Stepping Away From Observational Judgements

@TeacherToolkitIn 2010, Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit from a simple Twitter account through which he rapidly became the ‘most followed teacher on social media in the UK’. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the ‘500 Most Influential People in Britain’ by The Sunday… Read more about @TeacherToolkitConundrum: If we are to truly move away from (one-off) lesson observation judgements – particularly, on teachers of individual lessons – then we must make a start and stop making judgements on teachers in those lessons; and also when providing verbal feedback.In the article I pose two questions:Is the removal of judgements (or a framework) helpful?As a profession, can we do it?Context:The background to this article can be found most recently in ‘There is no such thing as an Outstanding (one-off) lesson!‘; using the latest guidance published by Ofsted, which has quashed all the typical stereotypes and myths that we have become so accustomed to. Plus, this discussion is further supported in ‘the role of lesson observations’, where I discuss academic research and thought, from a variety of practitioners; bloggers and consultants.With Ofsted clearly stipulating, that they no longer want a preferred method of teaching, it is therefore even more crucial than ever, for observers to impart less of their own preferred preferences on other teachers and thus, support colleagues with more pinpointed (unbiased) feedback on student progress. This is not an easy challenge.Two-fold:There are two sides (possibly three) to this proposal. Those on the receiving end of lesson-observational feedback and specifically, judgements; and those who are responsible for raising standards of teaching and learning. For example, heads of faculty; senior teachers; those with whole-school responsibility for teaching and learning; and finally, Ofsted and The Department for Education.In short, accountability and/or the nature of the individual’s personal motivation for self-development.Allow me to remind you of who and what determines our fate. The School Inspection Handbook. I have copied this statement three times, just in case you have not read the information correctly; or do not quite understand the implications.“The grade descriptors refer to the quality of teaching overall, and need not be applied in their entirety to a single lesson.“And just in case you misread any of that information, here it is again:“The grade descriptors refer to the quality of teaching overall, and need not be applied in their entirety to a single lesson.“And finally, to make sure it sinks into your subconsciousness, or just in case you are an observer who is still intent on proceeding in the wrong fashion …“The grade descriptors refer to the quality of teaching overall, and need not be applied in their entirety to a single lesson.“ Taken from paragraph 118 onwards, in the Ofsted: School Inspection Handbook.Reminders:Previously, I posed this question in ‘the role of observations’; how can one observational-framework be suitable for 4 to 18-year olds?Observations currently take the following into account: (regardless of who is observing)Context of the students.A framework for good teaching.Student conversations.Information in students’ books.Routines.Data – progress over time/key-stage.I have also said, that even if judgements – regardless of validity – are removed; we will always be forming ‘a judgement of sorts’, on other teachers. I know this because support staff; colleagues; parents; sixth form students; trainee-teachers, all of whom walk into my classroom at some time or another … even if they do not have the awareness, are making some type of judgements on my classroom environment and my teaching ability. The subconscious mind. An opinion of sorts.I know this because whether or not it is right or wrong, I do it myself. This [the subconscious] will not disappear – even if formal judgements do.Courage?Are you and your school, brave enough to step away from observational judgements?I believe it will take a generation of teachers before the formal framework of judging each other, and judging of individual lessons is banished from our discussions! Therefore, if we are to truly move each other on, without a framework – or without a wrongly interpreted framework – we need to start sooner rather than later.Formal judgements and their validity and reliability are being called into question. There are far too many variables and this is, unfortunately, the nature of the beast we have misinterpreted. I am at least pleased, that Ofsted continues to clarify this myth.Questions?It is time to question our own practice.Should we be judged, and if yes/no? What would this look like?Do we need a change of vocabulary?An alternative (watchdog) framework?A CPD developmental framework, focused on specific feedback?Will removing judgements improve the teacher?Will this, then eliminate poor teaching?As an appraiser, if I do not observe you, who will?How will you know ‘how well you are doing’?I will reiterate. I do believe observers can spot good teaching! We all can. But, this develops and is refined with experience. This however, can be tarnished with a framework or a particular school-fad (priority). A particular set of beliefs and certainly, subject-specialisms expertise and approaches can also influence judgements. This can also be further developed with experience and in essence, can be deemed experimental. But is this wrong? The very nature of our profession is to support students and try to do better.Nothing will ever be perfect.A solution?I have not yet read a solution to the current debate. If you have one, please send it my way. So, here I am offering a suggestion for the reader, to disfigure and blemish if you feel that it is unworthy …What?Under the framework of ‘progress over time’, a reliable source of information comes from (at least) three sources during any observation. I argue, that these sources can be ‘observed’ outside of a formal observational setting; thus leaving the teacher to teach; and to engage with observations for developmental purposes alone. No judgement.So, what are the sources?Student conversations; routines and typicality – via questioning.Student books. (Progress over time; feedback; acting on feedback etc.)Data. (Progress over time.)All of the above can be sourced outside of a classroom and formal setting. Therefore, I believe, that this is already a good starting point, without having to go into any classroom and into any one-off-judgemental setting.I’m convinced many schools may already do this – but yet, they may still be offering one-off judgements based on the evidence/source.Why?In doing so, an observer would be able to gather information on ‘what is typical’ over time.How?I believe a potential model for removal of one-off lesson judgements in observations can use student feedback used for teacher feedback. As a suggestion, using the sources listed above as a format, I would advocate using some of these questions in your conversations with students (out of the classroom):During the lesson, the observer will ask a range of students the following questions;This information can be used to provide the basis of feedback and is recommended as evidence.It is recommended that these questions form part of teacher-planning, and for establishing evidence of routines in the classroom. These questions should be posed to an entire data-landscape. To include top, middle and bottom; gifted and talented; EAL (English Additional Needs); and SEN (Special Educational Needs). The following are suggestionsWhat are you doing in class today? What are your lesson objectives?Why are you doing this?What does success look like?How do you know?What is your teacher looking for?Does your teacher set challenging work for you at a suitable level to learn?What is your current level/grade?How do you know? How are you told?How do you progress onto the next level?How often is your own book marked?Do you receive feedback? Give me an example…Are you allowed time to improve (re-draft) your work?Do you enjoy the lesson? Why?Describe a typical lesson to me…Is your class, a respectful place where it is safe to learn?Is it okay to make mistakes?Does your teacher encourage you to understand the value (beyond exams) of what we are learningDoes your teacher links what you are learning in class, to what you have learned before?Does your teacher give time to discuss my ideas (in pairs, group, whole class)? To  develop and practice skills?Is your teacher well organised?Is there anything this teacher does which really helps you learn, that you want to highlight here (think of feedback, style, activities, ways of motivating)Is there anything you teacher could do, to help you overcome difficulties?When looking in student books, consider the following as evidence:Are books marked within the last 2-4 weeks?Have books been marked from the start of the academic year?Are old/new books accessible to students?is classwork given a formative/summative grade? with comments on how to improve?Is there clear evidence of students responding to feedback (redrafting/ corrections etc.)?Do teachers pick up on literacy/numeracy errors? Poor presentation?Is there evidence of peer and self-assessment?If applicable to school/subject policy, is homework clearly identifiable and marked? Add value to progress?Is progress and development clear?Does the student take pride in their book?Teacher feedback:As a solution for providing feedback to the teacher, I really like the #PQS format.Praise!Question?Suggestion …Click to download a templateIn this video, students are engaging in the praise, question, suggestion protocol. This protocol can be used to offer critique and feedback for revision of any kind of work during a redraft and feedback phase. This method can be used in the feedback process for teachers; as well as during the sourcing-evidence part of the observation.The protocol helps students (and the teacher?) see the strengths of their work and consider questions and suggestions that will lead to revision and improvement.Praise, Question, SuggestionConclusion:At the start of this post, I posed two questions:Is the removal of judgements (or a standards framework) helpful?Yes, but only if senior teachers use the modified framework “to develop the teacher”, or not use any framework incorrectly and interpret this in a way, that is detrimental. Tail wagging the dog, or dog wagging the tail? And that the readers of this blog, continue to spread the word far and wide, that observations are based on what is typical and not that of a one-off performance. Perhaps, that no judgements are offered – ever!To do this, I have offered a suggestion to moving away from observational judgements and how best to do this in the post. In a nutshell; meeting with students outside of the class; gathering evidence on what is typical. And that teacher feedback is based on student conversations, and not of a framework designed to capture whole-school teaching.2. As a profession, can we do it?I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on this post and if anyone is a) willing to give this a try across your school and/or b) is already doing this. It is certainly forming current conversations with my own colleagues and we are getting started…Updated (August 2014): 5 sources to valid ‘progress over time.’Download here: Progress Over Time Lesson Observations51.511214-0.119824Related

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