I have a bee in my bonnet and a professional-personal dilemma that I’d like to share with my readers.
This blog is not discussing job descriptions or candidate specifications. It is a challenge regarding the nature of one-off lesson observations used as part of the teacher-interview process for new appointments. It also makes reference to the current debate regarding the role of observations. This is not a discussion on using judgements, but raising the issue of ‘what’ criteria is applied for a one-day interview.
Where do you now stand with reference to one-off lesson observations during an interview? I’d like to ask if we can all begin to redefine the nature of lesson observations for this very purpose. When observing during an interview, beyond appointing the right person, what exactly are we looking for in a one-off observation lesson?
The nature of one-off lesson judgements (or teaching for performance) is difficult to validate, particularly for interview purposes. We know that assessing a ‘good’ lesson/teacher stems from reliable sources of progress over time. Now, I am not proposing any new models (see Conclusions) for approaching this, other than raising this issue; yet, I am certainly keen to help shape dialogue before the next round of interviews commencing in all schools, next term.
What do you do when observing teachers for an interview?
Are interview-observations designed to:
- give a potential snapshot of the teacher working in your school? Typically a 15-30-minute lesson.
- to ask the teacher to teach a full 1-hour lesson so that they can put their best foot forward?
- to see how the teacher interprets a particular lesson brief that has been set?
- to observe how the candidate interacts with your students?
- to examine the teacher’s character/credibility/subject knowledge and skills?
- to study if the teacher would meet the school’s needs/values/vision?
- to genuinely observe the teacher as a match against the ‘person specification’ advertised?
- (all of the above)
- or, to see if this teacher would fit with your own (the observer’s) ideology?
- to assess the teacher’s performance against the school’s/Ofsted’s criteria?
I argue, that whatever your proposed method, this must be clear and communicated to all staff who are on the panel. We cannot expect teachers to hoop-jump through all the performances we have come to expect from being observed by Ofsted, or for appraisal. The context at the interview is entirely different and I would like to consider, that whatever criteria is to be used, it is shared with candidates who are invited for interview. This is exactly the same when sharing the success criteria with students in lessons. It is expected. We cannot expect students to succeed if we do not model or provide exemplary criteria. This can be said for teacher-interviews. We are given the person specification, but we are not given the success criteria for how we are to be assessed in the teaching section of the interview process. The selection criteria may indicate how the successful applicant is appointed. Here is a sample.
When looking at this information, the candidate should assume that where IT (InTerview) is stated, the lesson will form part of the interview assessment, and not any observational criteria as a separate source of validating evidence. i.e. Ofsted framework for judging good teaching.
It could be argued, that the former one-off judgement model – applied at interview – is dragging behind the national debate for progress over time and no-more lesson judgements.
From the hundreds and hundreds of lessons I have had the privilege of observing, when appointing new candidates, they all have been conducted under varying circumstances. Now, I am not going use this blog to discuss the horror-stories. This would be unfair, given the individual circumstances of the advert/role/school/Ofsted-specific framework applied at the time. Plus, the nature of each specific job-advert would require a ‘different hat on’.
However, I argue, that despite the immense range of circumstances/appointments, most, if not all observations, observed by you and I will have used the same criteria. One-off judgements and possibly observer-bias. Even though this has been (and still is) damaging, we now know this stance has shifted for the better. But, how can a ‘progress over time’ model be applied to a unique one/two-day interview process? We need to Get it Right.
I’d like to propose that all schools and observers take this discussion (progress over time vs. one-off) into account when observing candidates during one-off interview lessons. *n.b. I am not discussing job descriptions or candidate specifications.
- For a start, candidates do not know the students. In fact, they really do not know anything about them!
- If data is provided prior to the lesson, this may give a picture, but the validity of the data should also be questioned. We instantly trust the source and apply this to the situation.
- Teachers will have no experience of working in that classroom. The idiosyncrasies of the room. The dynamics. Push this to open that; lift this wire to make that work and so on. Teaching-distractions.
- Creating seating plans without knowing the layout of the room itself.
- Creating seating plans based on data, without knowing the character of each student.
- Creating name badges to help the teacher learn names quicker so that instant relationships can be developed.
- Offering a praise/sanction system without knowing the school procedures/policy.
- Being shuffled into the classroom (with no preparation time) with students already in the room.
- Being shuffled into the classroom without students in the room.
- Progress is expected in a one-off lesson!
- That ALL students should learn something new in that lesson.
- 4 candidates teaching 4 different classes/ages/subjects. Equal opportunity?
- 4 candidates teaching 15-20-minutes each to the same class in one *whole lesson.
The ugly truth
In my experience, I have taught lessons with all of the above. A 15-minute showcase in the school hall as the classroom was not yet refurbished. A one-hour lesson for a school (not yet built) in another school with their students! A lesson during a strike-day with a selected group of students invited on-site. Another lesson with the naughtiest students removed. And plenty of other lessons with students/classrooms just as you find them (and quite rightly so), day-to-day.
In all of these situations, I would ask if I have been teaching for performance? The answer: yes. Teaching for a one-off judgement/flavour/show-case of my ability to teach a good lesson to the panel. Whatever you want to call it, this is a performance.
I have proposed *a solution here already in my teacher-portfolio for all teachers. This proposal includes a bank of video-footage containing the best and worst samples/snippets that teachers can showcase for interview purposes – with their own students in their own schools! One example from me is here. (Click to watch it) Some of this footage could then be validated by appraisers and headteachers which would be recognition for the new school to use and trust. This portfolio could be made reliable with:
- a video of lesson observation.
- a record of ALL my appraisal targets.
- my classroom data.
- my CPD records over the past 3-5 years.
- access to my references over time i.e. for each job application.
- an honest ‘about me’ section that could contain a voxpop, a blog or twitter account that could validate who I am.
- student, parent and colleague-comments.
- photographs of displays and marking.
What better way to showcase a teacher over time, rather than a one-off performance? Perhaps we could consider looking at teacher-footage to make an assessment on the interview day and not see the teacher in the classroom? When I was on #MyEdHunt through Scotland for senior leadership, not once was I asked to teach or observe a lesson. I once viewed this as bad practice, but on reflection, one may argue, that an assumption of the applicant could be made that ‘they are a good teacher’. That prior to an interview, the ‘good teacher’ validation was already made based on sources of information gathered.
What do you think is the best way forward for one-off observations at the interview? Perhaps a case of The Dunning–Kruger effect? And if you do agree with my sentiments, that this is the right way to proceed with one-off observations, how can you ensure your colleagues will also do the same when you are not observing an interview lesson?