The Lesson Observation Episode

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Episode 64 of The Teaching Space Podcast shares a new approach to lesson observations.

Welcome

Welcome to season two of The Teaching Space Podcast. I have decided to start classing each academic year’s worth of episodes as a season to make it easier to keep track of where we are with the show.

I started recording the podcast back in December 2017, so I am classing the episodes between then and June 2018 (episode 27) as season 0. Episodes 28 to 63 (the last academic year) were season one. So that means today’s episode marks the start of season two.

I wanted to kick the new season off with a meaty episode, that’s why I’ve chosen lesson observations. If you’re listening and thinking “this doesn’t apply to me as I am not in a school environment”, keep listening. Remember, I am not in a school environment either. You’ll find I am going to talk more about professional development than anything else.

Background

I work in the further education and skills sector. Like most Colleges, in recent history, our approach to lesson observations has been something like this:

  • One lesson observation a year
  • Observer is a member of the lesson observation team
  • Lesson observations are graded against criteria
  • They are judgemental, as opposed to developmental
  • Managers (middle and senior) carry out additional learning walks

The rationale behind this approach, like most observation schemes, was performance management, loosely framed as professional development. You could argue there is a degree of developmental focus in there, as if someone was not performing in a certain area, they could access various CPD opportunities. But, when it comes down to it, performance was being measured against criteria.

This is how most observation schemes are structured, to the best of my knowledge. In most cases, observations would be carried out by managers rather than peers (as in our case). On the face of it, we appear to be a little ahead of the game, using peers instead of managers. However, should a peer have a responsibility for contributing to the performance management of another peer? Probably not.

Research

Added to this, current research demonstrates that traditional, graded observations do not work. If you are interested in reading more about this I highly recommend anything by Matt O’ Leary, in particular his book, Classroom Observation (which I think is being updated at the moment). I have just downloaded his more recent book, Reclaiming Observations, which I am looking forward to getting stuck into.

Some of the reasons these observations are not effective are:

  • They are a snapshot of teaching practice
  • They cause teachers unnecessary stress
  • There is a formula for achieving an outstanding lesson observation

As such, lesson observations are not a good measure of performance and rarely contribute to a teacher’s professional development.

ONE THING

We decided to redesign the entire professional development cycle for teachers at my organisation. We wanted to:

  • Redefine the role of lesson observation as a tool for professional development only - performance management would be handled outside of this process
  • Avoid causing teachers undue stress and needlessly adding to their workload
  • Place ownership of professional development with the teacher
  • Create a culture of professional trust
  • Encourage collaboration with peers, reflective practice and scholarly activity
  • Place teaching and learning at the heart of professional development.

So the “ONE THING” was born. Broadly speaking, it looks like this:

  • Start of the academic year: teachers self-assess their practice against the ETF Professional Standards for Teachers and Trainers in the UK. In discussion with peers, they choose their ONE THING - an aspect of their professional practice to focus on developing for the academic year.
  • Teachers research their ONE THING with peers and experiment in their classroom.
  • Observed activity happens (not always classroom-based):
    • Pre-meeting to discuss the focus of the observation (ONE THING)
    • Observed activity happens
    • Post-observation discussion to explore next steps and developmental/research opportunities
  • Observation is conducted by a peer, is:
    • Non-judgemental
    • Ungraded
    • Focussed on the ONE THING
    • Driven by the teacher
  • End of the academic year: self-assessment is repeated.

How Did it Go?

The short answer is: extremely well based on the questionnaire and focus group feedback from lecturers. On the questionnaire, 100% of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed the ONE THING process benefited their teaching practice.

There are things we are going to change for next year, for example, our communication strategy and our ONE THING vocabulary. The phrase “ONE THING” has stuck well but some of the role names within the process have not, for example, there was a lack of clarity on the role of the “buddy” and the role of the “peer”. While we’d simplified the observation paperwork dramatically, we know we can simplify it further.

Over to You

I’d like to take our observation research further and find out your experience of similar processes. Feel free to email me on hello@theteachingspace.com or pop into our Facebook Group (TTS Staff Room) and share your story.

Wrap Up

Support the Show

That’s it for today. Before I go I have a small request: if you enjoyed today’s episode, please support the show by either:

  1. Leaving a positive review on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen.
  2. Buying my book, The Productive Teacher, on Amazon or Kobo (find more information at theprodutiveteacherbook.com).
  3. Making a small one-off, or monthly, financial contribution to the running costs of the show on my Kofi page which you can find at ko-fi.com/theteachingspace.

… or doing all three if you are feeling super generous! Any financial contributions go directly towards the running costs of the podcast so you are investing in future content. Thank you.

Questions? Comments?

If you have any questions about the show or thoughts you’d like to share you can do so by either:

  1. Leaving a comment on this episode’s show notes blog post.
  2. Posting in our Facebook group: TTS Staff Room.
  3. Posting on Twitter (I’m @MartineGuernsey if you want to mention me).
  4. Contacting me via The Teaching Space website: theteachingspace.com.

The show notes for this episode include any links I’ve mentioned; you can find them at theteachingspace.com/64.

Thanks for listening and I hope you’ll join me for the next episode.