I have had 5 positive experiences (and in some of those case by “positive” I mean “not annoying”) of being observed.
1) I was new and in a very difficult school. The Headteacher did not like me and did not rate me at all. She decided to push me out and got her loyal minions to try to harass and bully me out. I was one of about 10 people she was clearly trying to push out at the time. As a result SLT didn’t come when I sent for the on call teacher and if they did it was after about half an hour. Every observation I had was hostile and every feedback session an argument. I didn’t sign a single lesson obs form because I didn’t accept the judgments and/or comments.
At this point my savior came on the scene. The Deputy Headteacher. The voice of sanity. The one who calmed people after the Headteacher had shouted at or threatened them. The one who made the Headteacher’s knee-jerk policies work (to a degree. Some of them were insane). The one who should have been the Headteacher.
The first time she observed me there was a fight. While I was breaking up the fight a child smashed up and ate a calculator. The child was massive and completely bonkers and neither of us were able to stop him from doing it.
We rearranged the observation. The only thing she said was that the rest of the class were remarkably well behaved given that there was a fight going on. She rather generously put this down to my relationship with the class when it was clearly due to her presence in the room.
Second observation the lesson was awful. Completely unsatisfactory despite my attempts to follow the feedback I had been previously given. The advice she gave me was the complete opposite of what the other observers had told me to do. She said:
- There is too much going on. There are too many activities. Do starter, 1 activity, plenary.
- Sit them in rows until you have established routines and behavior. Group work is inappropriate for this class at the moment.
- Don’t try to teach until you have them listening.
- Set detentions, lots of them if necessary.
- Send pupils that won’t co-operate out. Follow the behavior policy.
- The idea of the lesson was good. If you sort out behavior that lesson will work.
I was observed several times by this teacher and every one was a positive experience that I feel improved my teaching and gave me some respite from the war of attrition with the rest of SLT.
2) I was observed by a consultant sent by the head to stitch me up (at least that’s what I strongly suspect). We had a room with video cameras mounted in the ceiling for CPD purposes. It was free for the observation lesson so I moved the location there. The consultant was unaware that the room had video cameras in it or that I was recording the lesson. I was not given feedback after the lesson. I was summoned to the Head’s office during lunchtime. I took my union rep with me. The lesson the consultant described was not one I recognized and after being shouted at by the head for my substandard teaching I thoroughly enjoyed playing some of the video of the lesson (which was a decent but not particularly inspiring one). Petty perhaps but BEST OBSERVATION EVER…
3) When the same Headteacher decided to put me through a capability procedure I was observed repeatedly by the 2 members of SLT that were willing to openly take my side. They were both sufficiently established, strong and stubborn that they were willing to do so openly. Every observation I had with them was not only one where I agreed with the rating but also the comments and feedback (positive and negative). It was thanks to them that I was eventually judged to be a good teacher and the pressure eased a bit for a little while.
4) The headteacher of my new school observed me in my 4th year in the school. I had been given massively underachieving year 11 classes 2 years in a row and turned them both round. I was given a similar class again and she said she wanted to observe to see how I was getting results out of them when other teachers and other departments were struggling with the same pupils. The feedback was broadly positive with some “even better ifs” thrown in. We also talked through what I was doing that worked that she might not have seen and asked me to share good practice with other departments.
5) OFSTED were due. The Headteacher decided that I was not carrying out my management responsibilities properly and really went on the offensive against me. After a month of this I demanded a meeting with her and my union rep and demanded that she give me some details of how I was failing to do my job properly. She said the results were not good enough (They were the best results the school had ever got). When I put her on the spot and asked her what specifically she felt I should be doing better she withdrew the accusation that I was not fulfilling my management responsibilities and instead said that my teaching was not good enough. I was told that I would be put on a coaching program with another school that was famous for their CPD. I agreed.
A week later I was informed that it would be the Deputy Headteacher coaching me instead which I was not thrilled about. His management style appeared to largely involve telling people they weren’t doing their jobs properly and being rude to people.
We had a meeting where we discussed me strengths and areas of improvement as a teacher. He then observed me and broadly agreed with my assessment of my strengths etc. It was made clear that either of us could end the coaching sessions at any time if they were not beneficial. We agreed a focus for the first observation (afl).
From this point on I was observed fortnightly. I sent an outline of what I intended to do and he gave me some feedback on it in advance of the lesson. No lesson plans were required. The lessons were not rated and OFSTED criteria were NEVER mentioned. We had a timetabled meeting time to discuss feedback. The feedback only related to the agreed on focus and behavior. We would then talk about how things were going generally for both of us and finished off agreeing a focus for the next lesson.
It was absolutely brilliant. It was the best CPD ever. Sometimes the job can seem so massive that it’s overwhelming. Sometimes just doing all the paperwork, evidence gathering and back covering my job seemed to require meant afl, differentiation, pace, marking and everything else that should happen in the classrom gets neglected, forgotten or pushed to the bottom of the priority list. Sometimes we need a reminder of what it is that we should be doing and how and sometimes it’s nice to have time and space to just talk about teaching. Not talking about OFSTED, getting kids through exams, admin, intervention, grades and levels, management, evidence or anything other than how best to teach something.
It also changed my opinion of the Deputy Head as I got more insight into his role and his frustrations and got some very insightful advice into how I might do things better. Once he fully understood the problems in my department he made it very clear that he didn’t think I was the problem so much as my lack of training as a manager and the lack of support I had received from my line managers. He said he fully understood my decision to drop my management responsibilities and move school but that he hoped I was not closing the door on management forever as he felt I was intelligent, capable and full of good ideas.
I would highly recommend a program like that to anyone. Done well it is awesome.