Following the recent meeting that headguruteacher and others had with Ofsted, there’s been various comments (including from me!) bemoaning the lack of a dedicated primary presence, I thought I should put my money (or, well, my blog) where my mouth is and share my own views on lesson observations.
Personally, I don’t mind being observed. I like to watch other people teach, and in return I’m happy to be watched. I welcome feedback – I always want to know what could be better, but I find that being officially graded can get in the way of this.
I’ve been observed regularly since I started teaching 7 years ago, and have generally been graded as good with outstanding. That, however, has not particularly helped to improve my teaching. Some of the most useful observation sequences I’ve had have been aimed at one aspect of my teaching – a few years ago we did some work on AfL, which started with myself and a fellow teacher working with someone from the local authority to improve our practice and then lead to us working closely with two other teachers on a round of observations and discussions, all designed to identify what was already good and give clear targets for improvement.
I found this so much more helpful than what can sometimes be the deficit model of a traditional Ofsted style observation. By this I mean a grading, with reasons given why you’re not good or outstanding. Those phrases that start “if you’d just done this“, followed by my heart sinking, and massive frustration. It also puts me on the defensive – I was given a 3 for a lesson recently, and while I could have defended myself any number of ways, in the end I didn’t bother as I was too dispirited by this number looming large. In effect, the number blanked out the possibly useful feedback. Without the number, it might have been a more useful experience. As so many people have pointed out, it’s not possible to teach a one off outstanding lesson! And yet teachers are left chasing this goal – and again, I include myself in that. It’s a distraction, and means that the final number becomes more important than the advice and feedback.
If gradings truly are coming to an end (and the signs from the above meeting suggest they are), then we should see observations becoming more formative and more useful, more focused on how we as teachers can improve our practice and ultimately improve our pupils’ learning. And since it’s half term, I’ll drink to that!