The sight of the headteacher sliding into the classroom to observe a lesson can make even the most experienced educator uneasy. Schools focus a great deal of time on creating successful frameworks for effective lesson observations. But how much notice should a teacher get beforehand?
There is no hard rule, with some headteachers giving 24 hours’ notice and others providing up to a week. Increasingly common, however, is the no-notice observation. Proponents say this takes pressure off the teacher and enables the school leader to see “real” teaching. But critics say it is unfair and can actually add to the pressure.
We asked three headteachers how impromptu observations should be handled.
Peter Reid, headteacher, Broxburn Academy, West Lothian
Class visits by the extended management team are built into the quality assurance programme, and every member of staff has two visits a session from the same member of the team per year. All staff know in advance that they will be visited, and second visits allow a check on progress.
Unplanned drop-in visits focus on young people: on planners, uniform, how good the working atmosphere is and so on. These happen whenever possible, and are occasionally prompted by young people or parents expressing a concern. Staff receive feedback on drop-ins only when required, and it is informal unless there is a particular issue. Staff are used to visits and welcome the interest and support.
Joanne Stanley, assistant head for lower school, Broadford Primary School, London
Weekly observations are carried out by trained coaches – middle leaders or members of the senior leadership team. Our head isn’t a coach; instead he blocks out two sessions a week when he pops into classes for 5-10 minutes (he doesn’t specify which in advance). This allows him to get a feel for the school. If he stays for longer, he provides feedback in the same way as the coaches.
We feel all teachers are entitled to regular feedback so they can improve their practice. Little tweaks over time can allow a seismic shift in the typical quality of teaching.
Joanna Ebner, headmistress, Thomas’s Kensington, London
I conduct some unscheduled lesson observations, but I wouldn’t describe them as such.
Today, for example, I was walking through the hall where a brilliant violin lesson was taking place. The learning happening was truly outstanding. I stayed for about 5-10 minutes, then slipped out, waving farewell to the teacher, who caught my eye. I emailed him later to say how much I had enjoyed his lesson and what a privilege it was to have caught a glimpse of it.
In my school, I am proud that there is a culture of mutual respect and trust.
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