Where do observations go from here? by @TeacherToolkit

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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The plans to abandon grading observations; teachers or teaching – however you define it – is an opportunity for all schools to raise the profile of peer-to-peer coaching and finally eradicate the stigmata of pigeon-holing teachers!

This is an article I have written for IRIS Connect, a tool to empower teachers to reflect, analyse and share teaching practice using video technology.

Where do observations go from here?

Where do we go from here?  Photo Credit: Pulpolux !!! via Compfight cc
Where do we go from here?
Photo Credit: Pulpolux !!! via Compfight cc

The plans to abandon grading observations; teachers or teaching – however you define it – is an opportunity for all schools to raise the profile of peer-to-peer coaching and finally eradicate the stigmata of pigeon-holing teachers!

I am motivated to see how schools will take this forward, but I also have some reservations about deserting a national framework.

If we stop grading lesson observations, how are we going to know that something ‘good’ has taken place in the classroom? Without any framework, if we do not know what is ‘good’, how do we know when we do, or when we do not see, good teaching?


Photo Credit: Diana Mehrez via Compfight cc
“If we do not know what is ‘good, how do we know what is ‘good’, and how do we know when we do?” Photo Credit: Diana Mehrez via Compfight cc

Removing the current framework for grading teaching, does not mean that an observer cannot assess the quality of ‘good’ teaching altogether. Consider this: If I walked into a lesson with the purpose of observing the teacher/teaching, I’ll instantly gather a picture of what is going on; whether this is good or not good. However, this information is influenced without a clear purpose and (possibly) with the observers perception of what ‘good teaching’ is. A framework will also guide and influence the observer.


Without a framework or an agreed focus, the process of observing what is ‘good’ becomes even more inaccurate and unreliable. Therefore, we need criteria in place in order to understand what is happening. By all means, let’s remove “Outstanding, Good, Requires Improvement and Inadequate” headings because the desire to grade and measure has damaged so many of us! However, we all know too well that the vast majority of teachers still crave feedback (and possibly a judgement of sorts), and this will continue to be counter-productive when watchdogs; senior leadership teams and consultants fail to offer teachers, qualitative and quantitative feedback that develops them as a teacher.

STOP by @DodgyEye  (Pleased to be showcasing my own photography here)
STOP by @DodgyEye
(Pleased to be showcasing my own photography here)

What would be your solution?

A framework that outlines the qualities of what we aspire to as teachers, will only replace tit for tat. It is not that I think we must have something in place to replace the current framework for monitoring the quality of teaching and learning, but I do think the profession will crave a framework, and by definition, we will aspire to be the best we can.

In short, the solution to guide us; is a peer-to-peer feedback framework for improving the quality of teaching and learning.
To read the 2nd half of this article and my full analysis, click “Where do observations go from here?”

Read on:

I go on to ask the following questions:

  • Are you the same teacher you were, when you first qualified?
  • Will the strategies you employ in your classroom, be useful next term/year?
  • What role does feedback play in the observation process?
  • What is ‘sophisticated feedback’?
  • How can feedback provide development?
  • How are leadership teams in schools and colleges moving forward?
  • To judge or not to judge?
  • To frame or not to frame?

More importantly, I’m keeping a close eye on how we curate a framework that will stand up against the evolution of teaching and the ever-changing needs of students. You can read my thoughts in more detail, here.

To read the article on IRIS Connect, click “Where do observations go from here?


(I have featured some of my own photography on this blog for the first time. To view my collections, click below).

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9 thoughts on “Where do observations go from here? by @TeacherToolkit

  1. Thanks for these thoughts .Hopefully none of us are the same as when we first qualified. learning to be a teacher and learning to teach are two very different beasts. Reading your blog brings up many questions and makes for interesting opportunities to be allowed to take place. But how often are these episodes taken and too quickly filled with well meaning but ill thought out solutions. The quick fix one size suits all. Why should these voids be filled with rigid structures . We teach reflection, adaptation and creativity to illuminate, reseaonate and inspire in whatever way the learner takes on board we then scaffold their choices and guide and hopefully make independent thinkers and learners of them should this not be the same for observations guide,scaffold and fledge to further collaborate share and discover in this never ending journey that is supportive and ever changing. It is an holistic attitude that needs to be adopted and we need to change with it and we won’t get it right everytime that’s the beauty of learning. Like the learner voice we need a teachers voice that is not driven by policy or politics. Teachers are learners too least we forget. You and your colleagues are inspiring renewed thought processes and reasoning, thank you for putting your thoughts out here and letting others feel they are not alone in their musings. Collaboration and communication are very effective tools.

  2. Coaching is being used at our school to develop good and outstanding practice. Non-judgemental lesson visits focussing on learning. Then lots of self-reflection making teachers assess their own practice.

  3. It is an incredibly important question. The focus of lesson observations is to ask the question “what impact will the teaching have on the learning?” Now it is clear that learning is invisible and cannot be directly observed. So what exactly are we looking for? Prof Coe states that what we usually observe as good indicators of learning are actually poor proxies. This is something I’m really struggling with. There seems to be a suggestion that removing any framework that we use is the way forward. This is because the criteria for the framework are not indicative (necessarily) of students learning. And yet, having removed the grade, staff are still commenting on lessons, having discussions and making suggestions for improvement. Sounds fine, but what are these suggestions based on? There must be some framework, either whole school or based on an observers’ own confirmation bias in which to base these conversations.
    We cannot simply say “no lesson gradings because learning is invisible and we cannot comment on whether what we observe is merely performance” and yet still have conversations about what is good and not so good classroom practice in non judgemental lesson obs. If schools don’t want to grade because they feel the grades are unreliable then I am a lot more comfortable with that.
    In our school we have identified a group of our strongest teachers. Together we identified 10 “features” of effective lessons. We then wrote guidance on the “spirit” of each feature and distributed to staff. Next week we start our whole school lesson observations. We are going to observe and comment on some of the features in our reports. The 10 have been identified by our best staff as being best classroom practice and therefore having the greatest impact on learning.
    We are still grading however. But I am fairly comfortable with the criteria. To achieve a good, the lesson must have many strengths and no significant weaknesses. To achieve an excellent the same criteria apply but some aspects must be “sector leading.” This term is fairly horrible but for us we just ask the question “would other members of the department benefit from observing that lesson? Where there so many good features that these need to be shared wider than the classroom walls?” If the answer is yes then that is an excellent.
    Really enjoyed the blog (as always), thanks Ross,

    1. Hi Damian. Some very valid points you make. Keep me posted and do blog about the outcomes. No matter what, it will all simply equate to ‘What is Good?’ (teaching/learning). How do you evidence it?
      It’s that simple. Nothing else is needed.

  4. ‘Good’ will always be subjective, which does highlight a need for standardisation. I’m not sure we have the means or maturity as a country to have a standardised assessing/development system and avoid the placing of teachers on to the framework. For me, it’s much the same as the grading of the learners we teach, we are so focused on the grade and the destination that the journey becomes irrelevant.

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