Watching Me, Watching You. Some Thoughts on Observation Lessons

I like to think that I have a good grasp of everything that goes on in my classroom. Fourteen years experience in teaching coupled with meticulous planning allows me to say that confidently. Or so I thought. Experience provides us with an all-seeing eye but does it really tell us everything?  I’ve spent a lot of time in an observer’s role in classrooms recently and it has been revealing in many ways. The concentration on every detail has made me see the teacher through a lot of different eyes. And it has, consequently, made me a better teacher.

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Don’t get me wrong; I’ve seen some amazing teachers recently. Most of the students I see are taught well by them. But I’ve also seen kids floundering in class; seen them totally disengaged from the learning. I’ve seen kids work only when the teacher is close by; seen them hold their hands up for minutes at a time unnoticed. Usually only one, perhaps two, in a class. Easy to be missed, easy to be ignored even.  Some learn nothing. I suppose my questions is then: While we are happy to observe and ‘critique’ others, finding fault as we do so, are we comfortable applying those criteria to ourselves?

I’ve been very guilty of promoting myself on here, blogging about some of the good things I do in class. When I think they work well I write all about it, hoping to share. This week has, however, forced me to consider every student in my class and whether I’m truly, honestly reaching them all. ‘That worked’ is a comment we read and hear a lot in teaching. How do we know it worked for all? Can we ever know? If you could observe yourself, would you see a teacher who takes into consideration all of their students and is it, indeed, possible to always do that?

If you’re one of the, on average, eleven people a day who read my blog – erm, you might well be from Iran, so thank you – you’ll be aware of the marking approach I’ve adapted since Christmas. It has allowed me, at least once a week, to tailor my lessons to every individual in the class. I am much more aware of the least engaged and the least confident. Even so, my experience of focused observation recently has convinced me that I take too much for granted. One child not learning in one lesson is not good enough; but what happens when that becomes two, three, even five or six lessons?

In my experience, one-off observation lessons are never enough. They become box-ticking exercises with little educational value. It takes a series of lessons, ideally with the same class, to develop the skills to do it properly. After fourteen years I have been given the opportunity to do that. It has taught me to notice the little things. If observation is worth doing at all then we must insist that it given the time and respect it deserves. I have discovered this week that, done properly, it could make us all better teachers.

 

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