Show and Tell. The Dance Of The Observation.

dylan-wiliam-quote

Observations. Just the word observation makes teachers anxious that someone is coming to rate them good, bad or ugly. Like rate my teacher.com observations are a way to rate a teacher without taking into account the multifaceted and dynamic environment of the classroom and the pupils. There are boxes to be ticked and grade descriptors to fulfil and if you don’t fulfil these in a lesson you’re considered inadequate. When schools are the sum of the neighbourhood they reside in, is the system of observations fair? Should a school with pupils that display behaviour of a more challenging demeanour, not be judged the same as a school with pupils with little ego disturbances? Schools should be judged in accordance to how well they respond to the pupils needs they are faced with, not against a fit for all criteria.

Recently I had an Ofsted inspector come to view my lesson. I was greeting my pupils at the door, as I always do and one of my pupils came in with his jacket on, which I asked him to remove before he sat down. I carried on greeting pupils. Apparently when the pupil sat down he had not taken his jacket off and was addressed by the inspector in relation to following school policy. Unbeknown to me the pupil was rude towards the Ofsted inspector. I did not find out that the altercation had occurred until the next day when I was asked by my HOD and an SLT member what had happened in my lesson. The pupil who is known to be challenging can ruin the result of my observation by his behaviour I was unaware of. I cannot control the responses and actions of pupils. I can reprimand pupils and inform them their behaviour is inadequate. I can put consequences in place to try and make pupils realise their behaviour is unacceptable. What I cannot do is control the pupils like a puppet master with its puppets. I believe Ofsted and SLT should be grading you on how you as a teacher react to breaches of school policy and displays of delinquent behaviour. They should be grading you on how your actions calm a situation and prevent it from becoming inflammatory.

I haven’t been teaching long, but observations seem like an arbitrary affair. When I was training observations were implemented to improve your teaching. Now, as an NQT ending my first year in education I have lost my trust in observations. I once saw them an opportunity to enhance my skills. I now see them as a box ticking exercise. I blame Ofsted for how irrelevant observations have become. It seems to me schools are geared towards ticking Ofsted boxes. I have had lessons where I have been told to teach something easy, maybe something they have done before so you know you will get progress. Teachers now over plan observations. They prepare their best show. To me, it reminds me of a show and tell. This is what I could be. This over planning to prove we are ‘Outstanding’ is pressure from Ofsted. Wouldn’t it be nice if in reality we could teach our normal lesson and get true feedback we can reflect on for improvement.

In training, to do the observation dance I was told, ‘You just need to learn how to do an observation lesson.’ I was told this as a qualified teacher too. How depressing is that. By learning how to jump through Ofsted hoops, doesn’t it make observations pointless? Teachers should be able to experiment, try new strategies and work out ways to engage pupils. Observations restrict risk taking and makes teachers play safe and represses innovation encouraging mediocracy. It restricts teachers into teaching to formulas that don’t take into account the human response of pupils to their environment. The pressure of Ofsted represses teachers ideas and restricts them from being Outstanding. This is not what it should be. I refuse to over plan my observations. I refuse to take part in the dance. I will continue to teach my observation lessons as near to a normal lesson as I can, as I want feedback that is constructive. I want feedback that will enable me to analyse my teaching strategies to ensure progression in my pupils and myself.

Ofsted, need to address the issue of observations as in reality the whole system is a farce, which is rapidly losing any value or respect with teachers. We all know it’s a game. In my training, we even had manuals of how to act when Ofsted came. The manual made me realise schools just want the outstanding rating to show off. It’s a contest. No one seems to believe in it, yet teachers and heads across the country want that label ‘Outstanding.’ Teachers and heads know that in reality allot of the time the reflection of the Ofsted grade is not always reflective of the school. I am not saying I don’t believe in the principles of Ofsted. I am not saying that I do not value their critiques of how schools can improve, but I don’t believe it’s a system that works for progression in a real context. I wonder how we would all fare if we just let observations become less about ratings for glory but the development of a truly reflective practitioner.

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