Getting it right: The value of observations (Part 2/2)

Reading time: 3


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...
Read more about @TeacherToolkit

In April 2014, I raised “The importance of observations and ‘Getting It Right’ (Part 1)” and highlighted the open versus closed process of “Stepping away from observational judgements and how you can evidence this.

This would typically be summarised in the following diagram shown below. The closed process is much easier to discuss. We are held to account by the Teacher Standards and our own school appraisal structure. As for the open process, this is much more abstract. Crucially, some common themes are highlighted when you ask the question, ‘What is a Good teacher?’. No matter who you ask; students, parents, colleagues, even your Granny(!) they will all give you the same descriptions thereabouts …

Good teaching vs. Appraisal
Good teaching vs. Appraisal

Part 1 revisited:

Last week, we met with our staff to discuss Part 1, which formed the basis of our own leadership discussions over the past half-term. It was vital to gather views and ask what is best for the school and our students. We raised the following questions to all our teaching staff.

  1. What is a good teacher?
  2. How do you know?
  3. How do you evidence this?
  4. Do you want to be a better teacher?

The format for each of the following topics was thus. We gathered staff in the staff room with plenty of comfy chairs. Sadly, no refreshments (note to self!) … “Sit anywhere please”. We then presented the following questions on separate documents one by one (but not before). We raised a few points publicly to offer context for all staff and then offered staff 10 minutes to discuss each question. Staff were then asked to scribble down their thoughts, with the option of handing in their comments at the end.

Image credit:
Image credit:

What is a Good teacher?

Why is this question important? What do you think it is? How long is the list? Why is this question useful? Do we need labels? Who needs to know? Who ‘decides’ and why? Where are all the children in all this? and so on…

Now, I am not going to list the countless answers that staff raised. I have already suggested this here and your list and ours will vary very insignificantly. For example; breaks down barriers, consistent, reflective, high subject knowledge, flexible when needed and so forth. Let’s move on.

How do you know what is Good?

How do you know if you are a Good teacher? The perfect teacher we know, does not exist. But we should all want to strive to become a better teacher. Students and their needs evolve, therefore our teaching must too. Throughout this staff discussion and feedback, we raised the following points. Again, yours and our own suggestions will vary, but will centrally contain many similar themes.

  • Results
  • Corridor conversations
  • Professional dialogue
  • Reputation
  • Student progress
  • Openness to improve
  • Student / parent feedback.
  • The classroom litmus test (please ask).
  • There are countless others.
Image credit:
Image credit:

How does anybody else know you are a Good teacher?

Finally and most of all, our staff discussed the above question as part of our ‘evidencing awareness’ campaign on good teaching without judgements, progress over time and the open versus closed process as discussed in the introduction.

Is it important?

Well, yes! We publicly raised the issue to staff. “At some point you will need a reference. What would I (the person writing the reference) say about you?” How do you monitor yourself? Are you engaged with your own CPD? What would parents say about you? Governors?

Photo Credit: whatmattdoes via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: whatmattdoes via Compfight cc

What are your wider school contributions? Your visibility? Your teacher reputation excluding what Ofsted and the appraisal system says? What would your colleague-friend say about you at the pub? Or your most critical coach/colleague with their gloves off? What key sentence would define you and what evidence supports this view?

Regardless of what is said; whether you are a ‘good’ teacher or not, how will the headteacher know this when writing your reference? What sources of information would they use? What would you use? What would be fair? Robust? Transparent?

So, what next?

Well, I was hoping to blog and offer a solution, but as this short blog-series and its title suggests, we are ‘Getting It Right’ before we make any long-term plans. Lesson judgements have not been discussed yet, but we feel the next stage for us, is to move towards a fairer system which would look at ‘progress over time’ using the above context. Our next step is to gather staff and look that the following intended outcomes:

  1. To clarify, how standards of teaching and learning will be gathered across the academy.
  2. To state how all teachers will be observed across the academy.
  3. To provide a solution for monitoring and evaluating the quality of teaching and learning.

I will report back on this (an unplanned Part 3) and how we approach these objectives.

Do share what you are up to. A potential way forward is here from Mr. Benney (Deputy Head) at Penyrheol Comprehensive School, Swansea.


11 thoughts on “Getting it right: The value of observations (Part 2/2)

  1. I bet it was an interesting staff meeting (despite the lack of refreshments….). Lots of really important questions including the very intriguing “what would your colleague say about you down the pub?” Now that is one to reflect on.
    Ever since seeing your pie chart on “what should feedback be based on?” I’ve been thinking about ways that we could make our judgements on staff fairer and based on a fuller picture of their “teacher reputation”- (or basing their reputation with SLT on a much fuller picture). My blog that you’ve linked is one step towards that but I’m looking forward to reading part 3 to see where you go next and also taking more ideas and hopefully applying them in my setting. I think having whole staff input means everyone will have ownership of whatever measures you come up with to judge progress over time. Any timeframe for Part 3? (I do love a good trilogy)

    1. Glad you asked. It’s two things really.
      a) When observing. Can a teacher handle a Year 1 or Year 7 class. Often viewed as ‘if you can’t contain “that lot” what hope is there?’
      and b) A good teacher is often know what i) the students continue to work when the leave the room and ii) if you cover their class, it’s a pleasure because the students behaviour doesn’t not change and systems are evident within the classroom – even when the teacher is not there!

  2. Pingback: Getting it right: The value of observations by ...
  3. Here is my, developing plan, about how I’d go about some of the questions you raise.

    I’d start by ditching the OFSTED criteria for internal day to day use – they carry too much baggage that limits genuine discussion/debate about the quality of teaching in our school.

    We’d identify the key strands of day to day teaching that matter to us in our context – perhaps subject knowledge; lesson planning/delivery; behaviour; assessment or whatever [progress or results should actually come from these being done to a high standard and therefore it’s debatable whether that would be a strand in itself or an outcome of these strands].

    We’d define ‘greatness’ in each of these strands that we aspire to but which is realistic and then come up with what ‘good’; ‘OK’; ‘support’; ‘not good enough’ or whatever terminology we settle on) looks like for each of these strands. I am clear we need to have something other than 4 ratings otherwise people would assume they related to OFSTED 1/2/3/4.

    Having done that we’d pick a day and ask staff to rate their ‘teaching’ (by strand) for each group they taught that day. These would be recorded anonymously so we should get accurate feedback that identifies the current state of play accurately and identified key CPD needs of the school.

    Perhaps it would be interesting to do something similar with students (collecting data in a way that did not allow it to be linked to individual teachers thus removing some concerns that some staff would have) to see how it compared.

    By repeating this process over time we’d be able to see how we, as a school teaching community, saw our teaching quality change over time.

    I’d explore the idea of every member of teaching staff joining a trio and over the course of the year the trio watching eachother teach and having a discussion. Perhaps logging, again anonymously, the ratings so we can see how self rating; student rating and peer ratings compare as a community.

    I’d like the data to be anonymous but ‘searchable’ so that we can view whether there are patterns at different key stages or whatever.

    Some work to be done on my plan but I think it has the potential to move from a “done to” approach to a “we do” approach to developing teaching and learning in school.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.