10 Ways To Improve Lesson Observations

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Lynn How

Lynn is the Editor at Teacher Toolkit. With 20 years of primary teaching and SLT experience, she has been an Assistant Head, Lead Mentor for ITT and SENCO. She loves to write and also has her own SEMH and staff mental health blog: www.positiveyoungmind.com. Lynn...
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How can we improve the observation and feedback process?

Lesson observations don’t appear on many ‘My favourite things about teaching’ lists simply because in many instances, they have had all the humanity and empathy sucked out of them.

So what can we do to improve lesson observations? Take a look at these 10 top tips for appearing like an actual human being when observing and feeding back to teachers.

1. Crack A Smile!

Many teachers’ hearts skip a beat when the door opens and an observer (or two) walk in. Even worse, you don’t notice their stealthy arrival and are busy ‘telling Jimmy off’ for not having his pen for the nth time. Make your staff feel at ease. Forget the poker face, even if the lesson appears to be crumbling around you, be polite and pretend you’re enjoying the lesson. The best fix is to communicate with teachers – in advance – why you will be in the lesson and its focus.

2. Thank And Acknowledge

Senior leaders are busy people but manners cost nothing, even when time is limited. A simple smile and nod upon exit is all that is needed here to make the staff member appreciated for opening up their domain for a learning walk.

3. Make It Clear

I’m all for observers either supporting children, taking part in the lesson or pointing out something I’ve missed … if I am expecting the observer to interact in the lesson!

Unexpected interventions can undermine staff. They can also create panic so foster a culture of team teaching.

4. Support A Child

Choose either a Pupil Premium learner, SEND child or a child with a behavioural issue to shadow when you drop in (warn staff in advance though!). This way you will be spending 20 minutes providing 1:1 support as well as getting a measure of a learning environment and therefore, doing the teacher a favour at the same time.

5. Language Of Learning

Stop expecting young children to have any type of clue about what they are learning. Yes, children can be coached in this area for any special visitors and higher ability might manage but on the whole, young children won’t have much of an idea of the lesson outcomes or the vocabulary to support talking about it. Consider class ambassadors if this needs to be tackled in your setting.

6. Feedback Medium

Consider how different forms of feedback come across. Written feedback without professional discussion can come across as stark and negative. Self-reflective staff can become over-anxious if they haven’t had the opportunity to justify their choices. Some staff may avoid verbal receiving feedback but in terms of equal opportunities, pin them down and ensure they get their share, they should feel better after a positive conversation around practice (emphasis on POSITIVE).

7. Lesson Grading

Seriously, if you haven’t already, stop! Lesson gradings help no one.

8. Feedback Sandwich

Employ this technique when feeding back by starting with positives, include a couple of things in the middle to work on, then end with a positive. Please ensure that the sandwich element outweighs the filling. People rightly get overwhelmed and demotivated with too much to work on in one go.

9. More Than One Way ….

Don’t get hung up on your way of doing things. Ofsted don’t have a preferred teaching method and nor should you (however the need for consistency between classes is also appreciated). Take opportunities to observe with a variety of different people/schools for your own CPD in this area and always bear in mind that triangulation is needed between books and data. Stand alone lesson observations don’t tell the whole story.

10. Beware: Over-Scrutiny

No doubt there’s various union guidelines about how much is too much but with a culture of learning walks, there doesn’t seem to be an upper limit. How much is too much? On one hand, senior leaders need to have a grip on teaching and learning and on the other, staff should be trusted to do their jobs.

If there is an open door, sharing practice culture at your school, without stressing out staff then well done, there is the right level of balance and trust. Consider the effect of the levels of scrutiny in your establishment on staff wellbeing and amend accordingly.

6 thoughts on “10 Ways To Improve Lesson Observations

  1. All of this sounds like common sense. However unfortunately isn’t always followed by senior leaders. Thankfully my new senior leaders value and respect their staff a lot more than my last post.

  2. Great tips here. I am especially interested in the lack of ability of some young/low level students to communicate what they are learning. Also the fact there is so much being learnt in the classroom in addition to 2/3 objectives. Is this being recognised?

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