Stop, Look and Listen

15 Oct

“You can see a lot just by observing” – Yogi Berra

In this article in the Western Mail, Estyn has highlighted the way in which lesson observation can be utilised successfully.

There is no doubt that lesson observations can be an effective tool to support teaching so long as it is done correctly.  Where observations are based on sharing ideas and best practice and where they are supportive they can be a valuable asset in professional development.  This is particularly true of informal peer-to-peer working.  Where the right environment for self-improvement is fostered in schools it can be an excellent way to drive up standards.

What we want to achieve is a culture whereby teachers do not fear observation.  They know they can be honest and relaxed and that what comes back isn’t a negative judgement and drive towards capability procedures but instead a constructive feedback session that builds on strengths and seeks to find ways to improve weaknesses.  Ideally this would be done through peer-to-peer support and continued professional development.  Finding that balance will ensure that teachers actively seek observation and school leaders will work in close partnership with their staff to ensure the highest level of standards.

Where that is happening in Wales we can see fantastic results.  We see teachers continue to improve their skills and leadership and staff working as a whole in a collaborative approach to school improvement.

Unfortunately, far too often the observation system is being abused.  We are seeing it implemented on an intrusive and strict approach that undermines the confidence and performance of even the very best teachers.  Instead of being a chance to find cooperation in school these observations become pressure points for failure.  This not only renders the observation system useless as a professional development tool but also creates a snowball effect for further problems in the school and for those individual staff who will have been mismanaged.

The best school leaders will work with their staff to find a positive balance and use lesson observations as part of a wider school improvement and evaluation strategy.  That does happen in many schools in Wales.  We must now aim to ensure that it happens in all.


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