Teachers and Teaching Assistants, working in a culture of enquiry, trust and openness are found to become increasingly confident and willing to take the risks necessary to the delivery of the school’s strategic vision. Nonetheless, this cannot become a ‘free-for-all’: the quality of learning both in classrooms and throughout the school has to be kept under regular review. Teachers need to become used to being observed regularly and to trust such observations to be in the spirit of learning support rather than part of a process of judgement or appraisal.
Staff need to come to regard classroom observation as fundamental to the development of a dynamic, reflective and personal development process embedded at all levels across the school. Indeed, as the new culture of openness and enquiry beds in, everyone connected with the school’s performance will become interested in watching out for, and recording, changes both in learning practice and in the manner of change in student behaviour, motivation and achievement.
Classrooms must become rich learning environments for teachers as well as students. Observing teaching and learning practice and exploring the experience afterwards is perhaps the most highly effective tool as we seek to develop the craft of teaching. Continuous professional development is the platform upon which the confidence to participate is built.
Ensuring that teachers welcome classroom observation is rarely an easy task and kindling its acceptance may mean reiterating its purpose.
The ‘AS’, ‘FOR’ and ‘OF applied to Continuous Personal Development (CPD) holds an important message for those who regard observation as intrusion.
- To help stimulate and initiate new teaching and learning practice (observation AS the driver of professional development) … in other words ‘we are watching one another to prompt new thoughts, new ideas concerning teaching practice’
- To develop current teaching and learning practice (observation FOR personal and professional development) … in other words ‘we are working with one another to come up with answers to problems’
- To assure standards of practice are not only maintained but enhanced (observation OF development) … in other words ‘this is not about ticking off an Ofsted checklist and being seen to do a good job, in many ways quite the reverse. If done well, it is collaborative and viewed as essential to the development of best practice with ideas and innovations shared.
It is important to ensure that staff are constantly reminded that classroom observation is ultimately about developing their students as better learners. It is not about what observation is looking for but HOW observation and teaching practice are working together to create sustainable improvement. Thus, the focus should always be on:
- Observation AS development, a voyage of discovery … the development of good coaching habits, student collaboration and problem-solving
- Observation FOR development, total continuous improvement … are students learning effectively from group work? Are students’ questioning skills as productive as they could be? Are our approaches to problem-solving having the desired effect?
If learning and Learning Power or the power to learn are to become integral to the school’s strategic focus it will be essential to keep an eye on, and recognise, student progression as their learning behaviours begin to improve. Praise and celebration are then critical to total continuous improvement because:
- Continued effort to confront difficulties and weaknesses is the direct result of the motivation that encouragement brings
- Progress fuels a quest for greater understanding and enables discussion
- Teachers themselves will begin to realise that some of their approaches to the improvement of learning behaviours are effective and others need more thought and discussion with colleagues
- Increasingly, information gathered concerning individual students or classes, will encourage teachers to share and discuss their observations and allow them to work together to guide learning development collaboratively and thereby, more precisely and effectively
- It validates the progress made by students in terms of the requirements of conventional attainment measures.
Leaders are the ultimate observers, driven by their monitoring of progress towards the attainment of the strategic vision. Neither teaching or classroom practice nor student learning habits will change overnight. Indeed, it is important that they are built throughout a student’s life with the school and such that they become so deeply embedded that they are carried with them for life.
Successful schools are working with those organisations to which their students graduate, be it other formal educational institutions or employers, to determine whether learning habits and behaviours are being carried forward. This has made an enormous contribution to on-going research into Learning Power and its role in the management of Lifelong Learning.