I follow Doug Lemov (@Doug_Lemov), author of Teach Like a Champion, on Twitter and in early 2014 he posted a link to his blog which really made me evaluate my practice as a middle leader.
It was to a guest post on his blog by Katie Yezzi, his co-author of Practice Perfect and the founding principal of True North Troy Preparatory Charter Elementary School, an Uncommon School in Upstate New York.
It concerned lesson observations and posed the idea that, rather than simply waiting for the post-lesson conversation to give feedback, it would be more productive to offer advice and collaboration prior to the lesson.
In the blog, Ms Yezzi wrote about good practice she had observed at Success Academy in New York City. She wrote: “As a teacher, getting feedback on a lesson to ensure its success ahead of time is incredibly practical, actionable and supportive.
“It means I go into my lessons more confident and prepared. That sounds like a great way to feel at work each day.
“As a coach, it seems like a powerful use of my skills and abilities to engage with teachers about lessons to come, to dig deeply into the content and the ‘why’ of the lesson. It also positions me more as a partner in the work, rolling up my sleeves to work out the lessons in advance.”
I was struck by the simplicity of this idea: discuss the lesson prior to the observation. Offer advice beforehand, rather than only feeding back afterwards.
I decided to discuss the idea with both my line manager and the lead for teaching and learning on our senior leadership team. Straight away, their reaction was positive. We agreed that I should trial the idea within my curriculum area with a view to rolling it out to the rest of the teaching team.
Trialling the idea
All lesson observations in English were preceded with a conversation about the lesson. In order to stimulate discussion and contextualise the lesson, I asked the following questions:
Where are the class currently up to in the scheme of work?
What levels are they working at?
How are your groups of students performing? Are there any gaps in progress or attainment?
What will they have done in the previous lesson?
What do you want the pupils to learn in this lesson?
How will they and you know they have made progress?
What are you doing to support pupils who may find this difficult and stretch those who need more challenge?
What will they do in the next lesson? How will their learning be extended?
For the teacher being observed, the benefit of this was that they had the chance to talk about the pupils and their progress, as much as it being an opportunity to share ideas about lesson structure and activities. They also got a chance to discuss how they were going to demonstrate learning and progress, and it helped to contextualise the lesson, with the discussion including previous and next lessons, giving much more than a “snapshot” of teaching and learning.
During the observations, I was more confident in my understanding of the lesson’s context. I was able to engage in meaningful conversations with pupils and look at the work they had been doing in their previous lessons, as I knew the background to the lesson.
As a result, I believe my observations on the learning of the pupils and the progress they were making over time was more astute and thorough.
After the lessons had taken place it was obviously time for the traditional “feedback” session. Again, this felt different. It became much more of a dialogue about the lesson and learning rather than my colleague simply waiting for a judgement to be given. We were able to discuss how their planning had had an impact on pupils’ learning and discuss what had worked in a more collaborative way.
This academic year we have rolled out the new style of lesson observations to all staff and it has been very positively received. Feedback included:
“It gave an opportunity to bounce ideas off my curriculum leader and to go into the lesson with greater confidence.”
“I felt as though I could justify how the lesson would make an impact.”
“I felt that this approach was a more rounded overview of teaching.”
“It gave me the chance to reflect on my teaching and my planning.”
We have refined the process to include a review of class data and pupils’ books and other relevant information. This feeds into our on-going quality assurance process and it allows for a more comprehensive assessment of pupil progress and teaching long term.
The post-observation meeting provides both parties with the opportunity to reflect on the lesson, the teaching and learning over time and to evaluate strengths and agree any targets for development. The whole process has become much more of a conversation, rather than a one-off judgement.
As a curriculum leader, I feel that this approach has given me a greater understanding of teaching and learning within my area. This in turn has allowed for greater accuracy in my evaluation of the team’s strengths and an ability to plan more targeted support for my colleagues. All of this has had a positive impact on outcomes for our pupils. SecEd
Further readingRead Katie Yezzi’s blog, referenced in this article, at http://bit.ly/1HKaLuW Teaching LeadersTeaching Leaders is a middle leadership development programme for high-potential middle leaders, working in schools in challenging contexts. Applications are now open. Visit www.teachingleaders.org.uk/our-programmes/tl-fellows/overview/
Clare Sarson is curriculum leader for English at St Julie’s Catholic High School in Liverpool. She is also part of the 2014 cohort on the Teaching Leaders Fellows programme.