Monitoring the Quality of Teaching and Learning: Is There Another Way? 

John Beighton Executive Headteacher of Islington Futures Federation of Schools 

We’ve all been there! You’ve known for weeks which lesson was to be observed, ever since the observation schedule was published at the start of term. You’ve planned the lesson down to the last detail. You’ve threatened the class with everything short of capital punishment. You might say things like ‘Don’t let me down and don’t let yourselves down!’ On top of that, you practised the lesson to death a week before to make sure it ticked all the boxes on the observation sheet.

And so the lesson comes and goes without a hitch. What happened? The class was silent and compliant – quite the opposite of usual. Boxes were duly ticked on a sheet by the observer and feedback time was arranged. ‘It was OK. Good engagement of pupils. Quiet working. All on task. You were clear and in charge with good questioning. All positive boxes ticked. See you again next term!’

But this isn’t the practice in every school. Or is it?

Some schools may have detailed monitoring systems and comprehensive feedback schedules. Other schools may have sophisticated forms to fill in and self-evaluation as an integral part of the process. Some schools even include feedback on teachers from pupils!

But what’s it all for, you might ask? What difference does it make? Surely if you know that you’re going to be observed and you know what boxes need ticking, then you’d be pretty foolish not to show the observer what they want to see. Wouldn’t you?

You might also be asking yourself if there’s another way that doesn’t put you under immense pressure days before the observation: one that places improvement and development of teaching practice at its core. A process that gets everyone onboard with sharing practices in a transparent, open and non-threatening way. A culture that encourages and supports teachers wanting to take on board constructive advice and support.  And, ideally, an approach that also includes the other key partners in the process – the pupils themselves.

I often work either as headteacher or externally on whole school approaches to evaluating and improving teaching and learning. When I do so, I tend to ask the following questions:

  • Why are we doing this?
  • Who is it for?
  • What do we do with the information we produce?
  • What criteria do we use to reach a judgement about the quality of learning and outcomes in a lesson?
  • Does a lesson where the teacher knows we are coming to observe really give us an accurate picture of what happens day in day out?
  • How accurate is a judgement made in a learning walk visit of a few minutes?
  • How do we know the impact that feedback has made if it’s a few weeks before we next visit the classroom?

My answers to these and other questions have led to implementing a completely different, innovative approach to lesson observations. This process has the following principles at its heart:

  • It’s more about looking at the learning than the teaching
  • Coaching leads to greater engagement in improvements than telling
  • Using a coaching methodology as part of a professional development process leads to greater engagement in improvements, sharing of effective practice and a real understanding of how pupils learn and stay engaged

It also gives you a much greater and more accurate depth of information about what happens in every classroom than any lesson observation or learning walk monitoring process.

John Beighton’s Coaching for Learning and Progress, written by John Beighton and produced by Equis Education using the Iris Connect platform, provides comprehensive detail of this process and a complete and unique professional development programme focussed on the development of a whole school coaching methodology.

Student Partners in Learning, also written by John Beighton, is in development and will be available later in the year. It details how students and their significant understanding of how they like to learn and how they can improve can be used to complement the coaching methodology for staff.

Find out more about John Beighton’s programme: Coaching for Learning and Progress, here.

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