How does your school support its teachers?
Despite perception, approximately 30 per cent of English schools and colleges still grade their teachers in lesson observation.
How we got into this mess…
I’ve been thinking a lot about some of the work I’ve been doing with schools and colleges. One particular topic that returns to my thoughts time and time again is the process of developing teachers from lesson observation. Specifically, feedback and the notion that an observer can reliably evaluate what is happening.
Worse? Grade a teacher’s performance.
For some who are familiar with some of my work dating back to 2011, this grading story will not be a surprise. It appears to be more prevalent in further education settings based on my interactions with schools, teachers and lecturers.
Grading lessons was finally abolished by Ofsted in 2014 – although the framework was never designed for this purpose in the first place, it was teachers who translated whole-school teaching and learning judgements into one-off situations!
Post-2014, schools started to make the leap away from one-off observation accountability, a process that had no valid or reliable research to back it up. I also speculated that the Department for Education and/or Ofsted should ban schools from this practice if they are serious about reducing teacher workload and attrition.
There is another way…
Part of my doctoral research has taken me down several paths, particularly on teacher agency and two topics close to my heart: 1) Verbal feedback and 2) lesson observation. On the latter, now disseminating a new way to conduct lesson observations with school leaders, some of my thoughts have been to outline what differences a school can design in terms of developing or holding to account its teachers.
Put simply, does your school focus on growing or measuring its teachers?
Whilst the left column will be familiar to most of my readers, I thought it may be worth elaborating on my thoughts to explain some of the terms on the right-hand side of the above graphic…
For lesson observation, there is no judgement passed. This includes a ‘what went well’ or ‘even better if’. Evaluation is triangulated and considered over time and feedback is shaped on the travel direction of the teacher on a regular basis (see 2 and 3 below) No judgement is ever made. Let performance management reviews take care of itself, across the year using multiple sources.
Rather than one formal lesson observation each term (which is more for those teachers judged unfavourably), teachers are trusted and doors start to stay open. As a result, teachers start to work more frequently with a mentor/coach, with weekly pop-in observations that are micro-sharp, structured and focused.
At the weekend, I led a Twitter space conversation: Improving lesson observation. I was delighted with Martine Guernsey shared her ‘one thing’ methodology to explain how her school transformed teaching and learning. Something I will return to…
3. Regular conversations
With structured scripts, teachers and observers can come together to provide meaningful and actionable feedback. One of the most powerful tools I’ve used is PPIPL (Bambrick, Santoyo, 2012), which provides a structure for a two-way conversation. Something that can be used in a wide variety of situations. Watch me describe the method in 2 minutes.
4. Five-minute moments
In schools for decades, lesson observations have been done badly.
Observers are precious for time, so what do we do? We try to evaluate anything and everything on a checklist and then make a ‘best-fit’ assumption. If we’re lucky, we can sit down and have a decent discussion, however, it’s likely to be dominated by the observer imposing their ideas or it’s a one-off attempt.
The challenge for introducing any 5-minute process is still designing the time for the observer to see an agreed focus (see no. 5 below). However, with such a huge plethora of technology, video observation is not out of the question. This would free up observers to be available at a given point to see the agreed focus and areas for development in action.
Generally speaking, observers tend to have more time to support other teachers, so stripping back the burden of evaluating everything in 60 minutes to just one thing in 5 minutes should be much more achievable and frequent (see no. 2 above).
Gone are the days were school leaders impose their teaching preferences. This isn’t to say there is no space for the expert. Far from it. This new model requires experts to use cognitive apprenticeship to guide the teacher, facilitating their reflection and direction and fading their feedback as the teacher develops a degree of phronesis.
‘What about the under-performing teachers?’ you ask. Well, all schools have a capability and appraisal policy to deal with under-performance. Let those systems deal with measuring teachers. I’d argue that if a teacher is under-performing, it will show through in other aspects of school life, much sooner than it does before it is observed and recognised in a lesson observation.
If classroom teaching is used as the only mechanism to evaluate the contributions of a teacher, then we really need to take a hard look at ourselves as professionals. Allow the teacher to determine their focus and with investment, watch what happens.
6. Blank paper
I’ve used every lesson observation template known to the profession. From templates designed to capture everything to others designed to support the observer, minimising notes in order to keep their head up ‘watching’ the lesson unfold. Regardless of template, observers would either ignore the format or produce reams and reams of reflections.
The impact? I’m still not sure.
Most schools seek consistency, but most rarely achieve it. Instead, schools must seek clarity and coherence.
Working from a blank piece of paper is much harder to achieve, as it requires the wisdom of a mentor/coach to structure the focus and feedback conversation. The other issue potentially is upskilling all observers to move away from checklists towards ‘blank paper’ scripts in order to work more closely with the teacher. One person I thank for this wisdom is working alongside Chris Moyse…
7. Supports retention
How many schools do you know that don’t have recruitment problems? There are many who don’t. There will be a large number of reasons why, not to mention location, pupil demographics, vision and values, as well as the people in charge. However, one real reason why teachers choose to stay, is because they are trusted and treated fairly. This can happen in all types of schools, not just those with ‘Outstanding’ judgements or a healthy budget.
Choosing to grow rather than measure teachers unlocks teacher autonomy, supports teacher wellbeing and improves retention and recruitment. What’s not to like?