It is 2.15 on a Thursday afternoon and Year 8 are being, well, Year 8. At lunchtime, it was unusually windy and, just as certainly as night follows day, the wind has sent the students into another dimension of hyperactivity.
Just when you feel like you have wrestled control back from the windswept horde, the door opens and in walks the deputy head with the most hated piece of equipment known to teacher-kind: the clipboard. It is Learning Walk time.
Every classroom practitioner has probably faced a similar scenario at some point during their teaching career. The ominous opening of the door and the deathly hush that falls over the class is punctuated only by the sound of your blood rushing through your head and your heart pounding. Nothing seems to stress a teacher out more than being monitored, observed or watched. Does it have to be this way? Can monitoring be a friend rather than a feared enemy?
Employees in all industries need to have some sort of monitoring or quality control. Employers and customers need to know that they are going to be giving, and getting, an appropriate service. This is the same whether it is in your local supermarket or in a high-street coffee shop.
It is equally as valid in schools. Teachers provide a service to students and it’s important that this service is checked to ensure that it meets the expected standards. Not many teachers would disagree with that premise. But what causes the issue is the way that this monitoring is carried out.
Research suggests that the single most effective way of improving student outcomes is not spending more funding or enhancing access to ICT or any other initiative; it is simply improving teaching. When used as a vehicle for CPD, an effective monitoring programme can allow school leaders to build bespoke training and development packages to push teaching forward in a meaningful manner.
Monitoring does not only identify areas of weakness in teaching, it also identifies areas of best practice that should then be shared and celebrated. If someone in your school is doing a good job, then they should be told that as effectively and clearly as that person who is not doing so well.
So why is monitoring not seen in this way? In order to truly understand how to monitor effectively in a school, it is crucial that we identify the barriers that currently exist. The biggest barrier to effective monitoring is that many institutions carry out the wrong type of monitoring. By this, I mean that they monitor for the sake of being able to put a form into a folder labelled “Ofsted”, and nothing is ever done with it. Any monitoring that does not have a clear and achievable outcome is a waste of time on all sides.
It is this lack of transparency and purpose that makes the monitoring process threatening to a lot of staff. If teachers are never told what they are being monitored for, or why they are being monitored, they’ll continue to be disaffected by monitoring.
And in some institutions, it is clear that senior management have fundamentally misinterpreted their role in the school. These leaders have cultivated a “them and us” approach, which is detrimental not only to staff wellbeing but also ultimately to student outcomes and progress.
Senior leaders should want all of their staff to succeed and should be willing to strive for staff improvement because better teaching equals better results. Unfortunately, the threatening nature of some senior leaders and the perceived threat of accountability leads to the disempowering of middle leaders, as well as a gulf of trust between frontline staff and their managers.
So what does good monitoring look like? The single most important change that schools can make to their monitoring process is to make it collaborative.
- All staff should be involved and be seen to be monitored to the same standards, whether they are new to the profession or a headteacher with 20 years’ experience.
- Paired observations should take place across the school, with all staff given a chance to observe a professional peer.
- Learning Walks should be on a rota basis; the NQT in your department has just as much right to see what is going on around the school as the teacher who has been there for 10 years. Experience does not always equate with excellence and the naivety of the NQT does not necessarily mean that they have nothing to contribute to the pedagogical practices of the school.
- Outcomes and good practice should be shared; praise those who deserve it with as much effort as you support those who need assistance.
On top of this, it must be assumed that every teacher wants to do a good job, even – dare I say it – to be “outstanding” at it.
Dan Corns is an English teacher and author. He tweets at @DanWhoWrites