Teachers are fragile creatures. We spend our days being judged: by OFSTED, by our SLT through our appraisals, by our colleagues, by the children we spend our days with, and by their parents. We don’t like to hear the outcomes of these judgements, because how often do we really share good news? Just listen in the staffroom: how many teachers sit in there and celebrate the amazing lesson they just taught? You don’t hear it. You hear us talking about how the children didn’t get it, or how they were half asleep, or how we will have to teach the lesson again tomorrow to make sure they all understand. We are hopeless at celebrating what we do well. But we are all professionals with something to offer, a success to celebrate and an idea to share. Our classroom doors should be open – we should be allowed to wander in to other people’s lessons to see what’s going on, so we look at their displays, see how they are teaching a particular subject, get ideas for how they organise their classroom.
Perhaps if our doors were open, we would be better at professional dialogue. As it is, we aren’t great at talking. Yes, the words come out and we listen to what each other are saying, but do we listen? How many times have we sat in a staff meeting, listening to someone talking about a resource or a strategy or an idea that they want us to take back to class? We listen, we nod, we take the handout, and then we put it in a folder and forget about it. We should share the ideas, and then have the opportunity to see it in practice in different situations. I raised the idea recently at a Phase Meeting about peer observations. It was met with mixed feelings – my colleagues loved the idea of going into other classrooms, but not necessarily the idea of being observed themselves. But why should colleagues be threatening? Formative observations are an opportunity for discussions: the outcome can surely only be improved teaching and learning, following the sharing of ideas and reflection on performance.
Appraisals and summative observations don’t necessarily provide this opportunity for discussion, as there isn’t the equality of status between appraiser and appraise: one is there to make a judgement on the other. Summative observations have a rigid agenda, and often don’t allow for such creative discussion to follow. Familiarity with formative observations can only lead to more productive summative observations too: if you are used to people being in your classroom, then the observation is less of a “big deal” – the teachers, teaching assistants and children get used to others being in the room and so don’t feel the need to put on a performance.
As someone new to carrying out appraisals, less formal observations would be a great opportunity to develop my skills of coaching. While, in my first round of observations, I didn’t have “bad news” to deliver, there were points for development that needed sharing. This sums up exactly how I felt!
The opportunity to have professional discussions around lessons in an informal situation would make the formal feedback far less threatening, and we could come up with strategies for improvement together rather than skirting the issues or providing excuses for the children. I love, too, the idea of starting a conversation around a particular point rather than just sharing what was seen.
Probably, for most reading this, this image is completely obvious. But it wasn’t to me – no-one ever teaches you how to observe or how to feed back findings. My next observations will be different, and hopefully more productive.
While I have scheduled appraisal observations to carry out next month, I am not going to let the idea of peer observations drop – my quest for open doors and accessible classrooms will continue. I will get teachers celebrating what they do well; I will get us talking about how we, and our colleagues, have succeeded with our children, I will get the children talking about their teachers and their learning, and I will get us to see each other in action. And perhaps, as a result of this, we will become a little more confident in our abilities and recognise what an amazing job we all do.