Observed lessons are an event that teachers don't generally look forward to. Once a term, teachers are put under the microscope for a small snippet of around an hour. A headteacher or member of the management team will come, normally with a clipboard, and will usually sit at the teacher's desk with a smile (or sometimes not!) on their face.
This is an occurrence that all teachers will be familiar with. You'll have your class prepped for them coming in – some teachers even bribe their children with a treat or a reward – and you pray for good behaviour. You'll choose a lesson that is safe and one in which you're comfortable the children will manage; it will show solid differentiation with considered support and some really good challenge.
These lessons are always predictable in the outcome. The member of the management team observing will find positives and also areas for development. You know what is coming before you've even sat in the feedback meeting.
How many lesson observations do we need?
I don’t have a problem with a profession being audited, but I suppose I have an issue with the volume of observations. At what point are you good enough? Previous colleagues of mine have been teaching for a long time and have been observed four times a year for many, many years. Take even an established teacher a decade into the profession; are 40 observations really necessary?
What about the people observing? Does being a headteacher really mean that you were an excellent teacher? Do heads nowadays have the knowledge and experience when it comes to using IT in the classroom to comment on a teacher’s use of it? Is a headteacher, far removed from the chalkface, able to speak with confidence about effective or current pedagogies being deployed by practitioners?
I heard a story about a class teacher who, after an observation, was picked apart by the head. The teacher responded with, “It's not my fault you don't understand the pedagogy used within the lesson.” The headteacher couldn't respond – maybe they didn't understand the pedagogy, or maybe it's a fantasy staffroom story, but it's an interesting point, nonetheless. If current practitioners are deploying new and exciting pedagogies that the senior management team have no experience in actually using themselves, are the SMT really in the best place to comment? Would a surgeon who hasn't used new equipment really observe and then give points of feedback to a current surgeon using it day in and day out?
Surely, there is a better way to evaluate staff practice than this archaic and pointless system we use at the moment. One thing is for sure: I've yet to find a teacher who thinks that four observations a year expands their practice or impacts the children's learning positively. If it isn't doing either of those things, is there a point?
The writer is a primary teacher in Scotland