I consider myself rather blessed. I have a beautiful 22 month old daughter who is healthy, happy and seems to learn new things extremely quickly. She likes to watch other children playing a lot. She takes in everything that is going on around her and before you know it, is doing the thing she just observed. She must do a lot of this at nursery, but they’re not always positive things she copies, for instance the way she has started to snatch, or the way she has started to shout ‘no’ at the same time as frowning at me. However, there are good things, such as copying the bigger children to use the potty and the exponential increase in her vocabulary.
I’m under no illusion that this sort of behaviour is exclusive to her. Of course, we’ve all been there. We’ve all learnt a lot from observing others over the years and as teachers, have probably magpie’d some absolute gems. That’s why I think we may just have the process of observation (whether graded or ungraded) not as productive as it could be.
Let’s face it, observation in any institution is usually undertaken by individuals that aren’t practising teachers. They then provide feedback to the observee on what they perceive to have been positive or negative about the lesson. Even in the most ‘developmental’ of processes, the conversations will usually stem around a judgement or appraisal. Here lies the issue. Firstly, Coe’s (2013) synthesis of the MET study informs us that there is a serious lack of reliability and validity with such an approach and Cosh (1998) found that this approach can be detrimental to both teacher confidence and a supportive teaching environment due to a focus on being developed over self awareness and self development.
In the largest and most extensive account of lesson observation, Matt O’Leary (2013) sums up the above, referring to current modes of observation having a ‘performance driven focus [which] has culminated in a prescribed and codified model of what it means to be an effective teaching professional in some circles, with limited opportunities for the use of observation to stimulate collaborative discussion about the process of teaching and learning’.
So let us go back to my above point about learning from observing others. Why not stick the boot on the other foot? Why not let the focus of the observation be teachers watching other teachers and taking away ideas to use in their own classroom? Yes it’s important to have dialogue around what might and might not be working. As teachers, there isn’t enough of watching one another teach, but the focus should not be on making judgments of one another, but instead trying something you’ve seen and applying it. That may be a particular method of questioning, or a particular way of delivering a topic, even a particular way of laying out the classroom. It doesn’t matter what, the focus is on providing a low risk, high gain environment.
I appreciate that there are a lot of things that could be copied that may be deemed ineffective, but for me, the importance is getting teachers to be inquirers in their own classroom and finding what works best in their context. In order to do this, they need to observe and have dialogue with peers.
I’ve had the privilege of observing a lot of lessons and find myself picking up new ideas about what and what not to do in my own teaching. I get all of this information and as much as I share, nothing compares to seeing things for yourself. Why don’t you copy this idea in your own institution?