I have been a teacher of Economics for six months, a Headteacher for 9 years and, at the age of 48, this much I know about having my lesson graded Good when I felt it was Outstanding!
Above all else Headteachers have to be able to teach, really well. It was my Performance Development lesson observation yesterday. We call it Performance Development rather than Management, and certainly would never use Appraisal. If you spend an hour observing a colleague teach and then 30 minutes giving feedback it has to be a developmental experience or it doesn’t benefit the individual or the school.
SLT have to teach what’s required when the Curriculum and Staffing Plans are being drawn up, within reason. My CSE grade 1 German hardly qualifies me to teach MFL, but my Economics and Mathematics A levels are a solid foundation for me to teach Economics A level for the first time ever this year.
Economics is a sexy subject right now. There couldn’t be a better time to teach Economics – Greece, the Euro, austerity, the BBC team of Flanders, Peston and Mason, Cyprus, the Budget. It’s great!
If you teach Economics make sure you follow Geoff Riley @tutor2u_econ; he’s a god!
You cannot plan lessons more than a day or two ahead. How can you plan next week’s lessons before you know how this week’s lessons have panned out? The idea that you can have a scheme of learning on the VLE which gives you lesson by lesson plans is nonsensical. As Michael Wilshaw says, We need to celebrate diversity, ingenuity and imagination in the way that we teach. Surely this is common sense. When every child is different; every class is different, and every year group is different. One size rarely fits all. Using last year’s lesson when the students in front of you are different isn’t logical.
Being truly great in every lesson is the ultimate aspiration. David Didau @Learningspy says in one of his blogs that if every fourth lesson for every class is a corker, all will be well. http://learningspy.co.uk/2012/11/17/2-minute-lesson-plan/. Similarly, one of my colleagues, Penny Hall, said to me recently that she spins plates with her classes; that means she spins the metaphorical plate for each class the lesson before they potentially become disengaged. So, I sat down to plan this lesson at 10.40 pm on Thursday night, just home from a Full Governors’ meeting, having observed two lessons in the morning, interviewed for an internal post with the Chair of Governors, given a talk at the Institute of Effective Education Conference at York University on evidence-based research with Dr Jonathan Sharples in the afternoon, and with Michael Gove on Question Time from York; essentially, my equivalent of a 5 period teaching day!
Don’t over-plan lessons! Here’s my Lesson Progress Map, which I wrote in 5 minutes when I got up yesterday:
The 30 minutes I spent actually planning on Thursday night weren’t about producing a Lesson Progress Map, they were spent thinking about what I was going to teach and developing the resources, which are here:
Good observers see the things you don’t see or choose not to see. When I was questioning, I could feel myself guiding students to an answer on a subliminal level. As I asked Joe, If income tax is reduced, is that likely to increase or decrease consumer spending? I could feel my outstretched hand rise up! It was funny, but I couldn’t stop it! In my marginal anxiety for Joe and the rest of the group to give a good response my body language was providing them with the answers, rather than developing their thinking and their learning more effectively. And this is just what the two observers, Alison Fletcher our Assistant Headteacher who runs Performance Development and Terry Cartmail one of our Deputies, fedback to me.
Feedback from observations needs to be a positive learning experience. And I learnt I load about myself from the feedback to yesterday’s lesson. I thought I’d nailed the lesson; I reckon it was the best Economics lesson I’ve ever taught! I was really enjoying myself and so were the students. I managed to link the Budget to the forthcoming exam and they planned a cracking response to an 18 marker! So I listened, or half-listened, to the feedback, just waiting for the judgement; when they said it was Good I replied tersely, Well I don’t know what else I can do to make it outstanding. We chatted a bit more about the lesson and how I led students too much during questioning. The bell went for end of break, they left and I sat staring dumbly at the desk until my Operational SLT colleagues came in for the next meeting.
Take time to reflect. Alison and Terry were right, of course they were. But like I know, and wrote recently, What we must do is be open to the observation of our practice in order to develop it, and ensure we challenge the practice and not the individual teacher. We must recognise the difference between practice and personality. All Alison and Terry were doing was discussing elements of my practice, they weren’t being critical of me! And yet for a few minutes I felt irritated, resentful and wronged.
Handle the judgement of lessons carefully. The experience has helped me understand better what it feels like to be the observee rather than the observer. It also highlighted for me just how potentially damaging the grading of lessons can be for the development of teachers. There have to be formal judgements made about the quality of teaching; we have begun to weave our redesigned Performance Development process into our broader continuous professional development systems. But we are very clear that only the SLT grade lessons through the Performance Development process and that all other observations are ungraded and focus upon developing practice.
Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better. Dylan Wiliam is spot on and I will continue to strive to be a truly great teacher. What has encouraged me about the experience is that I was disappointed not to be graded Outstanding, which, I think, reflects the growing aspiration amongst my colleagues to be truly great teachers. In a school which promotes Dweck’s Growth Mind-set all I have done is learnt, I haven’t failed. And in Monday’s lesson, with the Year 12 Economics group, when I’m asking questions I’ll keep my hands in my pockets!