The most stressful time in any teacher’s career is the first year of teaching – and I say that from personal experience.
As a beginning teacher, not only are you brand new to the profession, but you are also the “newbie” when it comes to the school, its surrounding, colleagues, students, practices and procedures. In truth, something as simple as navigating the unfamiliar car park can send an already anxious teacher into momentary meltdown.
That is why it is so important for schools to provide the necessary resources for new teachers to become effective and successful in the profession.
Understanding this, four years ago, as part of initial teacher training (ITT) and the pupil voice initiative, we decided to introduce a Pupil Researchers programme.
The researchers are a group of students chosen from across key stages 3 and 4 to observe and feedback to beginning teachers about their views on classroom teaching and learning.
The programme is voluntary and falls under the umbrella of pupil voice, as it provides students a chance to contribute their views on future teaching and learning practices.
Each researcher is involved in a rigorous selection process involving an invitation to apply, an application stage and an interview.
The interview is largely to gauge how well the student performs in a one-to-one situation with an adult. I ask them to tell me about themselves and why they think the programme might be an important aspect of pupil voice. I then follow up by asking what they think they personally will gain from participation and, likewise, how they feel a beginning teacher might benefit from engaging with the programme.
Only the most mature, discrete, confident and independent thinking students from across years 8 and 9 are selected to take part.
Over two half-day sessions, the students are trained on observation techniques and the process of feeding back, which equips them with the skills required to critically observe a lesson and provide constructive feedback.
We try to get them thinking about the kinds of things that a new teacher might want feedback about, appropriate forms of feeding back to an adult, familiarise them with the observation record and practising feeding back to each other.
The researchers work in pairs and are assigned to a specific beginner teacher for the duration of their placement. The first thing we have them do is undertake a paired observation.
Following this, they organise to meet with their beginning teacher to assist with the planning of a lesson. The teacher will bring an idea of a lesson they wish to teach and the researchers will aid them in the planning of that lesson.
Their final task is to observe that lesson and give feedback to the teacher regarding both the practicalities of the lesson plan and overall comments from their cycle of observations.
While the programme is managed by staff members, it is intended to be student-led, and designed to promote independent learning and behaviour among participants.
Benefiting teachers and students
We have seen a number of benefits for both our students and the teachers. It helps to build student skills in a number of different areas, including verbal and written communication, observation, critical analysis, feedback techniques and discretion.
The vast majority agreed that their planning and organisational skills were improved and they learnt how to express themselves constructively. It also builds their confidence in interacting and conversing with both peers and adults.
In fact, 100 per cent said that, after being trained, they felt comfortable observing a teacher, and
90 per cent said they felt that the teacher took their feedback on board and used it to develop their second lesson.
Similarly, 100 per cent of our teachers said they felt comfortable being observed by the researchers, 90 per cent felt that the feedback was useful when thinking about their teaching methods and classroom strategies, and 87.5 per cent said that they felt the feedback would have a positive impact on their future teaching practices.
One teacher explained the benefit of the programme nicely, saying: “It was good to get a student’s view on what my class enjoyed and what I could have improved upon; they provided some very valid feedback regarding my distribution of attention and lesson structure. Thanks to the pupil researchers, I now always try to make my lesson objectives as clear as possible and reflect back on them throughout the lesson.”
Taking part in the programme looks good on our students’ UCAS applications, and as the skills learnt are transferable, they will be of benefit when they enter the workplace too.
And our teachers can talk about the programme on their end-of-placement reports, and use it to show reflections on their placements, which can be linked to standards in inclusion, wellbeing and teaching.
In addition, the programme also affords teachers a rare opportunity to get constructive feedback from carefully trained students which may help inform their future teaching practices.
Inviting students to share their views on classroom teaching and learning has been one of the most productive and rewarding initiatives we have introduced at All Saints. Our students feel valued as they have a real say in their learning, and our teachers feel supported – we really couldn’t ask for more.
Danni Almond is Learning Enhancement Centre manager and pupil voice coordinator at All Saints School in Dagenham.