If I had to pick the one thing I did in my first year as Assistant Head that had the most impact it would be introducing Developmental Lesson Observations. They have completely changed the way we view lesson observations at LHS and they have become a much more positive process for all involved.
Here’s how it happened…
To begin with we introduced the new approach in a staff meeting. My husband Ben, a current Headteacher, has been using this approach in his school so I asked him to spend a couple of hours in a whole staff meeting to share why we are doing this, how it works and what impact we hope it will have. It was important to share our vision with staff to get them on board with the approach and get away from the feeling that lessons observations are things that are done to us not with us.
So why carry out developmental lesson observations?
The focus on these observations is to support the teacher in improving their practice. They involve the teacher in every step of the process. They get staff talking about teaching and learning and teachers reflect upon their practice, gaining support from colleagues. All in a non-threatening way. They are definitely not about making judgements about lessons or telling teachers what they did wrong.
How do developmental lesson observations work?
At LHS we work in departments / faculties. Each teacher selects an area of their teaching that they want to focus on. They then met with the Head of Department and myself to share their focus and select the lesson they wanted us to observe. Next we observe one lesson and look at the area the teacher ask us to focus on, writing down any observations and questions we want to ask. After the lesson I meet with the Head of Department to discuss the lesson and we write up a summary of positive features and agree upon up to five question we would like to ask the teacher. The summary of positive features and questions are sent to the teacher before a follow-up meeting to give them time to reflect upon the lesson and think about the questions we are posing. The meeting then revolves around the questions and enables the teacher to think about why they do things in certain ways, could they do anything different, could they be more effective etc. At no point does myself or the Head of Department make judgements – we allow the teacher to take responsibility for their own practice. At the end of the meeting next steps are agreed: how will we take this forward, what will the focus of the next observation be and when will it take place? The next observation will just be carried out by the Head of Department with the idea being that these take place regularly within departments.
What impact have developmental lesson observations had so far?
Staff are much more positive about lesson observations. Yes, there are still nerves – that is always going to be the case – but they appreciate the opportunity to choose the focus of the observation. Lesson observations are much less threatening as staff know they aren’t being judged; they are ready to welcome questions and ideas which will help improve their practice. Staff appreciate the time given to them to help them improve and Heads of Departments are enjoying observing their colleagues and having the time to engage in positive, supportive conversations.
Personally, developmental lesson observations have played a big part in helping me to get staff on board and thinking positively about CPD. The observations gave me the opportunity to work closely with Heads of Departments and teaching staff and to talk about teaching and learning in a positive and supportive way. It helped me to break down the ‘SLT v us’ barrier and enabled me to praise the good things staff were doing and show my support in the areas staff wished to develop – not just being someone who walked into a classroom with a clipboard to judge how good their teaching was. Most importantly, I am able to promote the importance of ‘impact on student learning’ as our number one priority which has helped to shift the focus from the teachers themselves to the students.