2nd October 2015 at 01:00
freedom is key in lesson observation

It’s time for colleges to let teaching staff take ownership of lesson observation, says Dan Williams

I have a 22-month-old daughter who learns new things extremely quickly. She likes to watch other children playing. She absorbs everything going on around her and, before you know it, she is doing what she just observed.

Of course, this sort of behaviour is not exclusive to her: we’ve all learned a great deal from watching others over the years. And, as teachers, we’ve probably all “magpied” the methods of others. That’s why I think lesson observation (whether graded or not) is not as productive as it could be.

It’s important to have dialogue about what might and might not be working. However, the focus should not be on making judgements about each other, but on taking something that we’ve seen work for other teachers and trying it out in our own lessons.

Let’s face it, observation in any institution is usually undertaken by people who aren’t practising teachers. These people provide feedback on what they perceive to have been positive or negative about the lesson. Even in the most developmental of processes, the conversations will usually be in the context of a judgement or appraisal.

Why not shake things up a bit? Why not let teachers watch other teachers so they can take away ideas to use in their own classrooms? It could be a particular method of questioning, a particular way of delivering a topic, or even a particular way of laying out the classroom. It doesn’t matter what – it’s all about creating a low-risk, high-gain environment.

Matt O’Leary, research fellow at the University of Wolverhampton, has conducted the largest and most extensive study of lesson observation yet (bit.ly/FELessonObservation). He argues that most current modes of observation have a “performance-driven focus [that] has culminated in a prescribed and codified model of what it means to be an effective teaching professional in some circles, with limited opportunities for the use of observation to stimulate collaborative discussion about the process of teaching and learning”.

I appreciate that some practices we copy from others may end up being ineffectual, but it’s nevertheless important to get teachers to be enquirers in their own classrooms, to find out what works best for them. In order to do this, they need to observe and have dialogue with their peers.

I’ve had the privilege of observing many lessons and, as a result, I find myself rethinking what to do and what not to do in my own teaching. As much as I try to share these ideas, nothing compares to seeing things for yourself.

Dan Williams is an FE practitioner in the Midlands

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