I have been a teacher for 26 years, a Headteacher for 11 years and, at the age of 50, this much I know about helping OFSTED improve lesson observations.
Members of the Headteachers’ Roundtable met with Sean Harford today, one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors and Ofsted’s National Director for Schools.
Here is a Twitter conversation I had with Sean a week ago:
And here is my letter to Sean…
Now that we do not grade lesson observations, when it comes to performance management observations we can ask colleagues, ‘How would you like to be observed to help you best develop your teaching?’ That question alone changes the dynamic of the observation process. The consequences of that decision are outlined in my book.
Here is one thing, however, which we are trialling which is improving the observation process and is not in my book!
It goes without saying that you can ‘smell’ whether learning could be going on in a lesson. From lesson observations you can see to a great extent whether the students are working hard and paying attention; in other words, whether the classroom climate is right for learning.
Such a function of observations is limited, however; it is very difficult to trace the learning going on in the lesson and to judge the depth of learning because it is going on inside students’ heads. Articles by Professor Rob Coe and others have made this point, as I am sure you have read.
We subscribe to a great extent to Rob Coe et al’s assertion that great teaching is that which leads to improved student progress. Consequently, we are experimenting with scrutinising the work produced from the lessons we have observed so that we can trace the golden thread from the teaching observed through to the students’ outcomes. It can mean that we don’t meet with the teacher whose teaching has been observed until a couple of weeks after the observed lesson, because it may take that much time for the learning that has taken place as a result of the teaching observed to be manifested (or not) in students’ work.
It makes so much sense and it encourages teachers to evaluate the impact of their teaching much more thoroughly and deliberately. And if such a process is taking place in a fear-free environment, it allows teachers to modify their teaching if the way they were teaching doesn’t really impact positively upon students’ learning, as evidenced by the work the students produced.
This process is best supported by the use of IRIS video technology, which captures a record of the lesson from a fortnight ago which we can refer to when we are reviewing the students’ work which derived from the lesson. IRIS video clarifies both reviewer’s and reviewee’s hazy memories of what happened during the observation.
I think this approach encourages teachers to think much harder about the golden thread which links teaching through to student outcomes. It’s not mind-bogglingly innovative, but it does have a grain of common sense at its core. I maintain that the approach is improving the observation process because it is helping improve the quality of teaching at Huntington, which must be the main purpose of any lesson observation system.
Incidentally, colleagues at Huntington are using IRIS video independent of their observers/reviewers and arriving at interim Performance Management (Development) meetings with video they have shot of their teaching which they want to show their reviewer. It’s what can happen when the school climate is largely fear-free.
Sorry I can’t make the meeting on 7 July with Liam et al from the Headteachers’ Roundtable, but do let me know if you want to meet up to chat this through further.