Why parents' praise is actually a cause for concern

Parents emailing schools to praise online learning shows that we're under lesson observation, warns this head
15th January 2021, 11:00am
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Why parents' praise is actually a cause for concern

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/why-parents-praise-actually-cause-concern
Online Learning: Why Parents' Emails Congratulating Teachers On Their Online Lessons Is A Cause For Concern

Let me tell you about an email I received from a parent. She wrote to me (at length) to tell me how great she thought her daughter's teacher was, and how engaged her daughter was.

Now, this is one of the best teachers I've ever seen. She's just unbelievably good at her job. And this email was written with absolutely the best intentions.

But what that parent had provided me with was observation feedback. She had observed that lesson and provided detailed feedback.

And then you have to ask yourself: what if that teacher had been a bit ropey? Or even half-average? What would have been on the parents' WhatsApp group then?

This, I think, is the problem with live lessons. Like most schools around the country, we've had lots of positive feedback from parents over the past week: around 90 per cent of emails are to say how impressed parents are with what they're seeing.

But that's not the point. The point is that they shouldn't be in a position to be impressed.

Online learning: The stress of lesson observation

Because they may be impressed today, but what about the day when you're tired and a bit ill, and at nine in the morning a child starts with you? The flip side of being impressed is being unimpressed.

As a headteacher, I've not observed a lesson in five years. It's a completely pointless exercise, except as a piece of power play by the headteacher. And it's incredibly stressful for the member of staff involved.

Lesson observation is stressful when it's just twice a year. And at least my feedback is going to be professional. It's written on a piece of paper that they can take to their union if they want.

But now live lessons are essentially four - or five or six - observations a day, by people you would never in a million years want to be observing your lessons. This is the big elephant in the room.

So much of what a school offers then depends on the staff team. I've got the best team I've ever had in place this year, so we've been able to offer 100 per cent live lessons. But every time you hire a new member of staff, you cross your fingers and hope.

Coronavirus: The difficulty of online teaching

A couple of years ago, I'd have been happy putting 10 of my 12 members of teaching staff online, but there was no way the other two teachers were going live. We had an NQT, just limping through the year with our help, gradually working out that teaching wasn't for her.

And we had another teacher whose results were worse than any I'd seen in 15 years. She seemed great but, when the door closed, clearly something happened that wasn't supposed to. So there was no way I could put her live in someone's living room.

This sort of thing is an issue for schools everywhere. You have teachers with different levels of knowledge, training and - let's be honest - arrogance. Not to mention the ones who now have a five-yea- old running around in the background.

That's why the Department for Education shouldn't dictate whether or not schools have to go live - because so much depends on the make-up of the team, on their levels of experience, on who's got children.

What teachers are doing at the moment is insanely difficult. People don't understand how difficult it is, and so it's going to go unappreciated. Online learning is hard - it's a horrible, horrible thing. Just reading a book live is very hard.

It does get easier - all the staff who were struggling with it for the first day or two now have it down to a fine art. We can adjust to anything.

But the idea of live teaching being an observation: that's something we shouldn't have to adjust to.

The author is the headteacher of a primary school in the North of England

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