Heed my tips

21st March 2003 at 00:00
Sara Bubb outlines strategies to help gain the most benefit from observing colleagues

Whatever stage you have reached in the profession, you will learn a great deal about teaching and learning from watching colleagues at work.

And if you talk to the person you've observed about their lesson, they will certainly gain too. Observation is a win-win activity: CPD squared.

Observing so that you get something out of it, however, is difficult.

You need a focus and a purpose. Ask yourself: what do I want to get better at? If you want to improve your pace in introductions, for instance, arrange to observe someone doing that. Write prompts of things to look out for: the speed of the exposition, how many pupils answer questions and how the teacher manages to move them on, how instructions are given and resources distributed, and how distractions are handled.

Ask around to find out which teachers to observe. Miranda had problems with behaviour management, so she asked to watch someone with a good reputation for control. She found much of his management "invisible": he just cleared his throat and the class became quiet.

She also persuaded a supply teacher to let her observe. Though not so perfectly controlled, the lesson gave Miranda much more to think about and she learned lots of useful strategies. The supply teacher found it useful to hear Miranda's views and to talk to someone about a specific lesson, so both gained from the experience.

Watching a class you teach being led by someone else is fascinating: you can see the pupils' learning, behaviour and reactions, and how another teacher handles them.

Try to observe in other schools, too - ones with and without beacon status.

Discuss what you want to observe (and why) with the teacher, so that they can try to demonstrate what will be most useful to you. And remember that they are doing you a favour, so try to be inconspicuous in the room but sit where you can see the teacher and the pupils. Use your prompt sheet to jot down things of interest and questions to ask afterwards.

Think about the pupils' learning and what it was about the teaching that helped or hindered it. For instance, what was it about the teacher's delivery that caused pupils' rapt attention, or fidgeting? Avoid teaching or interfering in any way. This is very tempting! Pupils will often expect you to help them, but this will distract you - and the teacher.

Afterwards, reflect on the teaching and learning you have seen by discussing and asking questions of the person you observed. This is the most rewarding practice for newly qualified teachers, as our induction research project for the Department for Education and Skills discovered.

Perhaps the teaching inspired a brainwave or a directly transferable idea.

Remember, imitation is the best form of flattery, so what ideas are you going to use?

Sara Bubb (s.bubb@ioe.ac.uk) works at the Institute of Education, University of London, and runs courses on observation. The research she refers to is in Improving Induction by Sara Bubb, Ruth Heilbronn, Cath Jones, Michael Totterdell and Maxine Bailey. Published by Routledge Falmer, pound;19.99.

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