David Chapman, Head of school, Aston University Engineering Academy explores a more learner centred approach to classroom observations

Why it’s time to rethink lesson observations


Teaching is a challenging profession. A recent You Gov poll found 45% of teachers surveyed would discourage others from entering the profession, whilst over half would opt out given the choice of career again. 


Termly lesson observations can add to the pressure many teachers already feel under, with even the most experienced of staff feeling a sense of nervous dread when it’s their ‘turn’ under the microscope.


And can a traditional observation ever make a difference to the quality of teaching practice if they only provide a brief snapshot?


We wanted to rethink how we could incorporate lesson observations into school life that wouldn’t leave our teachers feeling unsupported or over scrutinised.


A new perspective


Lesson observations don’t need to be stressful, once-a-term formal events. As lesson observations usually happen infrequently the feedback can also be more intense. This can leave teachers feeling overloaded with a list of things to change all at once.


We’ve found giving our teachers the opportunity to frequently self-reflect on their teaching practice has helped observations take on a more practical application, as teachers can address issues in the here and now.


To make it easier for them to conduct regular, informal reviews of how their lesson went we use ONVU Learning video technology to capture lessons. Staff can choose to review the footage either by themselves or with a colleague and assess whether any adjustments can be made to improve the lesson.


This approach has helped shift the dial in how lesson observations are perceived in the school. Teachers feel more comfortable sharing their strengths and seeking advice from their peers who understand the demands and challenges they are all facing in classroom within a local context. 


One of our teachers for example, was struggling to manage a group of Year 10 boys, but after watching a playback of the classroom footage with a colleague, took on board some of their suggested tweaks about the order of play for the lesson and things improved.


Switching the focus


We also felt switching the focus away from teaching practice and orientating it towards pupil learning behaviours instead could positively impact on pupil outcomes. But it’s not always easy for teachers to do this when they are standing in front of a class of 30 pupils with different learning styles and ability.


So, to help them unpick what’s working in class and for whom, we encourage them to watch out for ‘small tells,’ like a students’ body language to see how if the lesson is pitched too high or too low, or if a pupil nearby is an inadvertent influence.


By making students the primary focus of the observation teachers can find it easier to fine tune their lesson to ensure all pupils are learning effectively. The shift in focus also helps teachers to take more ownership over the decisions they take in the classroom. As a result, they feel more valued and respected and more willing to share not only their strengths, but also what they’ve discovered has helped improve their teaching practice.