to manage. Don’t expect participants to fill in big forms with tick boxes – keep feedback as simple as possible – perhaps just a form with three sections – ‘what I liked’; ‘what I’d do differently’ and ‘that was interesting!’, the final one letting you put down observations of the students for example.
- Share ideas and try them out. Regular meetings let you quickly discuss your ideas and perhaps revisit them with another similar class in the short term.
- Share best practice and create ‘experts’ on specific topics. Once you’ve got the programme up and running, you can share your findings internally, and introduce more and more teachers to the programme.
Bradford Grammar School has taken on a project like this – its ‘Teaching Squares’ programme links teachers together in a collaborative, low-stakes environment. Find out more here.
We hope these tips will help to get your juices flowing around lesson observation for development best practices. Do you have any other ideas to add?
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