How to benefit at observation

28th October 2005 at 01:00
How is your induction going? The half-termly review of your progress is a great opportunity to get a clear picture of how you're doing and to make sure induction's working well. Are you getting your reduced timetable as well as planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time? Are you using the time well? How many other teachers have you observed? What's been most useful and why? What ideas have you put into practice? Are you becoming a better teacher?

So many questions. For now, let's focus on the observations of your teaching. You should have been observed within the first four weeks and now at least every half-term.

Feedback on teaching is really valuable and normally very boosting.

Research on induction revealed that newly qualified teachers found being observed and receiving feedback on lessons as useful as observing other teachers. It's so informative having someone watch you teach because they can point out what you do well, as well as the things you need to develop.


Most teachers don't like being observed and get nervous, which is perfectly normal. People can usually tell when you are and make allowances. One way of coping with nerves is to address your nightmares and do something about them. If you're worried that the behaviour of one child will ruin everything, ask the observer to focus on strategies for dealing with him, plan for an assistant to be with him, make sure the work is right, or even consider sending him to someone else during the observation.

Technology is notoriously fickle so set things up beforehand. Check and double check, but have a back-up plan in case it doesn't work. If you're worried that you'll forget what to do, make a clear written plan with the introduction and key questions scripted - that very act helps lodge it in your mind. Keep your plan to hand on a distinctive clipboard to avoid losing it, and have a spare in case you do. Use prompt cards and rehearse the lesson structure in your mind.

Plan with even more care than usual. Be completely prepared. Have a copy of the lesson plan for the observer. Be absolutely clear about what you want the pupils to learn and do, and make sure that your teaching and the activities match the objectives. Write as much as you can on the board beforehand.

Think about what the person observing you is looking for. Address things that haven't gone well before. Do everything you can to feel confident - wear your favourite teaching clothes; encourage others to boost you; sleep well; tell yourself that you're going to teach well.

Don't panic if things start to go wrong. Think on your feet, like Katy Laws did (see right). Most teachers have some lessons that go swimmingly, others that are all right and the occasional disasters. There are a huge number of factors to do with you and what you're teaching and then a whole heap to do with different classes, what lesson they've just had, and what time of day it is. So don't beat yourself up about it.


The dialogue that takes place after a lesson observation is vital. You know you'll be asked about how you thought it went so consider the lesson carefully. What did the pupils learn? Look at the work produced. What were you most pleased with and why? If you were to teach it again, what would you do differently? What are you going to do in the next lesson? Use the post-observation discussion to examine the minutiae of the lesson and to get ideas for improvements.

There's no such thing as a perfect teacher - except in your mind - so lessons don't have to be perfect. But you do need to show that you're reflective, making progress and acting on advice. If the lesson didn't go well, see it as an event to be learnt from and given advice on. It was a one-off performance, a snapshot, and things can be different tomorrow.

Be open to ideas, and accept and even encourage constructive criticism.

This has its painful side, but it's worth it.

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