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Lesson observations: is it time to stop the surveillance and nurture teachers constructively?

Discussion in 'Education news' started by TES_Rosaline, Aug 8, 2019.

  1. TES_Rosaline

    TES_Rosaline Administrator Staff Member

    Classroom observations may have been abandoned by Ofsted but the practice is embedded in the education system and is part of the course for teachers. However, this is far from a nurturing part of a teacher's professional development. Many teachers believe that lesson observations are now the weapon of choice for overbearing SLT to beat overworked staff with. What do you think should be introduced to help motivate and nurture staff in the classroom if lesson observations don’t work?

    ‘This year, the equivalent of 35,645 full-time teachers have left the profession for reasons other than retirement. One hundred a day, every single day. With Ofsted turning the screw on school leaders to reduce teacher workload, we can expect to see our practices change, but what of our environment?

    … It isn’t even like Ofsted has stopped observing lessons altogether. Indeed, few people seem to have even imagined that might be possible. It is the “natural” way we nurture teachers. Even the most progressive school leaders I know don’t consider not observing lessons. Instead, they see value in getting teachers to observe others as “professional development”.

    In an environment characterised by surveillance, the humane thing seems to be to subvert the surveillance structure, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. It only normalises the environment more effectively and more fully.’

    JL Dutaut is co-editor of Flip the System UK: a teachers' manifesto (Routledge).

    donrickles likes this.
  2. simonCOAL

    simonCOAL Occasional commenter

    This is the problem.
    When I was a sales rep, I spent a day with the area manager each month and one with the regional manager twice a year. 14 ‘observations’ a year.


    They joined in with sales presentations and stepped in to lend a hand if I was having trouble closing a sale. Feedback was detailed but usually constructive. Things like “Did you see the way I dealt with that objection? Try it yourself next time. Right, let’s get a cup of tea”. And ALWAYS a genuine ‘thank you for today’.

    A pity the lesson obs weapon isn’t more like this. It would be good to know that SLT were ready to help.

    (Downside of the sales job: miss your target for two consecutive months= P45)
  3. hhhh

    hhhh Lead commenter

    Just been rewatching Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix-I'm surprised Umbridge wsn't created by a teacher. Schools didn't have 'observations' and 'performance management' back when pupils, parents and teachers generally respected each other. Imagine how schools could be if we abandoned Umbridges inspecting McGonagalls and trusted teachers again. Observations often just upset teachers-this does not help the students, as teachers are focusing on what the observer wants to see, not on teaching, especially as the oberver is often less experienced in the subject these days. Observing others (more and less experienced) to genuinely develop skills? Great. A box-ticking weapon? Not great.
  4. DrJay

    DrJay Occasional commenter

    I know of a school where teaching colleagues are formally scheduled to perform learning walks, sometimes in pairs or in threes. In pairs, A observes B and vice versa. They give each other honest feedback and log the observation on a central database accessible by all teaching staff. In the case of trios, A and B observe C, then they reverse role and feedbacks are subsequently given. The LW also entails checking that marking is consistent with the school policy. SLT rarely step into any classrooms for LW.

    Outcomes: lack of stress associated with SLT using lesson obs to weed out unwanted colleagues; fantastic external results; academic freedom; outstanding Ofsted judgement; excellent destinations for former students.

    Yes, this can be abused. However, it has worked and still works in this truly outstanding school where SLT trusts colleagues to live up to their professionalism.
  5. blue451

    blue451 Lead commenter

    Too many managers now with too little experience. I think part of the problem is that they don'tknow what constructive advice to offer so instead pick ridicululously irrelevant criticisms as evidenced by the long-running thread about stupid comments given in obervations
  6. ajrowing

    ajrowing Lead commenter

    I don't think you needed to say any more than that.
    agathamorse likes this.
  7. tenpast7

    tenpast7 Occasional commenter

    I agree with much of the above comments and think that Teaching 34 ish pupils at a time, on the Main Grade conveyor belt, with 3 frees a week is hugely demanding.
    The opportunities to criticise any Teacher are plentiful so it is no wonder that Teachers are "beaten with this stick" when they become expensive.
    Teachers ought to be respected and cherished for this demanding role that they take on for a relatively modest salary.
    Most Teachers I know strive to do a good job with very little actual support.

    SEBREGIS Lead commenter

    The problem isn't observations, it's a culture of fault finding and bullying. All professions need oversight and we all benefit from having colleagues observe our work and tell us how we could do it better. But what we have at the moment is a Staziesque regime where teachers are frightened when the door opens. That's what has to stop.
  9. simonCOAL

    simonCOAL Occasional commenter

  10. 01ade

    01ade New commenter

    I read this thread passionately. Let me conclude that everyone here made valuable input to the discussion. Kudos colleagues!
  11. Grandsire

    Grandsire Star commenter

    I’ve been teaching for many years now, but a few years back I went through a rough patch because observations were suddenly increased to once a week by various members of SLT. It was unnecessary and highly stressful, and it very nearly pushed me over the edge. I still have a moment of panic when my classroom door opens and a member of the SLT walks in, and suspect I now always will. SLT are totally unsympathetic about this - one actually said to my colleague, “If you’re nervous, it’s because you’ve got something to hide..!”

    Like most teachers I know (with a few notable exceptions), I’m very self-critical, and don’t usually need to be told what went wrong with my lesson! I also find that the suggestions for ‘ways to improve’ my lessons rarely take into account a teacher’s daily workload. The SLT’s attitude is that their day working in an office is every bit as hard as my day spent in front of the class, which of course is nonsense, even if you don’t take the marking into account.

    Observwtions, and the culture of negativity, pressure, and a complete absence of praise or thanks has done a lot of damage to staff morale.
  12. Sisyphus_rolls_again

    Sisyphus_rolls_again Established commenter

    donrickles and Fierygirl like this.
  13. Jolly_Roger15

    Jolly_Roger15 Star commenter

    A comment like that speaks volumes for the attitudes of some SLTs. :(
    agathamorse, henrypm0, blazer and 3 others like this.
  14. ChocolateChunk

    ChocolateChunk New commenter

    The issue with lesson observations is not their existence, but who evaluates you and on what.
    I have had terrible teachers who became SLTs - seems to be a pattern in many cases unfortunately - and failing colleagues because it was not 'fun' enough, because there were not enough displays or because the teacher did not talk the talk during their lesson. For some of these observations, it felt like they were only looking for a reason to fail the observation rather than finding both the good and what could be improved.
    The issue is also that you can get observed by these terrible teachers - SLTs now - who offer poor feedback and have no idea on how to teach and manage the behaviour. It is hard to stay humble in these moments.
  15. celago22

    celago22 Established commenter

    Can't agree more with the above posts. Observations are used to bully teachers.
    I've had false statements written on observation forms and then miraciously had good feedback from external visitors!
  16. Jolly_Roger15

    Jolly_Roger15 Star commenter

    @ChocolateChunk: What seems to me to be outrageous is when teachers are observed by managers who are not, and never have been, teachers themselves. This was case in my last school, where such managers claimed that 'quality inspectors are not engineers'. This, they crowed, made them better placed to apply assessment criteria than qualified, experienced teachers. :confused:
    donrickles, tenpast7 and agathamorse like this.
  17. drek

    drek Star commenter

    At least 4 physics teachers in my circle gave up A levels and their stress levels went down 10 fold.
    The aspect I found the most demotivating and tiring were things like being asked to receive a 40 minute nonsensical learning walk lesson feedback from a media teaching SLT on my lunch break. I looked at her timetable. She had 3 lessons a week. In a computer room.......project based......No more than 10 students.

    She said stupid (a word I rarely use to describe others) things e.g. she found the set 5 physics lesson with 33 students, very difficult to understand, particularly terms like p.d. and voltmeter........ so how on earth were the students going to understand........ I did not make the mistake of answering this as her tone was rhetorically accusing, as if she was remembering her own student days when she ‘hated’ physics.

    (Yes she did drop that in during a feedback session in a ‘I don’t mean to offend’ manner???).

    Those were the days when they wanted 5 page detailed lesson plans so it was clear that the students were in the middle of the unit. The lesson started with a review of key terms.....which she had missed.

    I was in the middle of a 23 hour lesson week, she had taken my lunch hour on a full teaching day.
    She was too busy with ‘meetings’ to have any consideration for those actually doing the bulk of the teaching work.

    I listened to further drivel on an empty stomach, knowing that after lunch I had a double lesson with the year 8 group from hell, the one that made support staff shudder and disappear if they found it on their time table, and wondered whether I was in some sort of nightmarish parallel universe.....

    The current school has science staff giving each other a constructive 15 minute feedback and there is a checklist one can build a lesson plan around and be observed against rather than a personal attack on anything and everything which only ends up sounding depressingly full of hot air and malice......disguised as ‘feedback’.

    The big difference now is that even if one has a nightmarish group one has some positive energy left to deal with them with the patience they demand, thus avoiding confrontational situations arising from being too stressed, deflated and even confused after mumbo jumbo harassment style feedback.

    But in a school where they are forced to take on non specialists because of rising poor behaviour and lack of funding and or parental support, which means that many staff are over worked, observation and feedback should not supersede behaviour support for disruptive students by lead staff, who often waste hours of unnecessary time on filling checklists, reports and follow up meetings, because these count towards their leadership pay points.
    donrickles, tenpast7 and agathamorse like this.
  18. Christopher  Curtis

    Christopher Curtis Occasional commenter

    Is there any fair dinkum evidence that observations achieve anything useful? I taught for 33 years. I was never observed. I never used the term, “SLT”/“senior leadership team”, and I never heard anyone else use it either, just as I never used the term, “SMT”/“senior management team” team, and I never heard anyone else us it either. In fact, I don’t think I had ever heard of either term in an educational context until I stated to read this site.

    The adoption of business management jargon and practices in education has been a disaster. It has diverted attention from the purpose of schools, which is learning, to measurement, empowered bullies and increased stress, yet no child is better taught as a result. It has infected the system so deeply and widely that teachers themselves see it is necessary and just needs to be done more fairly. It needs to be abolished and not replaced with anything. It did not exist in any year that I taught in, and children learnt more they do now. A friend of mine, once one of the youngest principals in the state and later a down-to-earth lecturer in education said, “Train the teachers, pay the teachers, trust the teachers”. That approach works.
  19. circuskevin

    circuskevin Established commenter

  20. Christopher  Curtis

    Christopher Curtis Occasional commenter

    Hi, Circus Kevin.

    I’m happy to “spread the message”, but I have been retired from the classroom for a long time now, so there aren’t that many people listening.
    agathamorse likes this.

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