I started in my new school this term and find I don't like the head at all. She is about to observe one of my lessons. Any hints?

10th June 2005 at 01:00
;Dear Ted;Features arts Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own

Ted says

You may not like the head, but she is in a position to sever your vitals, so likes and dislikes don't really come into it.

Lesson observation is an important professional activity. The head is ultimately responsible for "performance management", or "continuing professional development", so it is legitimate and necessary. Insightful observation should take place more often than is customary, because teaching can be a lonely job and we can all learn from our colleagues.

I offer the same advice as to anyone being observed: act naturally. It is usually apparent to observers when a fake lesson has been mounted, just for show. Do what you normally do (only make sure you prepare it this time), with natural, unforced enthusiasm. Then listen to any advice, trying not to appear too defensive. A proper professional dialogue about teaching should ensue, if the process is working properly, and there can be amicable disagreement as well as agreement.

The real issue, however, is why you don't like the head. Being observed is a short-term matter; not respecting someone is a long-term problem.

Sensible heads can make appraisal a two-way process ("I'll say something about your teaching, you say something about what I should be doing as a head and what we should be doing as a school"). Teachers appreciate it when the process is not one-sided. Perhaps you can find a thoughtful way of talking to the head about your own feelings, should the opportunity not arise during your appraisal. Obviously not with a crass "Look here, sunshine, you couldn't run a chip shop...", but maybe by asking for a chat about concerns you have after one term in your new school. Better to get it out in the open than leave it festering.

You say

Follow guidance to the letter

Unfortunately your headteacher possesses all the power in the relationship.

She will be the one who ultimately makes a judgment as far as your performance management is concerned and, importantly, she will be the one who you will have to ask for a reference when you leave.

You have no option but to play the game as well as you can. Don't take any chances with the lesson she observes. Cover your bases by getting advice and guidance from the subject co-ordinator or a member of the SMT, and then follow it to the letter. Copy the methods of members of staff the head holds up as models of good practice and make sure that you are following all the guidelines contained in the subject policy.

If it's any consolation, there are only a limited number of times that you can be officially observed like this during a school year. And it may also be useful to remember that, if this is part of your performance management, you have the right to appeal against any judgment you consider to be unfair.

Paul Warnes, Kent

The children are your true critics

Surely, you are not in the business of teaching to like your headteacher, but rather to provide a service to your pupils. While it always helps if you have a good relationship with your head, does it really matter that much? What is much more important is your relationships with the pupils and this is developed as much through empathetic interactions as thorough preparation and good delivery of your lessons.

The children are your most potent critics. If you are doing a good job, they will love you for it and make teaching the most rewarding profession you can ever be in. The headteacher will soon find out about you through them, and if shehe is worth it, will take the first steps to let you know how valued you are and how much you are wanted. Isn't that more important than finding yourself not liking the headteacher and worrying about a measly lesson observation?

David Sassoon , email

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