High stakes no longer

LBO Oct 2016 

When I started teaching the only time anybody came into my classroom was to borrow a piece of chalk!

Some years later formal lesson observations began. These happened perhaps once per year and endless hours were spent preparing ahead of the big day.  They were high stakes events and planned and prepped to the nth degree to ensure that nothing could go wrong and that the observer would leave suitably impressed.  A written report would arrive some time after conferring judgement.

How that world has changed. It is now accepted that being observed in the classroom is less about being judged and more about receiving feedback that should be helpful.  Schools have developed their own protocols for this and at its best leads to an extended professional dialogue.  Indeed the pressure is on the observer to ensure a productive process that promotes teacher development.

Formal classroom observations have been with us for a long time and have changed in that time. I recall that the early inspections included graded lesson observations on a 1 to 7 scale and teachers receiving the top grade were handed a special letter of commendation.  Lesson observations now focus instead on providing feedback that is detailed and developmental.

Many schools have moved away from observations that take in a full one hour lesson instead focussing perhaps on one particular aspect of a lesson. This opens up the opportunity for a greater number of such classroom visits, each shorter in duration but more frequent.  This can help provide a more “typical” picture of classroom practice as opposed to a “special”, one-off event.

Other forms of classroom visit have emerged including drop-ins and learning walks that might involve just a brief visit to a classroom. These may be pre-planned and agreed in advance or unannounced.  In my experience the intention is not to “catch anyone out” but to provide genuinely helpful feedback to help teachers improve their practice.

New teachers coming through seem at ease with an “open door” approach and eagerly welcome feedback while some of us more experienced colleagues who have come through different stages in the evolution of classroom observation have found this more challenging to adjust to.

As another school year is well underway many observations and classroom visits lie ahead as the profession strives for continued improvement.

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