Say it with sarnies

9th November 2007 at 00:00
Walking on eggshells is the phrase that springs to mind. But it's worse than that. Watching colleagues teach and then giving them feedback on their lessons can go horribly wrong if handled badly.

Lesson observation is in the remit of most middle leaders. It requires high skill, but generally attracts little training. There is something peculiar about each teacher's lair. You would be foolish to see it as simply a workspace: it's far more complex than that. You are entering a personal domain, an individual arena that delineates the character and personality of the teacher within. As monitor of standards, you have every right to be there, of course. But when you make your judgments, you need to be very clear about the outcome you are hoping for and the language you use to achieve it.

In my experience, there is always something to be gained from watching someone else teach. At best, you may pick up some handy tips to inform your own teaching, and if you identify mistakes, you might well recognise a few of your own, past or present.

A good opening to any feedback session is for you to describe what you have learnt as an observer. This will help lead on to the meat of the feedback - the points for development. This is your chance to frame your judgments in positive language. It is important to have your vocabulary well worked out - for example, phrases such as "have you thought of trying?", "one thing that I have found useful is ..." or "you might like to consider ..."

Remember, it is your job to help develop your colleagues' skills. Think how you would tackle poor performance with a pupil - you would surround any adverse comments with positive, upbeat guidance on how to improve. Some people call this the "criticism sandwich".

You and your team need to be clear about what outstanding lessons look like, and you, in particular, need to be confident about identifying "outstanding features". It is your responsibility to guide your staff when none exist.

Lesson feedback is a professional conversation that is always in danger of sliding into hurt pride and dented self-esteem. Approach with sensitivity and care. Mutual trust and respect are the key ingredients of a successful professional relationship. This activity requires a large amount of tact, some constructive criticism, and a degree of personal humility on the part of the middle manager.

Lindy Barclay, Deputy head, Redbridge Community School in Southampton.

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