Matt is author of this book: Classroom Observation: A guide to the effective observation of teaching and learning and his research and writing in this area is second to none. I was delighted to be invited to run a workshop for the conference but, even more exciting, was the opportunity to hear how other establishments across the phases have been trialing the use of lesson observations without grades.
The tide, at last, does seem to be turning. Wednesday’s conference brought enthusiasm, a sense of hope and – perhaps most importantly for some - evidence from others that it not only can work but does work, and brings huge dividends in staff development.
Dr Phil Wood (known to many as @GeogPhil on twitter) spoke about the high stakes of formal graded observations in school; the fact that slivers of a teacher’s full classroom practice over a whole year can be summed up (or boiled down) to a single-digit number by which they are then defined is all shades of ridiculous.
It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while and I’ve been trying something out which I’d now like to share.
In my work as a Specialist Leader of Education, I do a fair bit of support in my own school and also some outreach work, both of which I love. I’m often asked into a school to support either a team or sometimes an individual, often at the request of the Head or a member of SLT. In our SLE training, a large chunk of time was devoted to the skill of trying to get to the bottom of a problem in a short amount of time. It’s very difficult, especially as the perception of a member of staff can sometimes be one-dimensional and led by the evidence of graded lesson observations.
To try to gain a wider picture of a situation, I therefore started using a very simple pie-chart, often just scribbled down on paper which I used in my first meeting with the line manager, thus:
The four areas I used were:
- Data outcomes – results
- Teaching & learning /classroom practice
- Marking & feedback
- Engagement with CPD
Essentially, this could be phrased: What does the teacher do to improve and how much do they want to? It could be as small as acting on some feedback up to attending a Teachmeet or starting a reflective blog.
I asked the line manager to give me an idea of how a member of staff was doing, in their opinion, in all four areas. And, yes, at this stage I used grades:
G/O = Deemed as good or outstanding - at or above what you’d expect from a teacher at this school
R = Requires support or development – not at the standard expected at this school yet
U = Requires urgent intervention
With these grades, I was looking for a general picture, and impressions, but the difference here was that I was asking for an impression from the teacher’s general practice and not just from a formal lesson observation. Once the line manager had given me a grade for all four areas, a picture often began to emerge.
And then I would speak to the teacher themselves, in private. I didn’t show them what their line manager had said; I asked them to create their own idea of what their pie-chart looked like. Then, I’d look at how it compared to the line manager’s. This was my starting point and it quickly then moved away from grades and developed into a fuller picture with stories and feelings, and a way forward.
This informal system really worked for me in support and outreach work, and so I started thinking about how any teacher might use the opportunity to reflect on the whole of their practice and not just on the formal observations they had each year leading to their appraisal / performance management.
I was interested to read @TeacherToolkit’s ideas (this in only one of Ross's many posts on the subject) and later, @LearningSpy, here, (again, David writes extensively about this in many posts on his blog), and who has been kind enough to feedback to me about the process.
I’ve now tweaked the form, again, working with the Head and the CPD co-ordinator at my school and we have removed all reference to grades for the areas. For most classroom teachers, a discussion and reflection with a supportive ‘buddy’ about most aspects to their practice is developmental enough, and represents a valuable step in engaging with your own professional development.
We’ve added a section for ‘wider professional responsibilties’; for most teachers this would be their role as a form tutor or learning mentor. If a teacher holds a TLR, they can also reflect on this in this extra area. We have created an extra section for the role of the learning mentor, which is an extremely important aspect to the success of our students. I’ve also linked each of the segments of the pie-chart to the QTS. Hopefully this will then link smoothly into the formal appraisal system.
Here, then, is the system for reflection which started life on a scrap of paper and which now will form an important part of our staff development next year.
Reflection and Self-Review charts
I have aimed to make this outline as generic as possible but occasionally refers to systems at my own school
This system aims to:
- Provide regular opportunities for teachers to evaluate their own practice
- Encourage teachers to actively seek to share best practice
- Guide teachers to action their own development using the school’s support system
- Review how their practice is developing and feed back about what has worked and what hasn’t
- Feed comprehensively into the annual appraisal meeting with line managers so that relevant, meaningful and individual targets can be set, reviewed and met on a rolling programme.
The self-reflection and review or PIE-CHARTs are linked here through Google docs.
(DM or email me if you want a copy).
(DM or email me if you want a copy).
Pie charts will be available at the end of each term, both in the staff planners or, when these are not being used by staff, via line managers during a review period. I’d suggest perhaps sometime in the last two weeks of each full term, and I’d also suggest that not only reminders are given but is time set aside in department/team meetings for teachers to pair up and discuss their reviews.
Teachers will be encouraged to complete both parts of their pie-chart (teaching and learning mentor sections) informally, either on their own or in conversation with self-chosen buddies, or line managers. The idea of filling this in with a buddy is to encourage a conversation about teachers’ current practice, to voice their own thoughts about the various aspects of their practice.
In the section ‘Data Outcomes’, our internal assessment system is based on the idea of fight-paths. Your own school will have its own system for tracking and assessment, but the process is the same.
Rather than set targets of percentages of a certain number of students reaching target, this part of the system is designed to evaluate the progress of students using data outcomes but – importantly – the teacher’s action in tackling under-achievement is the focus, not purely the statistical results.
We have developed a SWOT form to aid this reflection. This then informs intervention referrals (internal in the classroom, or external, using the school’s referral system.)
STRENGTHS: What happens in the classroom / home learning that means students make good progress;
WEAKNESSES: What happens in the classroom / home learning that is stopping students making progress;
OPPORTUNITIES: What is helping students make progress?;
THREATS: What is happening outside the classroom that prevents students making progress?
So, if students in your class are under-attaining, you try to examine why. Blips? Is a pattern forming? Are personal circumstances affecting the students’ well-being? It asks you to evaluate the ‘story’. Do you need to try anything different in your classroom practice? Do you need external help? If you are following the intervention and referral systems, and following advice about how things might help, then you are doing what you can. The important issue is to be aware of issues and to keep lines of communication open with those staff that can support: your subject leader; line manager; intervention team, pastoral team, etc.
Sharing your pie-chart
However, the pie-chart is not a formal document and needs not to be copied to line managers or SLT; it is a teacher’s own document, aimed at a supportive way to reflect on one’s practice for the term just gone. Any teacher wishing to share their pie-chart with their LM should feel comfortable in doing so; it may form part of their next line management meeting, a Keep In Touch meeting or a talking point in a department meeting, but there is no expectation that teachers will want to share their self-assessment.
Action-planning from the pie-chart
Following assessment in each of the areas, there should follow a period of action-planning. This can be done in conjunction with a buddy, with a line-manager or alone. The notes in each of the set areas should indicate what the next stages should be.
Where things are going well or very well
Anyone that is having particular success in any area, where strategies are going well or CPD involvement has been particularly beneficial or helpful, should be encouraged to share good practice. This can be done via departments/Houses or via the CPS co-ordinator, Lead Practitioner team or the Teaching & Learning group. Sharing good practice might take the form of discussing success in a meeting with colleagues; volunteering to share in a Teachmeet (internal, local or official regional one); offer to take a CPD session on a Teacher Education Day or whole-staff meeting; write-up in the T&L newsletter or linked via the T&L page of the website; offering to host an open lesson/guidance time in the observation classroom; offering to have observers in lessons/GT; present a slot in a T&L meeting; take part of a support meeting for NQTs and new staff; contribute to Professional Studies for current trainees, etc. (You will be able to add to this list.)
It is hoped this will encourage more celebration and sharing of good practice across the school. Teachers should be encouraged to share the good practice and not hide their light under a bushel!
When things are not going so well
When an area is not going as well as hoped, it could be seen as a development point for a teacher, representing an area to review and seek input for, in order to improve. This should not be a matter of embarrassment. It may represent a ‘blip’ in practice; it may have a ‘story’ behind it, a wider explanation for this result; it might be indicative of a more significant issue. The important thing is to resolve to do something about it.
Many resolutions will come simply from the awareness of it being a development point and attention to it will mean that it does not stay a development point for very long. The aim would be to show some progress or action towards progress by the next time a reflection takes place.
Teachers should refer to the support list available and decide what would help improve this area; if this means the support of another colleague, this will be made available. Anyone feeling that they have not made progress in any area for more than two terms should seek support from a line manager or Lead Practitioner in order to gain additional advice about how to address this issue.
Occasionally, a development point might trigger a more structured level of support, usually involving help from a Subject Leader, Director of Studies (Head of House), member of the Lead Practitioner team or SLT. Any support at this level will work under a time limit in order to show significant improvement, negotiable with the line manager or colleague providing support. Any teacher feeling they are seriously struggling in any area needs to share this, confidentially, with their line manager or one of the staff mentioned above so that support can be actioned asap.
In some, rare, occasions, a line manager or subject leader might even flag up a member of their team that they feel is struggling, to the detriment of their students, and a structured intervention may be needed. Sometimes a teacher might be in denial about an issue and hope that if they ignore it, it might go away. In many of these circumstances it results from a lack of confidence in one area or another. Communication and honesty can help. If, however, a member of staff is resistant to intervention or feels it is not necessary even if a line manager feels it is, Lead Practitioner and/or SLT support will need to be actioned and more formal support be put into place.
What to do next
Teachers should keep a record of any sharing / support that has been actioned as a result of the termly reviews, plus a note of who, if anyone, they have worked with. Staff can keep track of this on their self-reflection forms.
Formal appraisal takes place in the Autumn term of each academic year. Teachers should take their 3 pie-charts to the meeting with them so that the official appraisal paperwork can be filled in using evidence from the year just gone. They may also wish to bring other evidence, e.g. lesson observation and walk-through forms, tracking & assessment evidence, any other recorded feedback or evidence relating to the 5 areas of evaluation.
Constructive feedback and questions are very welcome!