Learning through looking!

The definition of teaching is ‘Impart knowledge or skill; give instruction to’ (Oxford dictionary 1966)
That presumes action, interaction & ‘doing something. In his really interesting article ‘Just Watching’ Oliver Quinlan explores the need teachers seem to have to constantly engage with pupils.
As a head teacher I had the privilege of going into classrooms to share the learning going on. For teachers, this activity was known as ‘formal observation’ but I always saw something new to take away with me. Now you may find that hard to believe but every classroom, even where the practice is poor, has something unique to positively notice.
However, one thing that I often commented on in a number of classrooms was the way teachers would answer the questions they posed! This was not done intentionally but, as a profession, we hate silence and therefore rush to fill it. When there is someone sitting at the back taking notice if not notes, this becomes even more frantic.
As an observer, I saw and learnt  SO much. Some outstanding, some inadequate but it was the luxury of time that gave me that real knowledge of what was happening across my school. Yes, I was there to make a judgement on the learning taking place but it was knowledge that I could not gain on a course or reading a journal. It was the way I could interpret much of the educational theory that was being expounded.
My belief in the benefits of observation means that I’m a firm believer in staff having the opportunity to observe each other. Obviously, there needs to be agreed protocols so that they are ‘I’m coming to learn from you’ rather than ‘I’m going to criticize you’ visits. It takes a little while for the nerves of both the observer and observee to subside but once they are both relaxed, an amazing amount of CPD can take place. It is often the case that once the first visits have taken place the pairings arrange for other visits within their own timetables.
For head teachers it is all about time. I found that if staff can see the benefits of something they will seek to get more of it. Sharing good practice is what it is all about. It does not have to be complete 24/7 excellence. A teacher may have a brilliant approach to PE or IT or their group writing may be producing some amazing results – all of which can only be shared by being observed. Releasing a member of staff for an hour or so is not the financial drain of paying for them to attend a course then arranging the feedback to the rest of the staff on their return.
For me, peer observations are a ‘win / win’ solution to that perennial problem of CPD in a strapped for cash environment.

Who does the obsevations in your school?

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  • I couldn’t agree more. I’m in my 10th year of teaching and was the leading teacher for my subject for 4 years. The Leading Teacher scheme worked well in Dorset where I worked so we frequently did mutual observations, usually across different subjects and schools, as well as offering demonstration lessons which any teachers could opt into. We weren’t professing to be experts, just willing to open our doors!
    I am also lucky to work in a very forward thinking school where coaching is embedded in our ethos. We have both formal and informal observations very frequently so neither staff or students get surprised by having other bods in the room!

  • It’s great to hear about the collaborative efforts of teachers, so often we here about the benefits of collaborative student work. Extending this option to our teachers and educators is incredibly valuable and beneficial. Communities of practice that are real and relevant to each person’s environment are far more profound and developmental. As Michelle pointed out people don’t claim to be experts the fact they are just willing to open their doors creates conversations that have an air of generosity and sincerity, they can be protective and encouraging, ideas are shared both good and bad.
    A little while ago I came across this quote, “Sharing makes me feel like I am contributing to the profession, which means a lot”. Apologies I can’t seem to find the author.
    For me this shows the spirit of a changing profession one in which the spirit of discovery, developing and sharing is driving an enriched spirit of professionalism. All too often teachers rush off to courses and CPD events without realising that the best and most effective resource is themselves and their peers.
    Thanks for a great post!

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