he scene was the sixth-year common room at the end of the second day of the primary 7 induction experience. The senior pupils had been acting as buddies to the new intake - welcoming them to the "big school", acting as guides and helping them in their team-building exercise, where our outdoor education department set the task of raft construction to cross the local river.
They sat slumped in their still new senior uniforms, the picture of exhaustion after a testing couple of days. Eventually, one of them summoned up the energy to speak. "Well, that's primary teaching ruled out, anyway," she muttered to a response of nodding heads.
My son, arriving home from playing his part in this endurance test, echoed her sentiments. He looked at his mother and father, both showing clearly the bounce and joie de vivre that come hand in hand with the last couple of weeks of a long, hard school session, or maybe not, and shook his head. "I don't know how you two do it!" he exclaimed, with all the new-found wisdom of the day's experience.
Our sixth-years had discovered for themselves what every teacher, manager and inspector knows: if you want to find out about teaching, the best approach must include observation. This commonly accepted truth doesn't, of course, stop those who have never been in a classroom in their adult lives pontificating about teachers and their skills. Nor, unfortunately, do the universally acknowledged advantages of observation lead to its widespread presence in our schools.
There are predictable problems in resourcing this initiative. Freeing staff from the timetable to observe in the classroom has an obvious knock-on effect and is sometimes only possible during times of examination leave or under the arrangements for probationers, even though, to be effective, observation needs to be available to all staff and in a variety of classes.
Despite the obvious advantages of peer observation and feedback, some who have been used to a solitary life in the classroom over the years find the suggestion of a colleague in their class intrusive. Clearly, there needs to be established an ethos in which observation and feedback from colleagues is supportive, non-threatening, and effective.
The stresses on classroom teachers at present are legion and well-documented; smaller classes and better resources would, of course, help the situation, but priorities should be set. I believe that the claim for structured opportunities for observation is undeniable. Teachers deserve the comfort and security that comes with positive feedback from colleagues whose work they admire and whose word they trust.
Sharing best practice makes sense.