Saturday, 14 July 2012

Lesson observations are good, in theory.

Lesson observations are good, in theory. The problem is that leadership teams don't necessarily give much thought to theory.

If delivered sensitively and formatively, only the paranoid and the brazenly unprofessional teacher need fear observation. The issue is that all too often, schools do not operate in the 'community of practice' mindset whereby colleagues co-operate and support one another - schools have whispering walls and as the salary gap between classroom teachers and school leaders has expanded, so to has the professional and emotional distance. Rather than being seen as an opportunity to support good practice, 'learning walks' are often perceived as intrusive snooping. Sometimes the suspicions are correct.

There is no wonder that teachers and their unions are touching cloth over the abandonment of the three-hour annual cap on lesson observations - too many schools are run through a culture of fear which is wholly incompatible with the reflective practice that observations should promote. The perfect outcome from a lesson observation could be that a struggling teacher identifies and discusses the areas of weakness in their teaching. From this point, plans can pieced together and constructive targets can be set. It's a shame then that so many teachers work in schools where admission of imperfection is tantamount to putting the noose on yourself to save the executioner's time.

Here's my confession. I love a good observation. I even love a bad one. Maybe it is the luxury of being a trainee, but I feel quite able to highlight my weaknesses and I think my teaching has become stronger as a result. I've known what needs to improve and I've worked on it.

Observations are potentially one of the cheapest and most effective forms of CPD could offer, and all teachers would benefit, but so long as Wilshaw is telling headteachers that good leadership is all about eccentric fear-mongering bastardry, teachers will be understandably and justifiably hostile to observations.

The culture of schools needs to change before any genuine benefits can be experienced by teachers.

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