We had a very productive discussion this afternoon at the secondary headteachers meeting about classroom observation.
I was delighted to see the range of strategies being implemented in our schools but the overwhelming point which emerged from the discussion was the shift from observation with a focus on judging competence to one where the focus is on learning about the practice in our schools and how we can share and develop what we see.
When formal classroom observation first appeared as part of the school evaluation process it borrowed from the only models that we really knew – the HMIe observed lesson, and the more pervasive model of the university/teaching college “crit” lesson – where the observer sat in a corner and took notes about the entire lesson. Feedback was provided through the “crit” which identified good and weak aspects of the lesson. As someone who was a teaching tutor for three years at university I know from experience that the feedback provided was so extensive and ranged across so many aspects of practice that it was practically worthless. The crit therefore became a right of passage which the teacher had to endure but was rarely seen to be a productive aspect of teaching practice. Now I’m sure (or shoupld that be hope that) I made some impact over the three years I delivered these crits but I don’t think I actually provided any feedback which was focused enough for teachers to really change them.
As I’ve written about before the current focus of my observations – Learning intention and learning tasks – have opened up a new world for me in terms of what I see and what I learn. The beneficiary of the process is not the person being oberved – its the oberver! – a direct opposite of the traditional model where the beneficiary is supposed to be the person being observed.
Now if we could just develop this concept and establish a more substantive link between what we observe and how we improve the quality of the learning and teaching which goes on in a school then I believe we could take the lid off our schools.
So how do we judge if someone isn’t competent? My response here is simple – there are so many other indicators available to us to judge whether someone is doing damage to children’s learning that we need not depend on classroom observation to be the tool of choice. Where such concerns arise the classroom observation process takes on a different slant but is part of a very different process and one which had been clearly set out beforehand – our classroom observation policy actually captures this very well.