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Why schools need to think less about monitoring and more about coaching

Lesson observations aren’t helpful for teachers. There. I said it.

The reasons they’re not helpful are as follows:

👉🏻The traditional model assumes the observer (who is more senior) knows something the teacher doesn’t.

👉🏻The observer brings along their own views and perceptions - and creates confirmatory bias.

👉🏻Senior leaders can get caught up in banging one drum (e.g. pink/green marking not good enough, LIs not underlined, etc.) which creates homophily amongst them and blinds them to what is actually happening and needs to happen.

👉🏻There’s a fierce misconception we’ve all been convinced over the years to be true. “3 lesson observations per year with feedback will help me monitor the quality of teaching and drive up standards.” No it won’t and no it doesn’t.

Here’s the generalised scenario.

✔️A good quality teacher teaches a lesson once a term which is watched by a senior leader.

✔️The leader thanks them for the lesson, tells them they were positive, made effective use of praise and asked some open ended questions.

✔️Then the leader tells three things they could have done which would have made the lesson better.

✔️The leader goes away with a written up observation form which slides neatly into their monitoring file and ticks a nice box.

✔️They also feel happy that the imparting of their wisdom will be absorbed by the teacher and improve standards in the long term.

The teacher goes away with... what, exactly?

They weren’t even asked or spoken to before the lesson about what it’s like in that class every day teaching that curriculum with resources they have available.

I hope, one day, we can all look back and laugh at the way we used to perform these types of activities.

💭What’s one different way of thinking about it?

👉🏻Engage in a coaching cycle. It builds motivation and momentum to want to improve and make changes.

👉🏻Start by talking to teachers about the successes and challenges of teaching their children.

👉🏻Ask then about how the curriculum helps or hinders - and why? Do the same for available resources.

👉🏻Ask them what challenges and barriers children face on a daily basis?

👉🏻Ask them how they’re trying to address them first.

👉🏻Ask them about the strengths and challenges of adopting that approach.

👉🏻Engage in dialogue together about a way forward for the children.

👉🏻Ask then what you can do to help.

👉🏻Watch a lesson and agree that the focus will be informed by the pre-lesson discussion.

👉🏻Afterwards, co-construct the feedback.

👉🏻Engage every teacher to coach and be coached.

👉🏻Design a yearly cycle where coaches can build the capacity of teachers in an environment of trust and a culture of continuous improvement.

Less monitoring, more coaching. It might be worth a rethink.


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