It’s good to talk: improving teaching through dialogue

dialogue

This week our senior leaders and heads of faculty met to thrash out a new Protocol for hosting a Development Dialogue. This follows work we have done recently to achieve a common understanding of great teaching at Chace, described here. Since being badged RI by Ofsted last summer, we have endeavoured to both improve and prove our practice.We are determined to be both research-informed and grounded in the current needs of our school.

Underlying principles

The business of the school is to improve the outcomes for students. We know that high quality teaching is the best way to improve these outcomes. And we know that investment in teacher development is the surest way to improve the quality of teaching. It follows therefore that the underlying purpose of lesson observation and work scrutiny must be to support teachers to become even better teachers.

“Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better.” Dylan Wiliam.

 

What we mean by Dialogue and Development

At Chace, we no longer grade or judge individual lessons. That is because research tells us that about 70 % of the time, two different observers would give two different ratings. More importantly, grading lessons does not improve the quality of teaching. But, when two or more colleagues watch a lesson, discuss what happened in it and commit to implementing some small change: that can seriously improve the long-term performance of all involved. Our ChacePD website has advice on what to do during an observation, and what to say afterwards: slide2

The same applies to work scrutiny. We can all look in a colleague’s books and count the number of times they have given written feedback: it is easy to judge. But our purpose should be greater than that: when two or more teachers meet to discuss work in students’ books, all can learn and develop from the process. ChacePD has prompts for work scrutiny feedback:

book-checking-prompts

 

What to do

Timing

  • Hold the discussion, if possible, within 48 hours of the observation/scrutiny.
  • Allow enough time for meaningful dialogue.
  • When booking the lesson observation, also book the time for the dialogue.
  • Encourage the teacher to write their evaluation of the lesson before the dialogue takes place.

Courtesies

  • Scrutiny and observation is stressful and tends to add to the burden of already overloaded staff. Be mindful of this. Try not to add to the burden.
  • Thank the teacher (and the students) when you have observed them: even if you are their manager, it is still a privilege to see inside someone else’s classroom.
  • Conduct the dialogue in a private space.
  • Share the gems. When you have witnessed something wonderful, get the teacher’s permission to spread the word.
  • Be clear about who else will see the paperwork. The headteacher, the Head of Faculty, the assistant headteacher for staff development: they all need to have an informed view of the overall quality of teaching.
  • If there are serious concerns, make this clear to the teacher and tell them that further action will be taken.

Paperwork

  • The observer will write a narrative and questions as they watch a lesson; and they will comment in the boxes as they scrutinise the books.
  • However, the spaces for recording dialogue should be completed with the teacher, and should properly reflect what was discussed and agreed.
  • Never just fill in the form and put it in their pigeon hole.
  • Plain English is best. The other people who view the paperwork need to understand clearly what it says.
  • The teacher involved should keep a copy of their feedback in their CPDP.

Development

  • Remember that – even with a book scrutiny – you have only seen a snapshot of their practice. Do not judge or generalise. Avoid Ofsted numbers and adjectives.
  • Ask coaching questions first, to see if the teacher can identify their own needs: this will often reveal more than you thought you saw.
  • Sometimes a more direct mentoring approach is required, where a teacher is unable to see their own need. But avoid focussing only on the weaknesses.
  • Link the discussion to their personal professional development. What have they been working on?
  • Two areas of development are plenty: no teacher can work on more than that at one time.
  • These must be within the teacher’s capacity to develop. Think ‘next steps’ they can take, not ‘giant leaps’.
  • Guide them to further support.
    • Encourage them to peer observe another colleague and use one of the planning and observation templates.
    • Urge them to speak to a member of the Chace Lead Teacher team, or other colleague in the school with recognised expertise. This colleague might be teaching in the next room.
    • Perhaps they should sign up for one of the Twilight PD courses?
    • Be observed again, by you or by a peer. Develop an ‘open door’ policy for their classroom.
  • Great teachers also have the right (and responsibility) to get even better. Discuss with them how they can support others by:
    • Planning collaboratively.
    • Modelling a part of their practice at a Faculty Development Time meeting.
    • Inviting a colleague to peer observe.
    • Observing a colleague and hosting a Development Dialogue with them.
    • Referring to the Portrait of Great Teaching portrait-of-great-teaching-and-learning-at-chace