For What it’s Worth… what is it worth?

I have a headache. Or rather, I have had a headache since Monday, and it’s now Friday. I check off the usual suspects: alcohol (cheap and red and, to be fair, not that much of it); eyesight (I now have three different pairs of glasses, for different focal occasions); sleep deprivation (but I was in bed at 9pm last night, and it was half-term only last week); I am an assistant headteacher for staff development in a busy London comprehensive (Eureka!)

The kids at school have been acting up a little bit more than usual – Guy Fawkes’ unintended explosive legacy – but aside from that the job has been what the job often is. This is not a moan. I am one of the lucky ones. I still get immense enjoyment out of working in the classroom, and in some respects I am still getting better at it. I am surrounded by colleagues I admire. I am backed to the hilt by my Headteachers and fellow SLT members. This is not a moan. But I have a headache that hasn’t gone away in five days.

I have just done a mind-splurge of everything I am working on at the moment. The inter-connections are so convoluted, like neural pathways, this could be a cross-section of my actual brain. Mere words won’t be up to the task of describing it. But I’m thinking: maybe blogging is better than paracetomol. What follows will not be classic prose, unless I reach Joycean heights of internal monologue.

I am Professional Coordinating Mentor for ITT. Across three universities, I have 11 trainees, each of whom comes with a uni tutor and a school mentor. I get invited to steering meetings I cannot attend, but was suckered into delivering a ‘keynote’ at a careers day at Middlesex this coming January. Professional Studies comes every Wednesday – after teaching all morning and before the SLT meeting that touches the night. We are a School Direct lead school, and with @Bterziyski I try to remain disentangled from the sticky UCAS/NCTL web. Our school partners, and main university provider (London Met) lean heavily upon us, adding to the downward pressure of emails from potential candidates. This week I had 6 visitors from the School Experience Programme in my A level History lesson. I had fewer students in the room than adults.

I am Induction Coordinator for NQTs. I had 8, but I lost one at half-term. I hadn’t seen that coming, because I struggle to keep close enough watch on them. They each have a mentor, and I try to support them too. The induction programme per se runs most Thursdays after school. This is a serious business – they are seriously stressed – but we have a laugh too. The programme rests upon a series of mini enquiries (AfL, differentiation, that kind of thing): they get a bit of input from me or someone more expert; trial the ideas in their own classrooms; then come back in week 3 or 4 and blog about it. That stresses them more, but I try to convince them that enquiry is the best form of professional learning, and that blogging is the most fun they can have on the internet without being arrested. I have been dropping into some of their lessons, but haven’t done so formally yet.

Observations. This term we went grade-free. I won the battle of ideas, but I’m wary of a counter-insurgency. I’ve been reading things on our new ‘Dialogue and Development’ forms such as ‘In old money this would have been an Outstanding.’ SLT colleagues are squirming, trying to find ways of not uttering the word ‘good’. I tell them to speak instead about what makes it good, what could make it better. We are getting there. My Headteachers were probably happier with the old system, but they have backed me on this because I’m the Appraisal guy. This is an appraisal-ish time of year: I am thinking of renaming the season. I do my share of appraisees, and therefore my share of appraisal observations. But I also oversee the policy, which in recent years has meant rubbing off the harsher edges of PRP, holding firm to the principle that it should support teacher development and student outcomes. I’ve become good at squaring circles. I’ve had half a dozen colleagues applying for the Upper Pay Range; by custom they run their portfolios by me before they submit them to the Headteachers and the Pay Panel. It’s a part of my job I can’t afford to get wrong.

‘Professional Development’. Two words: the first having no fixed meaning, the second with no fixed ending. So my job is both endless and meaningless? Well, the first maybe. We do allow a few people out of school for courses, but increasingly this has been for exam board training, and increasingly they have been online. I also coach three colleagues on National College leadership programmes. But most of our PD is in-house. Our Development Time work – with all teachers, spread across 5 afternoons – is led by volunteer ‘development coordinators’, and Lead Teachers, from whom I take the glory by line managing them. They also lead our professional learning days. Next week we start our first Twilight PD course – offered to staff over 4 sessions, in 4 different areas (Leadership, Behaviour, Differentiation, Marking and Feedback.) Some teachers gladly fell in, while others were gently pushed. It’s our main response to their development needs as identified by appraisal.

The differentiation course will be run as a Lesson Study by two of the Lead Teachers. I have been trying to develop the school as a ‘research community’. I have signed up for the IOE Leading Evidence Informed Practice in Schools course. I tutor 4 colleagues for their MA in Education through Middlesex University. I host the discussion pages on the IOE Research and Development Network website. The work I do for IOE means I have to read government documents, policy announcements and research summaries, and I do what I can to pass on the love.

My day job is actually a 4-day job. On the 5th day I travel to Bedford Way to develop and faciliate courses for the London Centre for Leadership in Learning at UCL IOE. Aspiring Leaders, PD leaders, Middle leaders, Heads of Year, appraisal, school improvement planning, impact evaluation. I’m meant to be writing a chapter for a book. My name is on a bid for something. I’m teaching Swedish headteachers next week. Who ever said I know anything about any of this?

I know about teaching. Or, rather, I know how to teach. My year 10s will tell you I’m sick. My year 12 History class are less convinced but they liked what I did this week. My year 13 Politics class mainly want to study Politics at university, and that means a great deal to me. And I think I know how to line manage… not in the show-me-your-data kind of way, perhaps, but certainly in the I-know-you-can-do-it fashion.

Anyway, it’s Friday and this headache has been nagging me since Monday. I’ve got a lot on. But, now that I’ve written it all down, it does seem to mean something. And that is something.



Observing without grades: homework done

For good or for ill, my school has still been grading lessons when carrying out formal observations. Of course, we have been aware of what Ofsted have been saying on the matter, and also of what a number of campaign-bloggers have been arguing. Through much of the past 12 months, I and like-minded colleagues such as @Bterziyski have been conducting a quiet insurgency, devising toolkits to peer-observe without grades, messing with the minds of some of our teachers as we blankly refuse to use numbers or Ofsted dog-whistle words.

But so far we have failed to turn the whole ship around. My headteacher – for very sound reasons – wants to be able to point to a list and say, Here are my best teachers, or Here are the ones we need to work on. She absolutely understands that observation can and should be a development activity, but she needs it also be a tracking device. Before half-term I made my latest bid to SLT to consider the merits of LONG (Lesson Observation – Non Graded). After an amiable chat, I was set a homework. Below is my progress so far.

Appraisal at Our School

Appraisal must meet the needs of our school. It should also respect the reasonable expectations of teachers (as represented by their unions), whilst at the same time being mindful of government policy on Teaching Standards and Performance Related Pay.

Consequently, the Appraisal system at our school attempts to:

  • Develop the quality of teaching
  • Through this, improve the outcomes of students
  • Inform the PD plan
  • Provide evidence for the Headteacher to make decisions on staffing and PRP.

How we do this currently

Each teacher is assigned an appraiser. In many cases this is their HoF, or other immediate line manager; in all cases it is a colleague who works closely with them. At the beginning of the Autumn term, the teacher and appraiser together review the objectives set the previous year, using evidence from the teacher’s portfolio (CCPDP) – exam review, formal lesson observations and other evidence the teacher has chosen to present. The appraiser declares that the teacher has met the Teachers’ Standards (or not). The Head decides on PRP. Together the teacher and appraiser set 3 further objectives for the coming year, reviewing them on an interim basis in the Spring. They agree on the date and focus of an ‘appraisal lesson’, which is graded according to the school’s summative criteria. In the course of other internal reviews across the year, the teacher may be formally observed (and graded) a further two times. The Head maintains a spreadsheet on everyone’s graded lessons. The AHT (staff development) reviews all objectives, to discern common themes that can be addressed in the school PD plan.

Lesson Observation

“Ofsted does not award a grade for the quality of teaching for any individual lessons visited and it does not grade individual lessons. It does not expect schools to use the Ofsted evaluation schedule to grade teaching or individual lessons.” ( Ofsted clarification for schools, October 2014)

At our school, we have continued to grade individual lessons, using a template we devised in November 2011 to match the Ofsted inspection criteria.

Some numbers:

At our school, a mainscale teacher, teaching 25 lessons a week, will teach nearly 1000 lessons across the year; put another way, they will teach lessons lasting 50,000 minutes. Agreed with unions, we grade 1 appraisal lesson of 50 minutes, plus up to 2 more lasting 20-50 minutes. We say, on the evidence of this amount of observed time, we can grade the quality of individual teachers. Why might we be wrong?

  • Aside from teaching the classes, teachers spend an uncounted amount of time planning and marking, running after-school revision, intervention and other clubs. None of that is observed, and arguably none of it contributes to the teacher’s grade.
  • We know that ‘high-stakes’, ‘one-off’ lesson grading systems lead to cultures which are about proving, rather than improving; they encourage performance, not learning (Chris Watkins, IOE).
  • Teachers play it safe, covering ground they know their students are comfortable with.
  • Grading is unreliable. It is notoriously difficult to train observers so that they will agree on a grade.
  • Because graded lessons are poor predictors of student outcomes.
  • Because 63% of all lesson judgements are wrong (Strong et al, Journal of Teacher Education, 2011.)
  • If a lesson is graded ‘inadequate’ there is a 90% chance a second observer will grade it differently (Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,

Thanks here to @shaun_allison and others at the wonderful Class Teaching


“Ofsted will usually expect to see evidence of the monitoring of teaching and learning and its link to teachers’ performance management and the Teachers’ Standards, but this should be the information that the school uses routinely and not additional evidence generated for inspection.” (Ofsted inspections – clarification for schools)

So we do need to have robust means of capturing the quality of teaching at our school.

More numbers:

Assume each teacher is formally observed for a total of 100 minutes, and receives feedback lasting the same amount. As this involves 2 (in fact sometimes 3) people, we can say that this consumes 400 minutes. If we say this happens to 80 members of staff each year, this amounts to a total of 533.3 hours per year. We could do a lot with that time. We might say that this was time well spent if:

  • It improved outcomes for students
  • It improved the practice of the observed teacher
  • It improved the practice of the observing teacher
  • It provided reliable evidence of the quality of teaching and learning across the school
  • It identified common development needs that could then be addressed by the in-house PD programme
  • It reliably identified weak teachers and strong ones, so we could perhaps know what we needed to do next and how
  • It contributed to staff wellbeing, because it was an element of staff development rather than merely appraisal
  • It was about Quality Improvement, not just Quality Assurance (Joanne Miles) The role of mindset in the move from graded to ungraded lesson observation cycles



How might we capture great teaching that leads to great learning?

“A formative teacher evaluation system – based on a continuous assessment and feedback rather than a high-stakes test – must incorporate a range of measures from different sources, using a variety of methods.” (Developing Teachers: Improving professional development for teachers, January 2015. The Sutton Trust.) Link here. It is crucial to avoid over-reliance on a single source of evidence (such as a graded lesson), as there can be “a lot of noise around a weak signal.”

The Sutton Trust report (compiled with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation from 80 leading teachers from across 6 Anglophone countries) identifies 6 approaches to teacher assessment. None of these should be relied upon in isolation; validity arises from their triangulation.

Moderate validity:

  • classroom observations by peers, principals or external evaluators
  • ‘value-added’ models (assessing gains in student achievement)
  • student ratings

More limited evidence:

  • principal (or headteacher) judgement
  • teacher self-reports
  • analysis of classroom artefacts and teacher portfolios

Our appraisal procedures may already bear elements of these approaches. We have:

  • Observations (graded for appraisal and internal review; peer observation for development purposes.)
  • Exam review (for individual teachers, using residuals.)
  • Headteacher judgement (based on provided evidence, for PRP)
  • Teacher self-reports and portfolios (in the appraisal booklet and CCPDP.)

I propose two changes.

  1. A new lesson observation protocol Great Teaching and Learning Toolkit
  2. Adapt our teacher portfolio, now to be the C…. Professional Development Portfolio (CPDP) CPDP Grid

Each change is designed so that we better identify the strengths and development needs of our teachers so that: they can benefit from a more strategic in-house PD plan; the Head can make staffing and PRP decisions based on more valid evidence; the overall quality of teaching improves and leads to better outcomes for students.

Lesson Observation Great Teaching and Learning Toolkit

“Successful teacher observations are primarily used as a formative process – framed as a development tool creating reflective and self-directed teacher learners as opposed to a high stakes evaluation or appraisal.” (Developing Teachers: Improving professional development for teachers, January 2015. The Sutton Trust. My italics.) The report claims that observation can be effective when it is collaborative and collegial; however, the research also concludes that challenge is needed in the process, so may involve school leaders or external experts. Overall, it emphasises the requirement to have strong observation protocols, including observers who are trained.

The new protocol has two parts. The first, Dialogue and Development, will be completed by the teacher and their observer. It records what happened, what went well and what could have been better. Crucially, it requires that next steps be identified, with some plan for their implementation. Therefore, this will not be a ‘cosy chat’; it is joint practice development (JPD): it will require two professional colleagues to think deeply about what took place in the lesson and how to develop their practice. They can be assisted in this by the second part of the protocol, the C…. Great Teaching and Learning Toolkit. When a colleague asks us what great teaching looks or feels like, it is fair that we should have some idea. Everything here has been derived from the advances in pedagogy we have made here in the last few years, from research conducted by colleagues and from the peer observation toolkits trialled by Development Coordinators. It absolutely is NOT a checklist against which to measure a single lesson, as it understands that much learning in not ‘visible’ and rather takes place over time.

This is a protocol which can be used formally (for appraisal and review purposes) and informally (peer observation between colleagues). There is no space for a grade; I believe that words such as ‘outstanding’ or ‘inadequate’ are also best avoided, as they tend to crowd out the more meaningful dialogue around development.

Teacher Portfolio CPDP Grid

We have a long tradition at our school of maintaining a portfolio and presenting it to the Head when making a threshold application. Though insufficiently robust as a single source, taken with lesson observations and exam review it may be a valid measure of the quality of teaching.

Why we should change the current portfolio

  • It is largely ignored by teachers not applying for UPR.
  • It inadequately reflects the degree to which a teacher is meeting the Standards at the level appropriate for that point in their career.
  • It is a compilation of achievements, or ‘jobs done’, but is not a reflection on future development needs;
  • It therefore fails to inform appraisal objectives for individual teachers; and
  • Taken together, they cannot be read for the purposes of PD planning for the school.

I therefore propose a C…. Professional Development Portfolio (CPDP), arranged around the 8 Teachers’ Standards, the wording of which is adapted to refer to the C…. Great Teaching and Learning Toolkit. Two further tabs have been added (on engagement in PD and on collaboration) in order to encourage JPD as a form of teacher development.

The CPDP Grid will act as the contents page of the portfolio. It will be completed as part of appraisal (in reality, mainly before the appraisal meeting) and provide the ‘baseline’ for the appraisal objectives to be set, and the ‘evidence of outcomes’ for the previous year’s objectives. [The Appraisal Booklet will be adapted to reflect this. Alternatively, the grid may simply appear as the first pages in the booklet.] In this way, the appraiser and teacher will have a clearer view of strengths and areas for development; the Head will be able to say, with more security, which teachers need more targeted support and which should gain PRP; and the AHT will be able to identify common themes and address these through the PD programme.

Next stages

Assuming there is agreement on the principles of this, we need to consult widely with students and staff to truly ascertain what we feel constitutes ‘great’ teaching and learning at our school. We also need to do serious work on observers and teachers, so that neither expects a grade (or codeword) to emerge from an observation. Then we need to take a deep breath, and watch as the whole thing unfolds.

On not being an expert A level teacher

“Apparently you are the expert at teaching A level,” said a colleague, by way of an Hello. “I’ve been told I’ve got to observe you.” As auspicious starts of the day go, I’ve had better. Even so, I am the assistant head for staff development, and I do teach a lot of A level at the moment, so I’m not in a position to say No. Quick as a flash, I get all developmental and say, “Sure, any time. What will your particular focus be?” Relieved as I am that she does not have one (I don’t fancy laying on a demonstration), the very fact is an indicator that this is a teacher who does not really know how to improve.

I am not the expert at teaching A level. My subject knowledge is often insecure (I teach History, where my grasp of late tsarism is tenuous; and Politics, where every year I have to remind myself of the functioning of the Single Transferable Vote.) I differentiate far too haphazardly. I do foolish things like demand essays from three groups all for the same week. I do do some things well. I can make the learning seem interesting, I can build students’ confidence so they work independently, and – somehow – my students often achieve good grades and go on to further study. If my colleague had picked up on my reputation, it will probably have been for those things.

But, latterly, I have actually been getting better. Two examples from the past week will serve here.

A2 Politics – Study on Global Politics. The textbook has some undergrad level material on the nature of power: hard, soft, relational, structural, smart. This is demanding at a conceptual level, and the students need also to refer to theoretical schools and draw in real-world examples. I set them some pre-reading tasks, which they are good at complying with. I felt I needed a memorable starter for their first lesson on the topic. Well, it was obvious: a wrestling competition. The 4 girls and 2 boys fought a knockout (my ‘risk assessment’ did not allow for the fact that two of them had broken their wrists in the previous year), leaving two finalists. At each round, I asked them to consider their relative power. The finalists decided they needn’t wrestle for a winner, as they were content to reside in a bi-polar world, where they were the hegemons. Clever!  Niall said, ‘I can’t believe we are doing this.’ But they did, and during the following lesson they demonstrated how well they had learned. I wanted them to co-create an essay on Has the US attained smart power? I created 24 cards with keywords, people and exemplar events on them, and reminders like ‘Using proper Topic Sentences’ and ‘Reaching a reasoned conclusion’; the students then negotiated a lay-out which would reflect their essay plan, mindful also of the need for clearly signposted paragraphing. The debated different classic approaches, such as the some arguments for / some arguments against balance, but settled on a more sophisticated division of the case. Without any prompting, they made sure each was happy with the decision and secure in their understanding of it. They proffered and sifted through events which could illustrate their points, and demanded extra blank cards from me so they could record these. As they are a small group, my preparation was just one set of cards; for all but 15 minutes of the lesson, they did all of the talking, all of the work. I just sat back and thought What an ‘expert’ A level teacher am I?

AS History – essay feedback. We had been studying Alexander III as a ‘repressive autocrat’, focusing on his use of the Okhrana, suppresion of political rivals and the role of his ministers. We had earlier been working on how to communicate in writing to maximum effect, and I had set this is a priority success criteria, deliberately limiting the number of separate points I wanted them to make. My theory is: if I want them to improve their literacy, it’s best to make the content easy. The results were disappointing, and I found myself taking hours over marking and setting targets. Whereas in the past (and, in teaching, I have a long past) I would have simply handed these back, barked a little, and hoped for better next time, now I realise there needs to be a closer correlation between the time taken to mark and the time given to students in class to actually act on feedback. To my shame, this practice is an innovation to me. The large majority of my comments featured introductions, conclusions, topic sentences and a highlighting technique we call foregrounding. So, for 5 minutes at the top of the next lesson I demonstrated how they could improve these features by sharing some success criteria for each. After that the lesson was largely taken up with them re-writing individual sentences, selecting more appropriate words and placing them to greater effect, and re-configuring their introductions. My role was limited to circulating to respond to their new efforts.

This was the lesson my colleague chose to watch. There was certainly nothing showy about it, but I have learned that students readily engage when given a chance to redraft, so long as they can see how and aren’t made to feel daft. My colleague doesn’t seem to have learned this yet, and she left soon after the students started on their reworking. She stayed for the wrong bit: she thought she was there to watch me, because I am ‘an expert’. She should have stayed to watch the students – the true experts.

Don’t waste time observing!

There were only about 8 in the class, including normally very rowdy boys and a couple of near-mute girls. Ruth, the Senco, was teaching them PSE, or something similar. I had been having problems controlling behaviour, and it had been gently suggested to me that I might observe Ruth. I was in my first year of teaching, but this was after the days of ‘probation’ and before the days of ‘NQT induction’, so whatever programme I had was ad hoc at best.

I sat at the back of Ruth’s classroom. A couple of the boys were insulting each other, and the girls shared a make-up mirror, but the atmosphere was relaxed and cooperative. Ruth introduced the topic and the kids were immediately engaged. I can’t remember the topic, and I couldn’t see what in particular she did to hook them. I knew enough already to realise that she was working hard and making it look easy: she made sure she addressed comments to each child, especially if she spotted them wavering. But I couldn’t locate whatever magic she had that I didn’t. I concluded that these kids were just ‘good for Ruth’, in a way they were not with me.

It really isn’t easy learning from watching someone else. It strikes me that there are essentially two types of observations going on in schools. The first is where the observer is assessing the teacher. I do a lot of this with PGCE students, NQTs, for appraisal. With younger teachers I won’t usually be putting a grade on the lesson, but they will still demand an evaluative adjective from me, and will still expect me to prescribe a dose of something to make them better. Where the lesson is graded, this can come down to, So how could I have made this outstanding?  The observer in these cases is not really trying to learn anything; they are simply looking for evidence to grade, and a form of words to let their colleague down gently. I exaggerate, but there is no escaping the simple truth: the observer is not the learner.

The second common type of observation is that undertaken by student teachers or NQTs as part of their development programme. There are PGCEs students in schools this week following a schedule of observations, perhaps doing very little else. There are NQTs, instructed by their mentors to use some of their 10% timetable reduction to ‘watch and learn.’ Sometimes they come and observe me. Oftentimes I direct them to someone on a ‘peer observation’ list I keep for the purpose. In they go; out they come. Somewhere a target will have been ‘met’ or a standard ‘addressed’. Everyone is happy, but what ‘learning’, if any, has occurred? I wonder: do we even ask?

Again, I exaggerate: the process is surely never as ho-hum as that. But I still think the question persists: What about the learning?

If we take a step back, and consider what we already know about learning, maybe we can make observation a little more productive. The learners we usually deal with – our students – would not take in very much if we merely expected them to observe us. Very little of our teaching is about being watched, instructing, performing in front of someone sitting anonymously at the back of the room. Rather, we expect learning to be active, and inter-active, with learners usually moving through a taxonomy of applying, analysing and creating in the space of one lesson. Learning also involves a degree of reiteration, practice and gradual perfection. Importantly, we presume learning is best when its objectives are clear and explicit. In sum, learning happens when it is purposeful and progressive.

Now ask: does this kind of learning have a chance of occurring when we put teachers in the back of rooms to watch other teachers? My guess is, not often.

But we do spend an awful lot of time doing it. Oh, the hours! I would be grateful for any replies to this from people who think they have secured good learning from teacher observation. But here I will record a few of the things we do some of the time, but should do more often than we do.

  • Our ‘peer observation’ card lists staff who are willing to be observed. Crucially, they are grouped by area of pedagogical expertise. So, some are happy to be seen doing groupwork, others are whizzes in behaviour management.
  • The same card also lists the staff who are willing to observe others. We realised a little while ago that many teachers stop observing others once they get past induction; likewise, outside of the pressures of appraisal and review, few staff get to try out a teaching strategy and get feedback on it from a sympathetic colleague.
  • Aside from the formal lesson observation forms we use for grading purposes, we have developed half a dozen others which each has a specific focus, e.g. independent learning, literacy, student engagement, behaviour management. Each is structured as a sort of checklist of features that might be seen in a lesson, with space for notes by the observer. The reverse asks the observer to compile 5 learning points; then recompile them after discussing them with a colleague.
  • An integral feature of induction at my school now is NQT Blogging. They have a session where they are introduced to some teaching strategies – two weeks ago our AST and others shared some AfL ideas with them. They then have two to three weeks to observe a colleague, focusing on those strategies, then apply some of this in their own lessons. The NQTs then reconvene as a group to blog their reflections, making sure they each follow each other and post constructive comments.

In these ways, I hope to ensure that observation has a ‘learning objective’ or focus. There is also the chance that it will take the observer-learner through the understanding-applying-analysing-creating phases that we know assist learning. None of this is yet embedded or widespread, and I’m still developing my thinking on it. But, with a little bit of this, I might have made a lot more of my time watching Ruth all those years ago, and those kids might have been ‘good for me’ too.

Getting your interview observation right

Whether you are a student teacher applying for your first job, or an experienced teacher looking for a promotion, there are plenty of places to go for advice. The TES recently posted a set of short videos – you probably saw them.

The problem with any of this advice is that it misses one important aspect of the process: the person observing on behalf of the school has an idea of what they are looking for, and you don’t know what that is. Do they want a strict disciplinarian (because behaviour at their place is challenging, or because it is a very traditional setting) or a friendly, engaging type (because the ethos is that students learn better when they enjoy what they are doing)? Do they expect you to discuss levels (‘If you add an opinion in the future tense, you get Level 5′), or would they rather you didn’t? Would they taken agin’ you if you had the students working in silence, or would this warm the heart of the headteacher? You might suppose you should plan a starter, a plenary or two, plenty of assessment for learning and at least a nod to differentiation – but will you do this in 20 minutes, 30 or 60?

This week I have watched a total of 9 interview lessons, from candidates vying for a HoF job and an NQT post. I offer the following suggestions:

  • Whatever you do, don’t make out like you don’t like our kids. In a couple of instances, the candidates decided to challenge what they thought of as low-level disruption. In one case, she tackled stuff which would have been much better ignored; in the other, some students were getting restless, so she needed to address it. Where they both went wrong was that they allowed these exchanges to stick in my mind – the overall impression left was that they worried more about perfect behaviour than exciting learning. 
  • Sometimes there are kids in the room who are a little short of self-starting geniuses. They need to be encouraged  too. A smile helps – show you know this stuff can be hard, and that getting things wrong is also part of eventually getting things right.
  • Whatever kind of teacher they might be looking for, you need to show them the kind of teacher you are (at your best). If you are passionate about VAK learning, getting kids out of their seats and getting them to talk to each other, then you need to be working in a school that welcomes it. Show them who you are: if they want that, then they will want you.
  • All the lessons I observed this week were billed as 20 minutes. People may object, but 20 mins is long enough for an experienced observer to work out what they are looking at. If there are several candidates for a post, then it is not uncommon for two of them to go in, one after the other, to the same class. If you are the second of these, you can assume that the class has already rehearsed the material you are about to do. Check this, and when they get it right, heap praise on them and then endeavour to stretch them further: you will come across as the candidate who had the higher expectations. On the down side, the second teacher in might well be ‘inheriting’ a class that, by then, has had enough of that topic. You will need to get them quickly and keep the pace up.
  • Being the observer, it was my job to call time on the candidates. The stress of this is that I had to ensure one candidate got out of the room (having cleared away all their kit) to allow the next one in, in time for them to set up and have their 20 before the class would have to move on to their next lesson. Candidates who insisted on stretching out their plenary, or who claimed their 20 minutes but did not allow for clear-up: these did not impress me. Remember, schools want to appoint team players, not people who insist on having their slice of time at the expense of others.
  • Whatever length of lesson you have been told to plan for, plan for it. There really is no point setting a beautifully constructed lesson plan before the observer, full of peer observation and self-reflection, blah, blah, if you don’t get around to teaching it in your allotted time. This is not a good plan: this is a very poor plan.
  • When you have the students doing some independent or pair work, there is always the dilemma: do you spend the intervening period setting up the next task, or do you circulate the classroom, listening in, assessing and praising as you go? Yeah, no prizes for working out which.

You might be a great teacher, and you might have planned a wonderful lesson, but things can still go wrong, especially if you are nervous. Read the self-help books if you have a real problem with this. But, if you really are a good teacher, this will be because you know how to engage quickly with young people: that’s your greatest skill. So, just do that: allow yourself to enjoy their company, and maybe some of those nerves will dissipate.