How can schools improve the quality of teaching and learning?
It appears that observational-experience can never be assumed, and it is highly probable that colleagues may never have been given the time to observe anyone else; including outside of their department and school.
I am always surprised to speak with colleagues who say they have never observed another colleague.
If I think back to the period when I was a middle-leader, I was always observing colleagues within my department. As a classroom teacher, it was much less-so, but then again, teaching in the 90s as an newly qualified teacher is very different to what it is today.
The nature of design technology departments require teachers to frequently share rooms and/or borrow resources. So much so, that you are often in-and-out of each others classrooms, picking up small nuggets of information along the way …
But how often did I have the chance to observe colleagues outside of my department? Or on my own terms and in my time?
The answer: rarely.
The third degree:
Supporting staff and asking colleagues to observe each other should not be laborious. It should not require colleagues to receive ‘the third degree’ where development and the need for improvement does quite the opposite.
Asking to observe another colleague should never be a difficult request to grant, and as a school leader I have a responsibility to make this happen.
“What do you mean, you want to look elsewhere! …”
Teachers are very busy and the default role and responsibility of their day-to-day job finds them with very little time to observe for professional development (not appraisal).
And here lies the problem.
This is why, this coming academic year in the school in which I work, we are introducing coaching conversations for every teacher and providing staff with the protected time in their timetables to be able to do so.
When you work out how much time this is, it works out to be the equivalent of 30-40 periods in a single week (over 38 weeks of the academic year). That is 30-40 opportunities for teachers to observe each other and have developmental conversations. Over the course of the year, this equates to about £2,000 in costs for one member of staff. We are finalising the details this month, but we think the investment will reap significant returns in a) the quality of teaching over time and b) professional development of every teacher.
Asking the right questions:
This month, we are completing the final series of formal observations before we banish them under our current self-evaluation framework. We are also completing our second work sampling and early findings suggest that diagnostic feedback is becoming more of a strength in classrooms around the school. I will report back on this area.
In terms of offering teachers with a useful set of questions to ask themselves in observations and work sampling, here are some excellent suggestions by Mary Myatt.
Considering high quality practice over time:
- What are different groups and individual pupils actually learning as opposed to doing?
- Are pupils consolidating previous skills/knowledge or learning something new?
- Can all pupils make the links between previous/new learning?
- Can pupils talk about what they are learning, as opposed to simply describing what they are doing?
- Do they consistently produce work of a good standard?
- To what extent do pupils take responsibility for their own learning?
- How well do pupils collaborate with others? Do they ask questions, of each other, of the teacher or other adults, about what they are learning?
- Are pupils creative, do they show initiative?
- How well do pupils follow routines/expectations?
You can find this resource on Myatt’s website.