First step - Here's looking at you

23rd October 2009 at 01:00
Lesson observations are not designed to catch you out. You will benefit by listening, reflecting and acting on advice

Being observed is crucial to a new teacher's professional development, but it doesn't make the experience any less nerve-wracking. Observations are daunting, yet being realistic about what you want to achieve can make you feel more at ease.

"There's no such thing as a perfect teacher, so your lesson doesn't have to be perfect," says Sara Bubb, an author and educational consultant. "Don't be disheartened if it didn't go well. See it as an event to learn from and be given advice on. You need to show you're reflective, making progress and acting on advice."

The dialogue that takes place when feedback is given is a lot more important than the lesson itself, she says. "Think about what the pupils learnt and why, so you're ready to answer the inevitable 'How do you think it went?' question," she says. "What were you pleased with? What could have gone better? How did your teaching affect the progress pupils made?"

Jon Pass, who is in his NQT year at an independent school in Brighton, has found that accepting feedback is crucial. "I'm lucky to have played a high level of sport in my youth, so I am used to taking advice from senior coaches and players.

"The worst thing a new teacher can do is go into their NQT year thinking they are the finished article," he says. "I fully expect to still be learning how to teach in 20 years' time."

According to Mr Pass, it also helps to have a good working relationship with your tutor or head. "I have been lucky enough to work with some fantastic teachers, all of whom I have respected in their teaching ability and management style," he says. "If I didn't have this level of respect I would find it hard to take them seriously."

Verna Brandford, who teaches at the Institute of Education, London University, agrees that it is important to accept feedback in the professional spirit in which it is given. "Be prepared to justify the sequencing and rationale of the teacher and pupil activities during the lesson," she says.

There are at least six formal observations in the NQT year, but you can also request informal observations if you feel there are areas you want to develop. "I requested one informal observation to help me with a topic I was struggling to teach," says Mr Pass. "I got some great feedback on a different way of explaining it."

A mistake many new teachers make when being observed is trying to stick too closely to their lesson plan: it is easy to concentrate exclusively on achieving learning outcomes and neglect other organisational aspects.

"Do not forget to consider management, pace and timing. Have contingency plans in the event of malfunctioning technology or equipment," says Verna Brandford. "Have high expectations and communicate these to the pupils."

But what do you do if you feel you have been unfairly criticised? Often the trick is to confront the observer straight away. "If you think your teaching is criticised unfairly, make sure you explain the reasoning behind your actions," says Sara Bubb. "Ask for advice and ideas. Afterwards reflect on the discussion. Feel good about the positive comments and think about how to improve."

The more often observation is done - within reason - the more fruitful the experience becomes

Things To Think About

- Be realistic about what you want to achieve.

- Be prepared to adjust your lesson plan to take into account what happens in class.

- Speak to the observer about what they are going to focus on and where possible suggest areas you would like them to look at.

- Accept feedback in the professional spirit in which it is given.

- Do not be disheartened if the lesson does not go to plan: this is what observations are for.

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