Observing Lessons

Observing Lessons

Two of my #teacher5aday pledges for 2017 were to get out and explore more of the area where I live, and to keep practising taking photos.

I decided to take a trip to the Otter Estuary and see if I could take a few pictures of birds. I have never been birdwatching before, and wasn’t sure if I would enjoy it, but the experience of spending an hour just siting and looking was really interesting.

I tried very hard not to think about work, but I never seem to be able to completely switch off. I have been thinking a lot about lesson observations lately, and in the time I spent walking and watching I was able to clarify my thoughts about some of the limitations of formal lesson observations. I came up with three issues for lesson observers to bear in mind:

  1. If you just look for one thing you might miss something wonderful

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I sat on a bench overlooking the estuary looking for the wading birds listed on the very helpful information board. I must have chosen a bad time to be looking, but all the birds I could see were so far away it was difficult to tell them apart, even when using the pictures to help identify them. I gave myself a good amount of time, but began to feel that I was wasting my time. Then I caught a glimpse of this beautiful robin out of the corner of my eye – she was sitting on a branch just to the side of me, and it felt like she was watching me to see what I was up to. She sat still while I took a photo, and I as really pleased not to have missed her. When you observe lessons you can only see what you happen to be looking at, and may well miss the magic happening elsewhere in the room. If you just look for one thing you might miss something wonderful. 

2. You’re only ever seeing a snapshot of what is really happening

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I found a bench underneath a bridge where the water was moving more quickly. I took this picture, and could try to describe exactly what is happening and what I can see. But this would not be describing the river – however much detail I put in it would only be describing a split second of what was actually there. When you observe a lesson you only see a small part of what is going on in a classroom. You can’t see what happened before or after you were there, and it is so complex that no-one can really accurately describe it to you. Making any sort of accurate summative judgement about the quality of teaching with this limited information is impossible. You’re only ever seeing a snapshot of what is really happening.

3. Being there changes what you are observing

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I saw a flock of birds in the distance, so walked towards them to try and take a group photo. It was a bit of a walk, but I was enjoying the challenge of not thinking about work, so headed off to a spot above where they were. In the meantime, a group of people walked past and the birds relocated themselves. I took the photo anyway as it is a lovely view. In the same way, when you go into a classroom, the children and adults can change the way they behave and interact. Being there changes what you are observing.

These conclusions aren’t new and they’re not a comprehensive analysis of the problems associated with formal lesson observations, but I have found it helpful when thinking about what we might do instead in the future.

What I enjoyed last week

‘Don’t you ever stop, Long enough to start?’

Being a headteacher is a full on job. This term has been the same as usual – lots of things to think about, and spending lots of time trying to solve problems that don’t really have solutions. Coupled with the normal school stuff, the world seems to have shifted and we are living through an extraordinary period of change and uncertainty.

I decided to do a bit of a mental stock take this week. Taking inspiration from @samschoolstuff, I have decided to try to practice a bit of gratitude, and think about the some of the things that happened last week that I have really enjoyed.

Monday’s Assembly. We watched the CEOPs Jigsaw video, and the children had the chance to think about their own online behaviour. I could see some of our Y6 children looking a bit uncomfortable, and later in the week a couple of them came and told me that they had changed their privacy settings on their social media accounts. Sometimes you lead an assembly that really works – there is a special kind of silence and you can sense the children thinking and reflecting.This was one of those, and it set me up really well for the rest of the week.

Work Scrutiny. In September we changed our marking  policy it reduce the amount of time it takes, and to allow teachers to have more opportunities to use their professional judgement about what their children need to support their learning. It was an absolute pleasure to look at books on Wednesday, and to see this in practice. There is less written marking, but more of it seems to be making a difference to what the children are doing. Just what we aimed for.

Staff training On Wednesday evening our Sustainability Coordinator led a staff training session aimed at encouraging us to make better use of our amazing school grounds as a learning resource. We made shapes from ropes, discussing how we knew if they were regular or not. We thought about reversible and irreversible changes while cooking marshmallows and hot chocolate on the fire, and tried (again) to use the pizza oven. It was a fun session, and hopefully will encourage us to take the learning outside.

Lunchtimes I love being outside with the children at lunchtime. I really enjoy chatting to them, hearing their stories and jokes, and also helping them to learn how to sort out disagreements themselves. This week I saw a group of Y6 girls using the power of a protest – standing calmly in front of the goals until the boys would let them play a full part in their football game. I saw children inviting children new to the school to join their games; children sharing the spaces and respecting the games that others were playing; children going along with a game that might not be their first choice; and the ever increasing sight of children reading in the playground because they are excited by their book and don’t want to stop. I even saw one boy playing a chasing game while eating an apple and reading his Tom Gates book.

Book of Brilliance Every day children are sent to see me or one of our Assistant heads with their books if they have tried especially hard or have made really good progress in their learning. We write their names in the Book of Brilliance, and they have their names read out in Assembly on a Friday morning. The children can tell us how many times they have appeared in the book, and they are always really proud to be there.

Y6 teachers On Thursday I joined our Y6 team to discuss how the children are getting on and to consider strategies for individuals who are finding things a bit difficult. It was a fabulous meeting – realism teamed with relentless optimism and positivity from a fabulous group of teachers. One comment struck me and will be something I use when I’m trying to solve one of those insoluble problems. We were talking about one child’s behaviour and a colleague said, ‘That’s what he’s doing. What are you going to do?’ That phrase could prove very useful over the coming months.

 

The First Week Back

Even after all this time I still get nervous about the first day back after the school holidays. This term was worse than usual – there were a number of things hanging over from the end of the autumn term still bubbling around in my head, and I still had the horrible cold that had been with me for ages. I was a headteacher for a long time before I recognised that sometimes there are problems that have no real solutions. You just have to do your best, and try to learn how to stop things from eating away at your confidence. If you get too many at once it can be really difficult to keep being positive and supportive of others, but that is what you absolutely have to try to do.

So the week started a bit shakily, but these three things happened that made me forget those pre-term worries:

The brilliant @sportrelief18k led a discussion about teaching and learning in maths at our non-pupil day on Tuesday morning. It was fabulous to listen as teachers shared their ideas, listened to each other, and focussed on how we can help children learn most effectively. The conversation continued the next day at our staff meeting, with the ideas we had been throwing around the previous day beginning to take on more concrete forms. I was so impressed to walk into the staffroom an hour after our meeting had finished to find a group of teachers still talking passionately about maths, children and learning.

On Friday I was supposed to be going to a meeting in Bristol, but decided not to go and to stay in school instead. I was still not feeling 100%, but even more of a reason was that we had booked an author visit for the day – the fabulous Stan Cullimore – and I didn’t want to miss him. He started by leading a whole school assembly, and watching the children’s faces as they laughed at his silly stories and jokes was a perfect start to the day. He then spent time with each class going through the process of inventing stories, and every child I spoke to loved it. We don’t always get everything right for every child, but it felt so positive and upbeat in the hall and I could see so many happy and excited faces that I think we did a fairly good job on Friday. It really was wonderful.

Finally, during this week I have been reading lots of #teacher5aday #pledge blogs, including those from people writing and sharing for the first time. It’s inspiring to read the thoughts and ideas of teachers deciding to take responsibility for their own wellbeing, and being willing to share those with the wider world. It’s a daunting prospect pressing ‘publish’, but I am really pleased that these lovely people have been brave enough to share. I really enjoyed reading @jamie2034’s upbeat take on the year ahead, and will keep his thoughts in mind when tackling the big things that are coming up in the next few months.

 

The unresolved issues are still unresolved, but the balance has been put right a bit and I feel more positive and ready for whatever 2017 brings.

#teacher5aday #pledge 2017

@martynreah asked the questions ‘is now the time to think about your well-being for next year? Could #teacher5aday help you plan how you might spend more time looking after you?

By writing down some aims and aspirations for the coming year, and then sharing them here, I hope it will make me more likely to stick to them.

 

#learn My cat gets stuck on the roof at least once a week (this is relevant). She loves being on the roof, and she is really good at climbing up there. Unfortunately, due to her sedentary lifestyle she can’t make her own way down, and has to wait to be let back inside the house.

I don’t want to be like her, and be trapped into doing things how I have always done them even if the outcome isn’t always wonderful if there are alternative approaches that might be better.

  • I will continue to read, read, read.
  • I will listen more and try not to make the same mistakes more than once.

 

#connect Our school is part of a relatively new Learning Partnership with some other local primary schools. This provides massive potential  for all of us to share and learn from each other.

  • I will give this project the necessary energy and time so that it has every opportunity to succeed.
  • I will continue to use Twitter to learn and share, and to be amused and entertained.
  • I will keep talking about what we do in our school to get feedback and celebrate our work, and I will keep listening to help us get better.

 

#volunteer 

  • I will be better at asking for help and listening to the advice of colleagues
  • I will  offer help if I think other people might need it, even if they don’t ask for it

 

#notice 

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I am lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the country and need to explore more of it.

  • I will go to some new places and take photos of them, with the aim of enjoying the places and getting better at photography.

 

#exercise I really like the process of identifying a running event to take part in, training for it and taking part feeling as well prepared as possible.

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  • I will be more realistic about the distances to go for this year, and look for  a few 10K events to take part in during 2017. This will mean regular visits to the gym, not running when I shouldn’t, and not finding excuses for missing a session.

As well as the physical benefits, having something like this to work towards will mean I have something else outside of the job to think about and look forward to.

Thank you #teacher5aday

For the last couple of years we have had a school Twitter account that we use to share and celebrate what is happening with the wider community, and I like the simplicity and immediacy of this method of communication. I didn’t really think much more about it than that.

Over the last year or so I had been listening to colleagues talking about how they have used Twitter as a tool to help them develop their teaching and leadership skills. Following the advice of another headteacher I searched for #SLTchat one Sunday evening and #primaryrocks on a Monday, and got a glimpse of the wealth of ideas there are just waiting to be explored.

During the Easter holiday I had a bit of time on my hands and decided to make the plunge and create myself a Twitter account @Exe_Head. Originally it was anonymous, but quickly I decided that as long as I only post things that I would be happy for any member of my family or school community to read, it would be more open and honest to use my real name.

One of the first groups that I came across was #teacher5day. It immediately struck such a chord, articulating clearly ways of actually making a difference to the wellbeing of the people I work with, as well as my own. After talking about this with my Assistant headteachers (@jamie20134 and @clmckimm) we decided to share our enthusiasm with the rest of the staff.

The following is a short summary of some of the things that have changed in my life since taking on board the #teacher5aday principles.

 #Connect I probably now spend too much time on Twitter, but on balance I think I have more than reclaimed that time with the ideas and inspiration that I have found. I have followed links to really interesting blogs and articles, and have used lots of infographics as starters for discussion at leadership meetings. I do feel a bit daunted by the wisdom and dedication that I read about – for example @chrisdysonHT –  but it has also inspired me to try to be a better leader and person.

I have started blogging, which is a scary prospect at first. It has helped me to clarify my own thoughts and ideas, and to share more widely some of the work we are doing as a school.

On a personal level, after a major family event I have been prompted to be better at keeping in touch with my siblings. We met up in the summer for the first time in ages, and I now try to keep a regular flow of texts going. Lots of things happened in our past, but having reflected about the importance of connection and think it is worth the effort of making a new start.

 

#Volunteer I haven’t got going on this as much as I intended to yet. I could use the ‘time’ excuse, but there are 24 hours in everyone’s day, and other people manage… A New Year challenge I think.

 

#Notice There are many inspirational people on Twitter. I loved @rondelle10_b’s #21daysjuly, which suggested an activity or event each days that allowed people to celebrate and connect with colleagues in schools. This encouraged me to look more carefully at things, and be more aware of the world. Sharing photos of our school made me recognise again how lucky we are to work in such a beautiful place, and I have found myself pointing out things like striking clouds, sunrises and the like to colleagues and children. Taking the time to stop, think and be aware of my surroundings has helped me to be calmer and more reflective.

 

#Learn I’ve always loved reading, but have made it more of a priority this year. Like many people I think the best book I have read for a long time is Mary Myatt’s ‘High Challenge, Low Threat’. Reading this contributed to the decision to put the wellbeing of staff and pupils as the key priority in this year’s School Improvement Plan. We also picked up some really useful ideas from @samschoolstuff and http://www.integritycoaching.co.uk. One challenge I face is that I have been a headteacher for a long time, and it can be hard for me to change my own ingrained way of doing things. I have tried hard to question myself and do things differently where this is the right thing to do, and reading about the work of others has made me more determined to do so.

 

#Exercise At school we started by encouraging people to exercise by taking part in #OutRunMay, where we set ourselves a running target and shared our progress on a chart in the staffroom. It really motivated me, and I ended up running more than twice my original target. We did the same in September, extending it to include swimming and cycling, and it was really good to see so many people taking part.

I did lots of running during the summer holiday, and in October ignored a dodgy ankle and other issues to complete the Great West Run (albeit very slowly). I have seen a huge improvement in my energy levels, as well as the mental benefit of having something outside of work to think about and focus on.

 

My first task next term is to look again at the wellbeing questionnaire we carried out in September and to make sure the issues that arose have been addressed. I will be making sure I keep referring to the #teacher5aday principles and keeping wellbeing as our school priority, whatever the challenges we have to face together.

Vision and Reality

“If employees have a clear and compelling ‘why’, the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ will look after themselves” (Cope and Whittaker, Be Brilliant Every Day).

Since I read this I have spent a lot of time thinking about the ‘why’ for our school. Last year we wrote down ‘Our Vision for Every Child’:

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‘Our Vision for Every Child’ is the ‘why’ for our school. We felt that it describes the way our school is.

This what some of the ‘how’ looks like:

We invest in Year Team Planning Days every half term because we want the curriculum to be inspiring and personalised to our schools. We encourage teachers to reflect on what has worked well and what the children have enjoyed most over the previous half term before thinking about what next. We ask them to think of a ‘hook’ to start the new topic, a visit or visitor to enhance learning, and a final outcome that will involve parents. The content of the curriculum is laid out in the long term plan, but other than that it’s up to the teachers to decide. We all want teaching to be inspiring and this will only happen if we give people time to make it so.

We help the children to discover their unique talents and interests by laying on as wide a variety of after school activities as we can. Every child is involved in a school Production every year where they can showcase their individual talents. Our sports teams are brilliant, and as many children as want to get the chance to represent the school – and we encourage them to want to.

If we are all passionate about learning we are not afraid to change what we do, even things that we hold dear or have been doing the same for a long time. New ideas come from all directions, and we can choose the best ones and the ones that suit our children.

I am inspired daily by the attitudes and actions of the wonderful people that work in our school. They do all it takes for every child and their family, even when this becomes really difficult. They try, try and try again. I am also inspired by the way in which adults talk to and about children, showing how much they care.

“If employees have a clear and compelling ‘why’, the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ will look after themselves”

Hopefully ‘Our Vision For Every Child’ provides that compelling why.

 

 

 

 

 

Lesson Observations

This year’s top priority for our school is to improve the wellbeing of staff and pupils. To help with this we carried out a wellbeing survey, which showed that one area we need to work on is consulting with staff before making changes.

Over the last week we have been carrying out lesson observations, and thought that this would be a perfect topic for a consultation. Our teachers are extremely reflective about their practice, and the aim is to make sure that the lesson observations are as useful as they can be in supporting this.

The first step was to clarify the purpose of the observations: to help teachers reflect on and improve their teaching; and to add to the big picture about the quality of teaching in the school. We don’t use observations to judge the quality of individual teachers, or as part of the appraisal process.

Teachers were asked for their views on four things:

  1. Who should carry out lesson observations? Should it be SLT, peers, or a combination?
  2. The frequency and timing of observations. Should dates be chosen in advance by teachers, by SLT, or should they be unannounced?
  3. What should the focus of the observations be? Should this be chosen by the teacher or by SLT?
  4. Grading of lessons. Should we continue with ungraded lesson observations, or would teachers prefer lessons to be graded?

We asked them which of the options they preferred, and to identify positive and negatives about each of the choices.

Responses:

  1. There was a mixed response, with about half of teachers preferring SLT to carry out observations, and about half wanting peers to be involved.
  2. Again, there was a mixed response. Some teachers wanted to choose the dates of observations and others wanted them set in advance by SLT. It was difficult for anyone to find anything positive to say about unannounced observations.
  3. Most teachers wanted to set the focus of lesson observations themselves. We have been trialling this for a while, and found that it makes the process much more of a dialogue.
  4. Teachers wanted to continue with ungraded observations.

What happens next?

We have offered teachers two choices for the next round of observations. They can choose to carry on with our current practice, or to trial the changes identified in the consultation. This will mean peer observations, with the date and time chosen by the teacher being observed.

We will then evaluate which process is most helpful in developing teaching, and whether the changes will add to the big picture about the quality of teaching in the school.