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Five ways to improve lesson observations

A problem with lesson observations – and a reason that they can be so hated by teachers – is that too many are conducted badly, according to the head of teaching at a Hampshire further education college.

Writing in the 3 April issue of TES, Hayley Ryan, who works across both academic and vocational courses, says that many observers don't know how to observe teaching properly. “Too often observations are punitive, hostile investigations seeking fault,” she says. “They should be the opposite: a way for the teacher and observer to work together to improve practice, where positives are celebrated and negatives are identified, targeted and followed up.” She writes that if you create the right observation environment, teachers will view the process as a method of professional development rather than an exercise designed to catch them out. So what specifically makes for a good observation technique? In the magazine, Hayley lists seven areas to consider and here are five of them.

1. First impressions count Enter the classroom with a smile on your face – you have not snuck in to catch the teacher at their worst, you have entered with the hope of seeing their best. A smile communicates this. You should ensure that the teacher feels as comfortable as possible with your presence so they can focus on the learners, rather than you. This is achieved through subtle behaviours that alter the power within a space, such as coming in with the students rather than waiting in the empty room for the teacher and learners to enter. Intimidating the teacher is counterproductive in the quest for quality.

2. Focus on the learners You are not there to assess a teacher’s “performance”; you are there to assess how much learning has taken place during the observation. This means that you absolutely should not sit at the back of the room for the duration of the lesson – how can you check the learning from there? Instead, you need to sit among the students, talk to them (when it is not likely to affect the lesson) check their notes and look through their folders. Immerse yourself in the lesson in order to assess learner progress.

3. Exchange ideas Start the conversation by asking the teacher how they felt about the lesson – did it go well? Did it go to plan? If they reply that it didn’t and go on to outline what went wrong and why, you have a highly reflective teacher who knows what good teaching, learning and assessment looks like, and recognises why they missed the mark this time. Here, it is often prudent to ask whether the teacher would like to be observed again at a later date.

4. Be cautious when views differ When the teacher disagrees with your judgement, tread carefully. You do not want to sap their confidence. It is productive to be honest about your concerns but be positive about the actions they can take to overcome the issues impeding effective learning. It is also important to clearly signpost the support available to them.

5. Don’t take it personally Invariably, some teachers will be upset by aspects of your feedback. Don’t take this personally – your observations would have been matched by any other observer (as long as we assume effective standardisation processes exist within your school or college). Just make sure that the teacher’s line manager is aware of the situation and ready to offer support for their development.

For the full story, get the 27 March edition of TES on your tablet or phone or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents.

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