Its mid-January, that can mean only one thing.  It’s time for BETT London, where tens of thousands of the worlds educators converge to learn and engage in what is on offer from the education industry.  Our leading schools in the Netherlands, SNB were attending en-masse this year, even hosting their own workshop, ‘How to improve teacher’s lesson observation skills’, hosted by Dr Jonathan Hills.

Myself and our CEO, Alan Sawyers were invited to join the masterclass and impart how learning these new skills could be applied and used when using Fusion which is at the heart of the SNB digital school environment.  So… what did we learn?

Improving teachers’ lesson observation skills

As teachers, there’s always that first time when you’re asked to observe a lesson. It’s a stark reminder of how important it is to consistently monitor not just your own effectiveness but other colleagues too. In this article, we discuss the common pitfalls – but also some of the top five improvements which you can make right now, in time for your next observation.

Tip #1 – Communicate clearly and pre-plan!

Don’t arrange things informally. Ensure that there is a clear timetable of events and that you, and the lesson you wish to observe, are planned in advance. Both parties need to be as natural as possible and comfortable with the surroundings, timings and plans. Too often, lesson observation is rushed, ad-hoc and no clear outcomes are defined. Treat this with the same respect as you would a job interview.

Tip #2 – Detail, detail and more detail. Teaching spy craft.

Remember, you are there to observe a lesson, not engage with it! So, resist watching or participating in the same materials as the students. Think globally. Inspect and observe everything; noise levels, seating layouts, eye contact, temperature, time-of-day, relevance, questioning styles, body language, teacher presence, vocal levels. It’s more than looking for “engagement” of learning, you’re there to observe things that perhaps your colleague isn’t even aware of. This is a very rare opportunity to take a step back and compare a co-teacher with your own methods. The more you can note in real-time, the more information you can share and make use of yourself!

Tip #3 – Recording observations is easier than you think!

When you first arrange your observation session with your co-worker, spend a bit of time in the classroom BEFORE your agreed slot. Make a quick sketch off the classroom… rectangles for desks, circles for students and anything else which may be relevant (whiteboard, screen, windows etc). Then scribble down your own table of definitions – a lookup table of basic observations.

Examples:

  • Every time a student raises their hand, or wishes to make a comment – use a “Y”
  • Perhaps each time there is a negative behavioural issue, use a “N”
  • Maybe you wish to observe emotions such as “S”miling or “F”idgeting…
  • It’s your lookup table, be as minimal or creative as you wish.

During the lesson, instead of spending all your time writing paragraphs and notes, just use your handy sketch to annotate a letter against each student. You can focus on observing and not miss a single thing! Simple!

Tip #4 – Dealing with negative feedback. How to be a diplomat.

Ok, so this is the really useful part. You’ve observed a lesson, and there are items within that lesson which clearly have room for improvement. How do you raise this for discussion without destroying the morale of your colleague?

Begin with praise. Give credit where it is due, if you’ve seen something really useful – then suggest that you yourself would like to use it too. Sometimes the teaching style of one teacher does not always map to yours or others. Remember that your observation is about the lesson, the content and the students. Your colleague is the delivery method.

Don’t feel afraid to suggest other causes for a bad lesson. Was the room too hot? Was the teacher’s voice too loud because the acoustics in the class are poor? Many impacts of a “bad lesson” may be outside the immediate control and awareness of the teacher. You can use these methods to highlight negative aspects of the lesson without affording blame. In other words, its perhaps not always the teacher’s fault.

The art of diplomacy is all about listening. Encourage the teacher to share items they felt were positive first, and then slowly move towards “other factors” which they feel could improve the lesson. Finally, now that they’re invested in you, and empowered by you – move into the more even- terrain of suggesting ways to improve their own observed faults (if any?)

Be constructive, be clear and remember that there are many causes of faults within a lesson. Try to join them together and discuss them as links-in-a-chain as opposed to isolated and unrelated issues.

Tip #5 – Creating a Climate of Confidence

The end-goal of any observation is to ultimately create a self-reflective, ongoing ‘Climate of Confidence’ within your team, department or entire school. It’s about a long-term lifecycle of ensuring not just that you review lessons, teachers and content – but that you are creating, nurturing and supporting a permanent ecosystem. So, lesson observation is just one aspect which supports your climate of confidence. Consider using the same tactics elsewhere within your organisation (perhaps staff appraisals, technology reviews, spending decisions) and remember that everything you observe which is good (or better) can be re-used in your own world and may benefit other aspects of your school.

How can existing schools use Fusion for all of their CPD and Staff Development needs?

Fusion is commonly used by our schools to store, deliver, monitor and create a wide array of staff development materials. Blogs, forums, quizzes, benchmarking and assessment allow your school to operate an entire digital ecosystem for staff. Many of our schools create lesson observation surveys, forms and feedback documents that can be shared/reviewed and improved. It’s a quick, safe and accessible means of removing the bureaucracy and time required to manage CPD within your school.

Fusion is available on any device from any location in any language, for staff and teachers alike. So why not make use of this excellent resource to create your own “Climate of Confidence”?

Solid guidance that every teacher can benefit from and we hope you find useful, shared with the kind permission of Johnathan.

So as the academic part of the day drew to a close, the group decamped to a great little pub opposite Hyde Park.   With the Dutch famous for their hospitality the late afternoon progressed into an evening of old friendships being revisited and new friendships being made with the echoes of “proost” and “cheers” reverberating into the night.

Abbey Simkiss, Alan Sawyers, Kees van der Plas