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'Let's put an end to the learning walk'

These methods of checking teaching are too often formal observations pretending to be something else, says this teacher

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These methods of checking teaching are too often formal observations pretending to be something else, says this teacher

You’re happily teaching your lesson when suddenly, in walk two smiling assistant heads. You smile back and continue teaching while they speak to pupils and look at a couple of books. It seems like nothing out of the ordinary; just a run-of-the-mill learning walk.

Or is it? It’s now been 30 minutes and they haven’t left.

Later, in addition to the usual nervousness you feel post observation, you are now puzzled by the email you receive at lunchtime requesting that you get your feedback tomorrow after school.

You have now shifted from puzzled to panicked: you were given no notice of an observation (in fact, you had your performance management observation last term) so what, then, is the meaning of this?

Deceptive observation?

Unfortunately, some schools are very "creative" when it comes to defining what is meant by a learning walk. To you and I, it is simply a chance to observe general practice or even something specific, ie pupil premium pupils highlighted on a seating plan.

To the aforementioned, it is a tool for a deceptive observation. A stick to beat staff with. A morally bankrupt management strategy.

Why? Because if attempts are being made to actively "catch-out" a teacher, these will likely be successful. Due to the sheer workload, no teacher is on top of everything, all the time.

In addition, good leaders look for good practice, not hunt high and low for bad practice.

A plea for honesty

There are a multitude of reasons why a teacher would experience such a "learning walk": workplace bullying, professional distrust, a dip in results, complaints from pupils...

While some reasons may sound well intentioned, there is not a single reason that justifies deception. If someone observes you for an extended period of time and then gives you written feedback, it is an observation, not a learning walk.

So what do we do about this?

While I have heard stories about staff literally stopping their teaching and not-so-politely asking the observer "May I help you?" – and then refusing to teach – I think such insubordination will most probably land us in hot water.

So this issue could best be solved by utilising collective power. We cannot be of the persuasion that if "it didn’t happen to me" it’s ok. Can you guarantee that it won’t in future?

Collective responsibility

A problem for one teacher is a problem for all teachers. It is, therefore, important to be in the know about practices at your school. Staff, via union reps, should push for a maximum time limit on learning walks, and any talk of "learning walks go on as long as they have to" should be met with much resistance.

Senior leaders, whether you are motivated by the desperate need to appear to be doing something to raise standards, or even if you have a genuine concern about poor teaching, know that while your staff may comply, they will never respect you and you will never get the best from them.

Deception is the antithesis of good leadership. Be honest.

Omar Akbar is a teacher and author of The (Un)official Teacher’s Manual: What they don’t teach you in training

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