Shouldn’t all teachers be ‘doing the rounds’?
Teacher Rounds involves teachers observing each other without evaluating the lesson or the teacher. The process is designed to enable teachers to reflect on their own practice and enable collaboration in improving their practice.
All participants are volunteers and come from different departments or phases and have a range of experience and expertise. However, it is important that in Teacher Rounds no one teacher is the expert. All are equal members of the Rounds group.
The structure of Teacher Rounds enables teacher to talk about teaching and learning in an open and honest way, something they rarely, if ever, have the opportunity to do.
What I have learned on Teacher Rounds with 30 teachers:
- Teachers hate formal lesson observations including Learning Walks, which they see as being designed to monitor and check-up on them.
- Teachers take little heed of the feedback they receive from those who observe them because they have (normally) never seen them teach and they don’t believe they understand the context in which they are teaching.
- Teachers hate the fact that the observers decide on the focus of the lesson observation, not the teacher.
- The targets set following the formal observations are usually whole school priorities, not individual priorities. They are not helpful in moving teachers practice forward.
- Teachers say they learn little or nothing from the feedback – they are told what they are not doing rather than what they are doing.
- Many teachers talk about the lesson observation tick-list and believe the observers are just going through the motions.
- Teachers feel the process of formal observations is an unequal one where power-issues mean that they have no voice. They are ‘done too, not with’.
- When they are to be formally observed teachers plan safe lessons that will ensure they are judged as good. When involved in Teacher Rounds teachers plan more risky lessons because they want the support and feedback from their colleagues.
- The fact that lessons may not be graded (in some schools they still are) makes little difference, as they believe they are being judged anyway.
- Many teachers get the minimum (or no) feedback from lesson observations because they are already good and “don’t need it”.
- Feedback is often delayed by many days and teachers are left wondering if there was something wrong. In Teacher Rounds the feedback takes place on the same day.
- Teachers do not feel they are trusted, instead they are constantly being checked on.
- Teachers who have been teaching for more than five years talk about the different ‘directions’ they have had about planning lessons and on different strategies they should use in their teaching. What was once a ‘must do’ is now out the window and something else has taken its place. This feels like it is being done at the ‘whim’ of the head or Ofsted or the DfE! They are not sure where these directions come from but they get very frustrated by the constant changes in directions!
- Instead of directions on how to plan and how to teach they would appreciate guidance but should be free to decide their own path.
Teachers feel that the time and energy put into monitoring and evaluating teacher performance in the classroom is wasted. They learn nothing from the accountability processes but suffer terrible anxiety and stress without any payback in terms of their own learning. This is not providing value for money and is a waste of resources.
Professional Learning Opportunities of CPD
When teachers spoke about their experiences of professional development they were generally not complementary. I think heads would be disappointed to learn that most teachers feel this is something to get ‘over and done with’.
Some teachers described CPD as ‘falling asleep training” where they are instructed to attend on one evening a week or during INSET days. Even in schools where an attempt has been made differentiate training and to give teachers some choice in the CPD session they attend, most find them irrelevant or repetitive and feel their time could be better spent.
Most training sessions in schools are instructional (e.g. Safeguarding) or are about whole school priorities and policies and they are instructed on strategies to implement those policies. Furthermore, teachers pointed out that there are no specific professional learning opportunities for experienced teachers to improve their practice (as opposed to middle leadership training) despite the fact that research shows us that teacher’s performance can dip after seven years. If they are seen to be ‘good’ already, nothing is done to keep them motivated and help them raise their game and to continue to improve their practice in the classroom.
The fact is that teachers rarely find these whole school CPD sessions useful. They resent the fact that they are directed to CPD sessions on a regular basis but have little say on their content or style of delivery. When asked what they would find helpful they said that seeing each other teach and learning from each other is what they need. They wanted professional learning opportunities to be planned into the working day and to be classroom based. This is where Teacher Rounds comes in.
Teacher Rounds is professional learning that takes place in context, in the classroom. The Teacher Round protocol enables teachers to observe each other, to note what they see and hear without evaluating it. The host teacher decides on the problem of practice to focus the observation on and the post-Round meeting gives the Rounds group the opportunity to talk about what they have seen and learned and to reflect on their own practice.
This process has proved to be a very powerful change-agent for teachers and schools that have been involved. It’s not rocket science but is far more cost-effective than constant monitoring. Must of all it helps teachers to develop trust in each other and to support each other in a meaningful way.
Head teachers need to understand that teachers care passionately about the children they teach and they want to be great teachers. Sadly, they are also full of self-doubt, no matter what excellent practitioners they are. The feedback they have had from formal observations has had a very negative affect on their self-esteem and on their confidence as teachers. Even if this negative feedback took place many years ago, it still lingers.
The pressure to ensure children achieve the best test scores in public examinations is profound and I have seen and met teachers in a state of panic as these tests draw near. They lose sleep and often withdraw into themselves, yet they are doing an amazing job in the classroom. This cannot be not good for the profession.
The Other Way Round
As a head I have been guilty of imposing all of the above on my teachers. I am sorry for that and I apologies most profusely for it. I thought more pressure and constant monitoring and whole school focused CPD would get us through the next Ofsted and would improve the quality of teaching. In fact it was their hard work, their openness to learn and their sheer determination and resilience that got us there despite my constant checking. I now know this was not the right approach.
I hope those of you in positions of power in schools will take note and review their school accountability process and their professional learning programmes. Most of all I hope you will give teachers a voice and listen to them and trust them to do their jobs.
About the author
Kenny Frederick is a former secondary headteacher and now works as an education consultant. She is currently completing her PhD at Brunel University. You can follow Kenny on Twitter at @.