Judge Me!

Lesson judgements: how valuable are they? A different question to how ‘valued’ are they? (Which if you believe what you read on Twitter the answer is um, well, what’s the least valued thing you own? Well smash it to pieces with a hammer and chuck it in the sea and you kind of get the idea.) I do however find them valuable. I don’t consider a lesson judgement to be the sealed fate of a teacher but they can help support an evolving picture of teaching and learning in someone’s classroom. They can also be the springboard for a quality discussion about a lesson that can lead into deeper discussions about pedagogy and teaching styles which for me is a welcome break from talking about pay policy, universal free school meals and whatever changes have been made to the new renewed just published finalised next draft of the Ofsted inspection framework.

On this particular matter of being pro-lesson judgements you are going to have to imagine that when I discuss the judgement with the teacher it is done nicely, appropriately and fairly. I appreciate that is a pretty big ask but just run with it.

Putting it bluntly (and this is not meant to represent the manner in which I offer my feedback and judgement) I think it is good for teachers to know:

a) How that individual lesson stood up against whatever observation criteria you are using in order to provide some kind of ‘benchmark’.

b) How that lesson contributes to the other evidence used to make a judgement of quality of teaching over time.

c) That I know what I’m talking about.

Anyone who has had to give a less than ‘good’ judgement during feedback will know that it is at those times that reason c) seems the most important. It’s one thing for a teacher to feel rubbish (because we all do when we’re told any part of our practice is not good) but at least they can be told by someone they trust. And again, you’re going to have to take my word for it that I know a thing or two about teaching…seriously just go with me here.

I think in reality, it is reason b) which has become vitally important to get across very, very loudly and clearly when feeding back and sharing a judgement. Not only because I feel that the most important judgement is that of quality of teaching over time rather than quality of teaching within an hour but also because it is the one reason that teachers tend not to hear no matter how clearly you try to make it. (Talk about a positive sandwich; teachers tend to need an extra side order of happy chips with an extra thick affirmative milkshake with a cherry on top – even then they’ll still focus on the hair that was found in the middle of the first bite)

So in case I haven’t made my thoughts clear: I like judging lessons.

But…

          But…

                       But…

Something happened recently that made me adapt my opinion. I haven’t changed my mind – I still think dissecting a lesson in order to make a judgement is still a perfectly sound and effective way of developing teaching BUT I’m wondering if it is more effective to share this with teachers when it isn’t about their teaching.

Let me explain: during a recent set of interviews, a teacher joined me in the lesson observations section. Throughout the lessons we were able to discuss what was happening and I was able to challenge the teacher into considering why a lesson had ‘tipped’ into RI or had become inadequate. Afterwards, the teacher reflected and said how they had found it interesting to see the process of judging lessons ‘from the other side’ and how by being detached from the teaching they were able to see more clearly the points at which during an individual lesson, judgements begin to get formed.

What followed was a short discussion about how these individual lessons could impact upon pupil achievement if the quality of the teaching remained at that level for a sustained period of time. Suddenly it became clear why an RI lesson needs to be analysed and issues addressed so that key pupils make progress rather than get left behind. The teacher said it was a genuinely interesting and valuable experience and possibly more so than their own observations.

So I began to wonder if it would be beneficial for all teachers to see all ranges of lessons done by other teachers. There would be no emotional attachment that can cloud key messages, opportunities to consider the impact of repeated exposure of unsuccessful lessons on pupil progress and the chance to compare particular lesson traits with your own. It’s a safe way to make strong judgements that can really support teachers improve and develop their own teaching.

It sounds ideal; there’s just one problem. How can I make sure teachers see unsuccessful lessons? Well I could constantly interview and select the worst candidates: not sure HR would approve. I could set up peer observations across the school and hope that most of the lessons are appalling – not sure that’s a particularly healthy way to run a school. Or I could teach. I could deliberately teach poor lessons and invite teachers to observe me and together we could identify why my lesson was not good. Although I am an outstanding teacher and like to think my staff agree and consider me to my a wise and knowledgeable  professional who knows how to successfully move every child on: I probably could force myself to teach inadequately time and time again. (Now, call me paranoid but I sense you are all finding that bit quite easy to believe!)

6 thoughts on “Judge Me!

  1. Havelock Vetinari March 4, 2014 / 6:54 am

    I really like this idea, but… but… but… you would need to have very confident staff who had a strong growth mindset to allow others to come and discuss their teaching with you, especially if it was RI or worse. I’m a confident teacher and encourage people to come into my class but I can think of several on our teaching staff who would baulk at the idea of another member of staff observing and discussing their performance. The other issue is that of teacher confidence to disagree with the head. Some would just agree with what you said (even if they secretly disagreed!) while others would be reluctant to share their ideas in case they were ‘wrong’. I’d love to know how this develops in your school. Get blog. Keep us posted.

  2. Havelock Vetinari March 4, 2014 / 6:55 am

    *Great blog! (Not ‘get’!)

  3. annahalford (@anhalf) March 4, 2014 / 8:04 am

    There has been a lot of tweeting about lesson obs recently which has become akin to the beating of drums in some cases. Quite simply, there is no one perfect way to observe. (Rather like teaching!)

    I think that your idea of discussing the lessons in an open way can lead to a deeper understanding of the teaching and learning process and that these observations should be done by as many (all) staff as possible.

    I take the previous commenter’s point about staff confidence but observations have become so much a part of the job now (I have been teaching since 1991 and have always been in schools where they are regularly carried out).

    No, I would not be jumping for joy to be observed by my colleagues and do a terrible lesson if I was going to be panned, but I really don’t think that would happen if the system was set up as a coaching model. Observing other teachers has been some of the most useful CPD but opportunities to observe can be few and far between.

    I’m not sure how serious your idea of teaching poor lessons is, but I admire you for putting yourself up for being observed by your staff (I have never seen my HT or DHT teach)

    I look forward to reading about how it goes.

    (This is an interesting read http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb98/vol55/num05/Teacher-Learning-That-Supports-Student-Learning.aspx teacher observations very much the norm in many countries)

  4. jonpatrick March 5, 2014 / 12:21 am

    A sound defence of lesson observations, which are currently under huge attack from the twittosphere. Here’s a potential solution to your problem: give UKS2 children simple lesson plans, and have them ‘teach’ lower year groups. An adult may need to help out on behaviour management, but this could be of huge value to the mini-teacher, as well as the real, fully-grown teacher observing.

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