Lesson Observations: True Stress for a False Snapshot?

It’s that time of the year again. Your line manager has asked you to choose a suitable class for her to observe, and a preferred time. You have about a week’s notice, in which you prepare every possible resource under the sun, ask for lesson suggestions from colleagues or online forums and basically get stressed like mad until it’s all over.

And the outcome of it all: In some cases, your observer evaluates you on the basis of an overly-prepared lesson in which you were probably very nervous and apprehensive. Those who do well under these conditions are praised as positive deviants that we can all learn from, and those that don’t are asked to constructively reflect on ways in which they can improve.

There are pro’s and cons to this approach to ‘performance management’, much of which centre around the school’s culture. On the pro’s side, if school managers are supportive, approachable and understanding, then teachers will readily accept the formal observation process as a necessary way to reflect upon their professionalism. However, even under these circumstances, a teacher is only being evaluated on the basis of a snapshot of a ‘fake’ lesson. Does this really help anyone? Doesn’t this seem like a lot of stress for a futile output?

Surely, as professionals working in a people-centred industry, shouldn’t we be approaching our personal growth in a much more adult and sophisticated way?

Surely a better approach would be as follows:

  1. At the start of the academic year, sit with your team and write down all of the things you’re good at as a teacher, and all of the things you think you could improve on
  2. Find out who in your team has a strength that you can capitalize on (e.g. Using tablets in lessons)
  3. Arrange peer observations with your team members, so that each person watches someone else who they feel they can learn from
  4. If you feel that you need help with a particular aspect of teaching (e.g. Building rapport with students), then ask someone who has a particular strength in this area to come and observe one of your lessons, so that they can offer their advice for you to learn from
  5. Document all reflections, and use these as the basis for teacher appraisals

Isn’t this a more pleasant and, crucially, more productive way of using lesson observations as part of the performance management process?

One of my former colleagues once said “if you want to know who’s a good teacher, then ask the students”. I couldn’t agree more with this statement. Most people, when confronted with this, will say something like ‘Aha, well, kids are just gonna say that they love the teachers who don’t give them homework to do”. Hmmm, I don’t think so. My observations after ten years of teaching in a wide variety of schools in both the UK and here in Thailand have told me that kids like the teachers who are rigorous whilst also maintaining good classroom rapport.

With this in mind, consider doing some kind of student led self-appraisal every so often. Perhaps you can set up an anonymous Google form for your kids to fill in, which asks crucial questions about your performance as a teacher (e.g. How quickly you hand back homework).

When one works in a school where there is a collective culture of helping each other; where teachers help teachers, students help students and students and teachers help each other; then haven’t we achieved something special? Isn’t that the ideal environment for fostering good professional development and performance management?

I’ll end by providing some links, which will hopefully give some ‘food for thought’ on this topic for new and experienced teachers alike:

How to Ace Lesson Observations: 10 Tips for PGCE Students
Lesson Observations: We’re Coming to Get You!
Lesson Observations Can Ruin Teachers’ Careers

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Author:

High School Science and Mathematics Teacher, Author and Blogger. Graduated from Bangor University with a BSc (Hons) degree in Molecular Biology and a PGCE in Secondary Science Education. Richard also holds the coveted Certificate in Mathematics from the Open University (UK).

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