How can schools use lesson observations to reliable evaluate the teaching taking place?
In a profession that seeks research–led methods, and in an industry that lacks sufficient time and money, it is critical that school leaders support teachers to the best of their ability.
The ultimate goal of lesson observations should be to improve teacher performance, not check in on consistency. It has taken me 27 years to learn there is a better way to observe teachers, far beyond checklists, learning walks and coaching methods. Observing lessons as a researcher, rather than as an observer.
To get the best from this blog post, treat it as a professional development opportunity on your sofa, or in your school setting. Below I have prepared a short video introduction to explain what I need you to do, then once you have watched this, view each video (in sequence or in isolation) and answer the following questions under each part.
I hope you find it interesting, and useful.
Let’s check your expertise!
When you ask a room full of teachers, ‘Hands up who works in a position of leadership that gives you permission to observe other teachers?’, you will see a large number of hands raised.
If you then asked, ‘Keep your hands up if you have received any formal training’, the number of hands tends to drop dramatically. When you ask again, ‘Has anyone (left with their hands up) received a formal qualification in observational practice?’, all the hands tend to disappear.
So, why is this? Why do we not invest more in improving the way we observe, not just giving the responsibility to a school leader or an NQT to go off and watch somebody else teach? When did you last receive any formal training on how to conduct lesson observations? Reliably?
These are just some of the questions I am currently researching.
Firstly, prior to the pandemic, I was pitching for funding from UCL based upon a training process I have developed to help teachers evaluate lesson observation better. As a result, improving the reliability of teaching and learning, opening classroom doors and moving closer towards genuine teacher development – rather than checking in on consistency. I hope to come back to this in 2021.
Secondly, all videos used below have no sound and are roughly ~30 seconds long. They represent a small snapshot of the process used in my research. Note, this training works best with sound and from being in the classroom – even better when watching another colleague you know!
It’s also worth mentioning that you can develop teachers remotely from video and in-ear coaching. I’ve been doing it since 2007. However, there are many disclaimers and precautions to consider…
Finally, it is important to keep in mind that each of these videos used are promotional clips and do not necessarily represent real-school situations. I do have video content from teachers I have observed over the last 3 years and I am currently seeking permission to share these. More on that another day…
Watch each video then ask yourself the following questions. We’ll start off easy…
In this lesson, the teacher is kneeling down beside a pupil (at the side of the classroom) having a one-to-one discussion.
- Can a classroom have a quiet/noisy learning atmosphere?
- How can this teacher reposition themselves so that they keep their eyes on the whole-class whilst talking with the one pupil?
In this lesson, the teacher is standing at the front of the classroom having a discussion with pupils.
- Is this is a good position for you to take when observing this lesson?
- Does sitting in rows or groups make a difference to learning?
- How does the teacher ‘bounce’ the discussion around the room?
In this lesson, the teacher is standing at the front of the classroom and is dismissing the pupils from the lesson.
- When is it appropriate for the teacher to dismiss the whole class compared to individually, or by table?
- Do all pupils push their chairs in?
- What would happen if the teacher positioned themselves at the classroom exit?
- Could the classroom tables be moved to create more space at the door?
- Do all pupils walk safely and sensibly down the corridor?
In this lesson, the teacher is standing at the front of the classroom and is telling off a pupil.
- What non-verbal signals does the teacher use that may insinuate a) aggression b) disappointment?
- What non-verbal signal does she offer to signal the pupil to leave the room?
- Does the pupil leave the classroom sensibly?
- How does this teacher pause to emphasise the importance of this event?
- What impact do you think it could have if the teacher turned away to continue with the lesson just at that moment the pupil approached her?
In this lesson, the teacher is kneeling down between two pupils using iPad devices.
- How could the teacher reposition himself so that he keeps his eyes on the rest of the class?
- The other pupil ‘looks over’ at 00:12, what could the teacher have done here with this missed opportunity?
In this lesson, a pupil puts their hand up to read something out to the whole class.
- Where do you position yourself when you take part in a lesson observation?
- Where is the best place to sit in the classroom when part of the lesson observation?
- How much non-verbal data are you missing by watching the back of pupils’ heads?
In this video, we both walk past a classroom on a tour around the school. This is all we see before we move on…
- When you walk past a classroom, can you see learning taking place?
- Define learning. Learning what?
- How do you know what is being learnt without being in the room?
- How do you enter a classroom environment that is not yours?
- When is it appropriate to interrupt the teaching?
- How do you ensure you do not form any judgements of the teacher in this 30-second snapshot?
Taking it further
This final question above is of great importance and significance to this entire blog and my research.
Obviously, there is a lot of information missing from these short video clips, but please use this as a starting point to discuss how you conduct lesson observations in your school.
You can find my original thinking in Reducing Observational Bias, plus a webinar which is offered as a teacher training experience. This goes through some of the solutions in response to many of the questions I have listed above. If you are also interested in the psychology of our interactions, you can learn more about bias we all suffer from.
If would like to find out more about the approach I advocate, you can find the full details in chapter 8 of the ‘teach’ section of the updated copy, Mark Plan Teach 2.0.
What difference do you think it would make in your school if all staff watched 3-minute clips of one another teach? Perhaps share some ‘car crash moments’ too!
If we spent more time watching carefully, rather than checking and assuming, we could all learn a thing or two from one another…