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:

Lesson Progress Map

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:
Budget 2013 at a glance
Budget comments
The Budget March 2013
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!

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This post has 18 Comments

  1. Observations have always made me feel a failure despite the judgements being good or outstanding. This is because there is always a ‘but’ moment where the observer points out something that wasn’t quite right and this is the thing that sticks in your mind. It should be a moment of professional reflection but as you say you end up feeling wronged or resentful.
    I now support maths intervention teachers and the approach we take in Every Child Counts is that of the Professional Learning Conversation. The focus of the discussion is on the children, their learning and how the teacher can support the children in that learning. The teacher is more open and honest about what they could have done better and because the focus is on the children’s learning no judgement is made. We have had to be trained to have PLCs and wary teachers have to be coaxed out if ‘it’s an observation of me’ mode but the quality of teaching and learning that comes out of a good PLC is remarkable and intervention teachers become part of a Learning Community to improve their practice.

  2. Thank you! I enjoyed reading this post very much; it’s always refreshing to hear someone passionate about genuinely excellent teaching.

  3. Inspiring, John and so generous to share plans, resources and most importantly reflections.

  4. Education is one of those professions where it’s easy to get the message that you’re never doing enough. I had that experience as an administrator last week. Some consultants came for a follow-up. I thought I had made enormous progress on goals for the year. They pointed out critical things I was missing. Urgh. I went home feeling crummy.
    I’m wondering if the frustration might have been different for you had the lesson been videotaped and you had the time to review it individually before discussing it with the others. I think you would have had the opportunity to show them how the proverbial lightbulb was engaged by a few students. You could analyse the behaviours of those who are difficult to engage. You could watch your movements around the room, your body language…
    Maybe you would have come to the same conclusions. You’d certainly be able to see first-hand the ways you may or may not be leading students (great lesson question, BTW!).
    My question back to leadership would be this: If the observation is not an evaluation, why must there be a subjective word such as “good” or “outstanding” at the end? After all, the goal is feedback, not grading :).

    1. We did look for a camera but couldn’t find one to film it. I wd have been delighted to have been filmed – it’s the best way of coaching and evaluating. We have just bought Iris Connect but it’s not ready yet. BTW, I’m the Headteacher, and this was the minimum of one observation for Performance Development (aka Appraisal) so I kind of wanted/needed it graded…

  5. John, after a full on governors meeting where getting all the information across to us was always going to be difficult and all your other activities that day, I can only commend you for producing a well thought out lesson map and producing a ‘good’ lesson. I always think that if you ask the students to rate lessons, particularly at 6th form, you would get an even better understanding of your lesson. For some if the students it may well have been an outstanding lesson. Also with student grading you would learn more about how to steer a lesson to encompass all the children’s particular needs. I can see how ‘outstanding’ may feel better than ‘good’, but what would your growth mind set do if your lesson couldn’t get any better. If we truly believe we can always get better can we ever be outstanding

  6. I agree about the impact of grading lessons. Teachers are often no different to students, they want to hear the grade and don’t tune into the feedback/discussion. We have just stopped grading any lesson we observe and will continue this until the end of the year. I am confident i will still know where the most/ least effective learning is taking place without grades. I agree that there has to be formal judgements about the quality of teaching and learning but I disagree that it has to be on a lesson by lesson basis. We will get middle leaders to grade the teaching and learning of each teacher as a whole package and also get teachers to self grade.

  7. I enjoyed reading your blog, John.
    “Above all else Headteachers have to be able to teach, really well”
    I’m not sure I agree that headteachers have to be consistently outstanding teachers, though. I think they have to be GOOD teachers to have credibility, but the job of the head is complex. Getting the best from those you work with – all staff at all levels – working productively with parents, governors and outside agencies and supporting and challenging the students requires a different skill set from teaching outstanding lessons. Just as I don’t think an outstanding teacher would necessarily make a successful head, I don’t think all highly successful heads are routinely outstanding teachers. I say this as a former head who has carried out several heads’ and senior leaders’ appraisals/professional reviews in the last couple of years.
    I know personal pride is involved and if we ARE judged, we want to be able to earn the highest possible grade. But what you learnt from this experience and its effect on your capacity for empathy with your staff has to be worth even more than that.

  8. As a former manager in industry, I get really frustrated by the idea that one observation with 4 (now 3) grades is in any way an effective way of measuring performance. In my previous job in industry performance management involved feedback from colleagues, clients (read students), managers and subordinates, as well as evaluation of job performance (you can probably substitute grades).
    In almost all cases, unless there were serious problems, performance management was a chance for an honest discussion of what was needed to enable the person being appraised to improve – and to discuss any issue that were causing problems (including actions of managers!). If there were problems with performance, the individual had support thrown at them until it became obvious that it wasn’t working.
    In the school model, as you point out from your own example, there are only 3 possible outcomes
    1) ‘Outstanding’ – where the teacher (who might have pulled out a one-off lesson) now feels immune from any need to improve and doesn’t listen to any formative feedback.
    2) ‘Good’ – where most teachers (and I’ve been through this twice) feel frustrated, focus on the one issue that is causing problems and don’t listen to most of the feedback. In at least one case where I was graded ‘good’ and asked what I needed to do to improve, I’d done everything asked when the inspector wasn’t in the room…
    3) ‘Needs Improvement’ – where teacher feels terrible, is forced to undertake mindless tasks and becomes at risk of stress/sacking.
    The mindless linking of payment to this system, plus the uncertainty as to what OFSTED are looking for, will only increase mindless stress.

      1. Hello John
        I agree with Jill Berry’s comments that it’s important to know that my Head is really good and is happy to undergo the same process of evaluation as the rest of us. The last two schools I’ve taught in had non-teaching heads, though!
        You said: ‘There have to be formal judgements made about the quality of teaching… 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.’
        I am one of those slightly sad teachers who LOVES being observed and while I totally understand the need to move away from grades, all the formative feedback in the world would not make up for the magic number 1 at the end of it all, especially if you have spent hours/weeks/months focusing on what you need to do to get there. Do your staff self-evaluate before hearing the full feedback?
        Really enjoy your posts, by the way.

  9. I really enjoyed this. You are providing an excellent example to your school by being so passionate and evaluative about your teaching. I think it is very important that slt are observed- particularly as it makes people reflect on their own skills meaning that they are able to support other colleagues more effectively.

  10. Dylan William quotes Harvard research from Heather Hill to state that for really accurate teacher observation you would need to observe the teacher with five different classes and with every observation made by six independent observers! See: http://www.redesigningschooling.org.uk/2013/01/02/dylan-wiliam/
    Completely impractical, but interesting to consider! Research from the Gates Foundation: http://www.metproject.org/downloads/MET_Ensuring_Fair_and_Reliable_Measures_Practitioner_Brief.pdf states that reliability of observations are significantly increased when there is a second observer. Interesting considering that was your situation. Again, a challenge regarding time and planning, but really interesting conversations and feedback I’m sure would ensue with triads.

  11. I’m a bit surprised that you feel A level. Econ and. Maths equip you well to teach those subjects. They certainly wouldn’t get you entry to a PGCE without degree level corroboration and relevant experience to support. I certainly agree with your arguments on the uses and abuses of observations, but can’t help observe that most A Level students would hope that their teachers (even headteachers) were qualified to a point where they were well beyond the level they are and understand the basic structures of the subject pedagogy.

  12. Classic Hargreaves! The New Romantic Teacher knows that assessment is tainted with confusion about judgement of the individual, rather than their work, and no amount of neutral care can overcome the natural tendency to see such judgements to be about oneself. Your rising hand betrayed your empathy for the condition regarding your own students. Learning (development) is a history of failure – so teachers must secure resilience in their students and themselves! Replace “you are wrong” with “that is wrong”, “good teacher” with “good lesson”. (Another, linguistic, problem is that all lessons cannot be outstanding, indeed neither can a majority; so an unrealistic expectation, set up for failure!).

  13. Clear-headed, positive-mindset and a believer in the capacity to imrpve. I know this comment is short and a bit idolatrous, but the headteacher self-presented in this blog post is exactly the sort of head teacher I’d want to work for.

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