3 ways to take the stress out of book looks

Don’t give your staff the impression you’re trying to catch them out, advises Jason Ford

Jason Ford

Large pile of exercise books

Book looks (or checks, or scrutiny, whatever you call them) need to be handled sensitively. 

When undertaken in the wrong way, they can have a significantly negative impact on teacher morale, willingness to embrace any feedback positively, and even wellbeing. On top of that, you may not achieve what you wanted to when you set out to look through the books.

So how do you get them right?

Be transparent 

Give teachers a heads-up that books will be taken in, without giving them the precise date (which can prompt teachers to do things they normally would not). If the culture is right around professional development in a school, teachers will not worry about handing in some exercise books that do not have yesterday’s work marked.  

Do teachers know what the book look will be focused on? Can you share the pro-forma you may be using to organise your thoughts with them? Openness and honesty here will pay off when it comes to providing teachers with feedback.

The aim should be to motivate and not isolate.  Better still, could teachers themselves decide the focus, reflect on what they and their peers are doing and feed back to each other?

Be clear with feedback

Let staff know how feedback will be provided.  Emailing out to teachers what is going well and what needs to be worked on has many merits of course, but delivering constructive feedback face-to-face makes the process more personal, and ultimately more open and transparent.

Showcase and celebrate best practice: a rising tide lifts all ships. Share the books with teachers or have photographs of best practice on a PowerPoint ready to discuss with teachers. Sandwich these examples with things that can be focused on to further improve pupils outcomes, keeping the experience a positive, yet reflective one for all throughout. 

Choose the right staff

The more leaders (senior or middle) that are involved, the more teachers will feel that book looks are embedded within the school culture as opposed to a senior leader waking up and deciding they want to see books from all year groups, completely unannounced.

Make sure those doing the book looks don’t give the impression that they are trying to catch staff out. This is not the talk you want in the staffroom about an exercise that can be so powerful.

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Jason Ford

Jason Ford is deputy head academic at Hampton Pre Prep and Prep School in Middlesex

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