Are learning walks a waste to time?
In a profession with seeks research-led methods, and in an industry which lacks sufficient time and money, it is critical that school leaders support teachers to the best of their ability when everyone’s time is precious…
Do observations have any impact?
Believe me, I’ve tried every possible version, I’ve conducted some horror-stories and I’ve also produced the best spreadsheets and lesson feedback conversations which would be worthy of an Oscar nomination. Yet, I really don’t know if any learning walk or one-to-one conversation has had any long-term impact on an individual teacher. Of course, I’ve tried to evaluate methods and processes to determine if they do have any impact or not, but I suspect each and every teacher will have their version of events!
If you want to tick-off checklists?
I do believe learning walks serve a purpose: Monitoring, checking in on habits or poor proxies, such as displays and keywords to develop a degree of consistency across the school, but surely the ultimate goal for everyone is improving teacher performance, not checking in on consistency? If we get this right, the impact on pupils should be two-fold…
Having taught approximately ~18,000 lessons in London state schools since 1993, I’ve received every possible form of lesson observation in and out of the classroom. Worryingly, less than a handful of occasions shaped me as a practitioner. I have also observed at least the same number, if not more having conducted observations (whether 5 or 60 minutes in length) as a middle and senior leader in 5 different secondary schools. I also suspect very few genuinely helped others. I’m probably being too harsh on myself… After all, we are time-poor professionals and have very little time to meet with each other on a regular basis, nor do we have time to deliberately practise being better at one thing.
Nonetheless, today it is my conclusion that learning walks in their current form are pointless and worse, dangerous.
When you asked a room full of teachers, “Hands up, who works in a position of leadership which gives you the permission to observe other teachers?” you will generally see a large number of hands raised. I then ask: “Keep your hands up if you have received any formal training?” The number of ‘hands up’ tends to drop dramatically. When you then ask if anyone left has a formal qualification in observational practice, all the hands in any room, disappear!
I want to change this.
So, this is a simple idea is to support school leaders and teachers. In mid-2019, during my doctoral course, I thought I knew everything there was about coaching, feedback and observations until I discovered an alternative methodology – observing as a researcher – which I’m now sharing on my teacher-training travels.
More specifically, I want to improve observation reliability and open-door culture which is seriously lacking across the teaching profession. I am currently pitching for funding with UCL to conduct some action research in schools from September 2020. I am keen to reform observational practice at a national level in schools, developing a bank of videos and resources which are freely available; equipping schools to support and challenge observers – including those who are visiting for inspection purposes.
Resource: Getting started
As a simple starting point, to help flip the default position in most state schools, this simple resource is a good starting point. I plan to share more details in an online webinar in the near future.
How to use?
- Print on A6 card; laminate the postcard
- The teacher should write/print their own focus for the term ahead.
- Stick the sign the top-left of the door frame.
- Before anyone pops in, including inspectors, the focus is clear.
- The outcome? It won’t reduce every proxy for learning, but it will help improve observational assumptions.
If you are interested in finding out what my research-plans are to reform observational culture in schools, leave a comment, get in touch via the website or messaege using social media…