I am a big believer that one-off lesson observations do not give a clear indication of student progress. However, I do believe they can be used as a tool to support teachers in their reflections on their practice.
When we first start teaching, we have so much to think about that sometimes we struggle to see what we are doing well and what we need to improve. Feedback whether it be from a supportive colleague or a video playback can really help to shed some light on our practice as a whole.
My own journey
In the 12 years that I have been teaching, I have been observed countless time. In my role as NQT / ITT Mentor and Head of Department, I have also observed countless lessons. I want to share some tips and ideas that I hope you can use.
Tip 1. Don’t change your style
This isn’t about the content of the lesson but how it is delivered. If you are a laid back teacher and then you are incredibly strict during an observation, the lesson will not be a fair representation of you and your teaching. Plus, students will pick up on the change and wonder what is going on.
Tip 2. Less is more
This is especially true of new teachers. I remember it well too. We want to make sure that we show as many of our good ideas as possible so we just keep adding more activities in. The reality is that there isn’t enough time to get through everything and this can lead to stress and panic.
So, look at your lesson beforehand. Think about what you want the students to learn / take away from your lesson and why. Looking at the bigger picture here (and not just the individual lesson) really helps. Look at your planned activities and ask yourself the following questions:
- Are they building on one another? Is it clear that there is progression from one activity to another?
- Does each activity support the students in their learning? Does it help them to meet the goal / outcome / objective you set at the start of the lesson?
- Have you allowed time in the lesson for a discussion? This could be a more detailed teacher and student discussion about one of the activities or it could involve a slight adaptation to the original lesson plan to discuss a good point from a student.
- Are you building in time to get feedback from students?
Tip 3. Don’t worry about going into more detail
When we first start teaching, we feel a pressure to get through everything we have on our plan. However, some of the best lessons are those where you go into more detail. Where you create a meaningful dialogue with your students and you discover together. Take the time to take stock, ask them questions to check understanding and if needed, go into more detail. Never be afraid to adapt your original lesson plan.
Tip 4. Give yourself a pep talk beforehand.
I really don’t think we do this enough in teaching. Our job is to support students in their learning but so often we go into a lesson with a hundred and one other things on our mind. If we want our students to do their best then we have to be present in that classroom.
When we are being observed, we can sometimes find ourselves concentrating on the observer and how we are coming across rather than the students. So before the lesson, remind yourself why you are doing this. You are here because you want to support students. They are the most important ones in the room. Concentrate on them and the relationship you have with them.
Tip 5. Smile and enjoy
I had a great discussion with my old Assistant Head Teacher the other day and something she said to me, really resonated. She said that when we are first starting out, one of our biggest problems is that we don’t feel confident and students pick up on this straight away. However, when we are fully present in the lesson and are enjoying what we are teaching, that enjoyment can come across as confidence. So, make sure that you are enjoying what you are teaching. Smile, let the students know that you love being in the classroom with them.
Tip 6. Don’t let behaviour management slip
When we are being observed, as I have said before, we can feel a pressure to get through all of our planned activities. However, sometimes this is to the detriment of classroom behaviour. I cannot begin to tell you the amount of lessons I have observed where a teacher talks over students talking. I understand this need completely, I was once there too but it is so important to not let it slide. Your classroom management is the foundation for everything single thing in your lesson. I have had to completely abort lessons before to address classroom behaviour. Even though you might not need to take such extreme measures, there is nothing wrong with pausing the lesson to address behaviour.
Tip 7. Be organised
This isn’t necessarily about the planning but the organisation. Make sure resources are close by. I find post-its are great. Stick them around printed-out resources with the day, group, period and it makes things so much easier.
Little things like ensuring your computer (if using one) is ready with register, lesson and resources already loaded on the screen.
Make sure you know beforehand how the books are going to be handed out and when you will do that? How are the resources going to be handed out? Are you going to do it or are you going to ask one of the students to do it?
Tip 8. Have a clear start and finish
If nothing else goes to plan, make sure you have a start and a finish. Ensure that you start the lesson with a clear indication of what you will covering, how you will do it and why. If at the end of the lesson, you know that you are running out of time, think of a way to bring the lesson to an end in a way that informs you of what the students have learnt. If all else fails, a summary of what you have covered so far with probing questions to gauge their understanding, will suffice. Remember that you need to know what they have learnt / taken away from the lesson to inform subsequent lessons.
Your own teaching journey
Some of the above tips might help you, some of them you may already do but please don’t judge yourself harshly. We are truly our own worst enemies sometimes. When we first start out in teaching, we expect so much from ourselves and we question everything we do but it is a journey. Be open to learning and trying new things and you will find your own style.
You have got this!