Tag Archives: Lesson Observations

An Alternative look at Lesson Observations.

When I wrote my last post I thought my story was unique to me. I never expected it to travel so far and wide or for so many others to have similar stories. The tale of my experience with lesson observations has been read more than 30,000 times and shared over 3,000 times on Facebook as well as the Tweets, comments and personal messages of support.

I am truly overwhelmed by it all.

Hopefully, the reason for sharing my story hasn’t been lost – Graded Lesson Observations don’t make for better teachers and add little to the lives of those we teach (and that’s the crucial point). Nevertheless, I’m not opposed to lesson observations per se, so long as they play an integral role in the continuing professional development of teachers. Inconsistencies in the process lead to scepticism and ultimately learned helplessness – I went through a stage when a decided that nothing I did would lead to improvement, so trying became a pointless pursuit (and understanding these mechanism did little to cushion their blow).

I don’t think I really comprehended the impact of my story until I spied this from Laura McInerney @miss_mcinerney


It’s clear to me that lesson grading doesn’t improve teaching and fortunately my opinion is supported by much louder voices than mine (see this excellent critique from Rob Coe). Neither is it a new argument, and here I refer you to an equally excellent blog post from David Didau  @LearningSpy There are more effective ways to improve teaching, which makes me wonder why we observe in this way at all. It’s also obvious to many that the way in which the observation takes place is ineffective. My own Sixth Form students will automatically inform you that you can’t carry out an observation with only one observer (regardless of how highly trained they are). They would quote the studies that have utilised observational techniques using several observers or other studies that use audio-visual equipment to try and capture as much detail as possible. The more confident ones might even draw your attention to the flaws in the observation schedule itself.

If a teenager can spot the problems, then senior leaders should understand them as well.

In attempt to be more part of the solution than part of the problem I asked myself:

If lesson observations are to be useful, then what can we do?

I’ve recently been introduced to ‘Lesson Study’. Julie Smith @XjuliesmithX (in her blog post available here) describes lesson study thus:


You’ll notice that the observation component still exists, but in a supportive and collaborative way.

Support is crucial in any profession. I remain surprised that more schools don’t take advantage of coaching and mentoring. The advent of Coaching Psychology and the formation of the British Psychological Society’s Special Group on Coaching Psychology had brought a more evidence based process to the table and introduces a raft of techniques based around the principles of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and the Solution Focused Approach.

Combining Lesson Study with a structured coaching programme, would, I believe create more effective and contented teachers. If we look after the teacher then good outcomes for our young people should follow automatically. It’s not a revelatory suggestion, so why does the system rely on such ineffective strategies that alienate and create the ‘us’ (teachers) and ‘them’ (management) distinction?

Solutions exist – we simply choose not to use them.