Reverse Observation?

Following one of my recent posts about political scrutiny I was thinking about whether or not we could expose ourselves to further scrutiny.

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I was further provoked in this area when listening to Professor Michael Fullan during yesterday’s Scottish Learning Festival  where he was talking about one of his Six Secrets of Change. Michael Fullan has had a significant impact upon my own thinking over the last 12 years – although I have to admit to finding some of his Secrets being “reheated” ideas from other people – but synthesising these ideas is never a waste of time – particularly if some people are coming to them for the first time.

The secret he “revealed” was “Transparency Rules”. As he talked about the importance of being open to scrutiny I scribbled “reverse observation”.

During this year I’m visiting three schools each week focussing upon the quality of the learning task set by the teacher. Although these visits are announced the week before, the actual classrooms I visit are completely random. My idea – or offer – is to invite any teacher in East Lothian to reciprocate and come and observe me for one day.  The person – who would be drawn at random (assuming there might be more than one volunteer) would come into observe me working for a full day.  I would not know when they were coming in and the visit would be co-ordinated by our Staff Development Team. The person would arrive in my office at the beginning of the day and shadow me for the rest of the day. They would then write up an observation report which I would post on this Learning Log.

So – what do you think – would anybody be interested?

15 thoughts on “Reverse Observation?

  1. I’m very interested, but don’t qualify on residential grounds :-)and probably also because I’m not on the other end of the bargain either!
    I’ll be very keen to see the write-up. All sorts of issues spring to mind about that one!

  2. I like that idea, it builds on 360° appraisal. In particular, it’s another step towards quality as a process of continuous improvement of processes, not inspection of outputs.

  3. Good idea
    I shadowed David Cameron once. Found it hard to keep awake in meetings with councillors (no offense)! Reassured me that I did not want to go into management – and that he worked very very hard!

  4. You’ve omitted a crucial aspect! Your visits focus “upon the quality of the learning task set by the teacher.” What will the teachers visit to you focus on?

    How well you chair a meeting? How quickly you read a draft proposal? How many emails you reply to in a day?

    I think you know what evidence you’re looking for when you visit the classroom but does a class teacher know what to look for in your office/workspace?

    Alternatively why not have the teacher shadow you on a visit to one of the three schools. A bit like an external examiner on a Tutor “crit” Visit. They would be there to assess your judgment of the observation. With this joint observation both parties (yourself and the teacher) are on common ground.

  5. I think this is a very commendable idea, Don. I do agree with Kenneth’s point about what you want the teacher to be looking for, and I assume it would need to be a day when you were not dealing with sensitive staffing or parental matters. As Director of Education, your visits to schools help inform your awareness of teaching and learning in the classroom; in what way would the reciprocal visit by teachers do likewise? Would participating in team-teaching in the school you are visiting perhaps be an alternative way? easy for me to say-I live in Glasgow!

  6. I’ve not read that book, although I think I’ve read a couple of Michael Fullan’s books and not been impressed.

    The best book on how to improve and run a school is “Laying Down The Law” by Joe Clark. Be warned it’s many years out of print and may never have been published in this country.

  7. Kenneth

    Thanks for your very helpful comment.

    I think I would like the observer to focus on extent to which my behaviour is consistent with the culture to which we aspire.  It would also be useful if the person could look at the degree connectedness (see systems thinking) between the various things I am involved in during the day, i.e. is there thread running through the things I do which link to improving our service – I would hope there is as opposed to a series of discrete events.

    Perhaps we could start the day with me setting out my intentions for each part of my day and the observer could consider the extent to which these intentions were achieved?

    What do you think?

  8. If I was shadowing my Director of Education for a day, I’d be interested to observe the quality and effectiveness of his interactions with others in terms of our improvement plan for the Authority. Maybe this paraphrases your first point, Don.

    But I think it might be difficult for someone observing for a day to see connectedness that might be obvious to you, with your intimate knowledge of the projects in which you are involved. But perhaps the same is true for someone who visits a class for just a short time on one day? I agree with Kenneth that a class teacher reflecting on your observations of the work of another class teacher, and the discussions that followed from it would certainly be fascinating for all of you.

    One further point…I think that someone visiting a school would get an honest, straightforward and illuminating response from the children to whom they talk. I wonder how far that would be true of the adults with whom a Director works?

  9. Don, I like the idea of your setting out intentions and examining the degree to which they are achieved, just like teachers do with lesson plans. The interest lies in the nature and extent of possible interruptions to this plan, and how one deals with them. For teachers it may be an upset or disruptive pupil, unexpected network problems or just an over-running assembly. Your proposal suggests that you expect to have a fair degree of control over the way your day is organised. But, how often do you find that you have to deal with “left of field” events which break the “thread running through the things you do”? Of course, that would in itself, be a valid experience for your shadow to observe.

  10. Don,
    I believe it is essential to have this type of experience. I particularly like the fact that you talk about ‘setting out your intentions’.I wonder how many teachers have lost sight of this aspect of teaching, particulalry in the secondary school, and regurgitate the same old same old year in and year out?
    The culture is shifting, ablbeit it slowly, but Formative Assessment is regarded as an add on, and not an essential tool for effective learning and teaching.
    Oh me it’s been almost a year since I last blogged and still trying to turn the tide!
    We have had peer observations and primary observations which staff, who participated, got a lot out of.
    So yes, there are times when it is not only useful, but essential for us all to see and share in good practice, learn from our observations and instigate change as necessary.

  11. Don, I would be very interested in shadowing you for a day. I think it would be of great interest to see a “a day in the life of the director of education.” Having had various inputs last year from yoursellf as a probationer I feel that it would be of interest to see what influences your thoughts and actions and also your reflections on your blog.

  12. Yes..good idea…but would need supply for me in Fife but would be interested in the staff relationship side and CPD links and the connectedness you mention…

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