Classroom Observations – tools to destroy?

Observing classroom practice is a privilege. To watch a fellow professional plying their trade and seeing children learn should not be regarded as a perogative and senior leaders, who are often those tasked with this role should be mindful of the power their words can have.
As a Head teacher and even now as a governor, I have been into many classrooms for the purpose of observing what is going on. I saw it as my job to find that ‘something good’ even if the bulk of the lesson was poor. That was not to prevent me from saying that overall it was inadequate but to approach it in the same way as we approach feedback to the class.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that inadequate practice should be covered up or brushed over. It shouldn’t. Children’s life chances are held in classrooms and they deserve and should get the best. However, as a senior leader you should remember that you are dealing with a human being. Unless this is the very first observation that has been held of this teacher, you should already have some idea of the quality of their teaching. People do not become inadequate over night. If they have had previous poor judgements the school should have been actively putting support packages in place. Obviously if these have not produced any improvement then you are going to be moving into capability – and as quickly as possible which we know is not fast!
The reason for this minor rant was finding out how some senior leaders feed back to their staff. In one case, a previously outstanding teacher (over several observations) was given inadequate. The judgement seemed to attack their whole approach to teaching and completely destroyed their confidence. This was a teacher who had always produced excellent results for SATs despite not ‘teaching to the test’. Their relationship with the children was unique but it worked. Suddenly, out of the blue, one person was able to come and wipe away several years of passion, energy and enthusiasm. This was not an inadequate teacher who had presented the school with concerns for the children’s progress. This was the sort we need in our profession.
Now that particular observer may well be able to justify their comments. However, it was not done in a way that would foster improvement (if it were needed). It smacks of someone not understanding the environment they were in and not being prepared to find out if it was in fact working for the children. I’d go a little further and suggest that they may well have been threatened by what they saw.
Whatever the reason, it highlighted for me the fact that classroom observations are very powerful tools that must be used with great care.
Have you been on the end of a ‘heavy’ judgement? Do your SLT support you during the observation weeks or are they as bad or worse than Ofsted?

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  • wboson

    I was recently assessed at 4 for the first time in my career. the least I have ever been given before is a 3 back 15 years ago when 3 meant ‘satisfactory’. I have never been outstanding but always ‘good to outstanding’ including 3 Ofsted, 1HMI and 2 SIP observations.
    this was more a question of ‘letter of the law’ over ‘spirit of the law’ combined with inexperience/intractability of the observer. don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a good lesson but apart from one minor technicality, it wasn’t a 4. I agree with the above comment in that, even though I know I remain good, I feel something of a stigma and a very heavy drain on my confidence. without saying too much, I don’t think this observation was well handled and yet its going to live with me for a lot longer than the usual ‘good’ would have done.

    • 5sc1

      It is the emotion of how you feel that makes you a good teacher in my view. It does matter to you. did you have any right of reply? how did your SLT view it? I hope you got some support but understand how you feel.

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