Having another member of staff observing your lesson can send shivers down a teacher’s spine.
Particularly with the rise of performance-related pay, observations can feel less collaborative and cooperative than they used to, prompting panic and extra work to try to make sure everything goes perfectly.
And so, something that is used extensively during training to help teachers improve becomes a negative experience.
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But observations can be used to lighten workload. Here’s how.
Make them about self-improvement
Taking the risk away from observations makes the whole process much less stressful for teachers. The second someone feels that they are being judged for a formal reason, their anxiety levels are likely to rise.
If done correctly, frequent, low-stakes observations can help teachers to improve their practice in a way that reduces their workload.
Observations needn’t be about pass and fail, or lesson ratings (really, really don’t make them about those). Instead, they should be about advice that teachers can choose to act upon to improve their own practice and in turn their workload.
There needs to be clarity and transparency or the process becomes clouded and teachers lose faith. There should be one rule (or a number of rules) for all.
If teachers are seen fortnightly or monthly, then all teachers are seen that frequently; NQTs, middle leaders and senior leaders.
Teachers need to know what and how the observations will be used and this needs to be concrete. They must trust the process and buy into it.
Give effective feedback
The action of observing is only a fraction of the process; the feedback given is significantly more valuable but must be handled properly.
It should be focused, accessible and quick (in terms of both duration and proximity to the observation.)
Having one target or suggestion for improvement helps teachers to focus their efforts, and incorporating role play and live coaching means less work for the teacher as the practice has been modelled, so feedback is more efficient.
Build a culture of improvement
Making it clear to teachers that improving their practice will reduce their workload is paramount. Observing for the sake of observing is pointless.
Make sure that observers are trained well and have a collective vision for the reduction of workload through efficiency.
If the process becomes too complicated and you don’t train staff properly, you lose the effect and risk increasing the workload for no reason. If it is done right, the school will quickly adopt a culture of improvement.
Leave the judgement at the door and make it clear to teachers that observation is a process to help reduce workload and can be really helpful in lowering teacher stress.
In schools where observations are feared, there is an issue with how they are set up, not with the process of observing as a tool. Is it time for a shift in your school?
Adam Riches is a senior leader for teaching and learning, specialist leader in education and head of English. He tweets @TeachMrRiches