Judgment day

12th January 2001 at 00:00
You should have been observed at least twice if you started induction in September. How did it go? Sara Bubb reports on the art of being watched.

Observation is a powerful tool for assessing and monitoring your progress. Used well, it can be a means of support, because it gives such a detailed picture of your teaching and the learning it inspires. It enables specific objectives to be set. But its value depends on how well it is planned, executed and discussed afterwards. It is almost always a stressful experience - and it can go disastrously wrong. Judgments about how you are doing will be based largely on these observations.

Induction tutors may also find observing stressful, perhaps because they feel inexperienced and uncertain of the best way to go about it. The year group or area of the curriculum may not be familiar, or they may feel that their observation and feedback will compare unfavourably with that of the university supervisor whom you have been used to. As the person responsible for you, they will also be mindful of the need to maintain a good relationship. This can lead induction tutors to be too kind or vague, giving comments such as "everything's fine".

NQTs sometimes feel that they are not being sufficiently challenged. This is particularly true for those who are very successful, but they too need to be helped to develop professionally. You can further this process by being open to ideas and accepting, even encouraging, constructive criticism. Phrases such as "That's a really good idea - thanks," will work wonders. Here are some tips for being observed and discussing your teaching.

Before the observation * Discuss what you would find helpful for the observer to focus on.

* Make sure you know when you are going to be observed, for how long and by whom. You should not be observed without notice.

* Discuss ground rules such as: how the observer's presence is to be explained to the class; what they're going to do; where they should sit; their time of arrival and departure.

* Agree a time and place to discuss the lesson within 24 hours, and what written feedback you will get.

Being observed * Plan the lesson with even greater care than usual, being very focused about your learning outcomes so that all the teaching and activities enable the pupils to meet them.

* Give the observer a copy of your plan, so that they are clear why you are doing certain things.

* Think through every stage of the lesson to pre-empt problems, and try to keep to time so that you have a plenary.

* Try to demonstrate that you are meeting current objectives and relevant standards.

* Do everything you can to feel confident (wear clothes that make you feel the part).

* Don't panic if things don't go according to plan.

The post-observation discussion * You will almost always be asked how you thought the lesson went. Reflect on it - in particlar, on the progress pupils made. What were you pleased with? What could have gone better? How typical was it? Don't be disheartened if the lesson didn't go well. See it as a one-off event to be learnt from.

* Listen well. Don't just hear what you want or expect to hear. Focus on what is being said, not how it is being said. See it as information, rather than criticism, and note salient points.

* Explain reasons for doing something that might not have been clear to the observer - stick up for yourself.

* Try to summarise the observer's views, asking them if they agree. Ask for advice and ideas, and clarification of anything you're unsure of.

* Afterwards, reflect on the discussion. Feel good about the positive comments and think abouthow to improve.

Sara Bubb works with NQTs and students at the London Institute of Education

PAUL'S EXPERIENCES

Paul was given a week's notice that his induction tutor, Lucy, was going to observe him. They planned the observation in detail and agreed that Lucy would focus on Paul's sharing of the learning objectives and how the pupils knew whether they'd met them.

Paul found the run-up to the observation stressful, but managed to prepare thoroughly. He had seen Lucy teach, and realised that she was very experienced. He felt very self-conscious at the start of the observation and made a few mistakes as a result, but relaxed when the induction tutor gave him a sympathetic smile. Overall, Paul thought the lesson went well and was relieved by Lucy's words of praise as she left the room.

They discussed the lesson at the end of that day. Paul was pleased that his achievements had been recognised. Lucy pointed out some strengths that he had not been aware of, which was gratifying.

He agreed with what she identified as areas to develop and found it helpful to set objectives and action points to address them. He felt in safe hands.

Jane's experiences Jane's head gave her no warning that he was going to observe and they had not discussed what the focus should be. He arrived half way through the whole-class introduction and interrupted her to ask for a lesson plan. This threw her and she rushed her explanation of the activity which meant that the children were unsure what to do and misbehaved.

The lesson went badly. The head left without saying anything. Ten days later Jane received some written notes about the lesson, but was unable to discuss them because the head was too busy and she didn't want to make a fuss. She felt that some of the points were useful but was upset at the negative tone and long list of action points.

She thought that judgments were being based on a lesson that was completely untypical and felt that the observation had not only been a waste of time but gave a damaging and unfair picture of her teaching, that she would have to work hard to rectify. Her stress levels increased.


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