On why we’ve stopped grading lesson observations….
This term, after a round of lesson observations, I found myself reflecting on where we were as a school. I am coming to the end of my 4th year as HT in the school and was thinking how we could become a ‘great’ school. Our school has had its challenges in the past. We got a ‘Satisfactory’ in early 2010 shortly after I had taken charge and we have worked incredibly hard to improve what we were doing. In March this year we got a ‘Good’ from OFSTED and we were delighted that we had an external validation of what we had known for a while.
For those of you that know me, you will know that I am not that fussed about OFSTED. That isn’t to say I don’t think that their judgements are important-they are-I just don’t run my school for OFSTED. Our school is run for our students, parents, local community and staff. That is what is important.I have always been confident that OFSTED would be happy with what we did but my school is not set up for OFSTED.
Back to my reflections!
It became apparent to me that if we were to become a ‘great’ school then this would have very little to do with the structural aspects of the school. Improvements in the ‘structural’ aspects of the school helped us get to good. To become ‘great’ we actually had to encourage our staff to move away from the structures that had got us to be ‘good’ and give them the opportunity to develop and exercise their teaching skills in a supportive and collaborative environment. One in where all staff shared good practice, built on what was really good about their teaching and, if appropriate, be encouraged to take risks and try new things.
It became apparent to me that the main reason for grading lesson observations was down to providing OFSTED with information. We spoke about it at SLT and decided that our current structure was not going to make us a great school. To be great we need staff to engage about what they are finding difficult and ask for support. This would never happen if we graded observations. Staff (quite rightly) would choose groups/sets that would give them a good/outstanding judgements in previous lesson observations. They would never pick groups that they found challenging because of the levels of accountability based on the lesson judgement.
To be better we need to reflect on our practice in a non judgemental way. To improve our excellent teachers by getting them to reflect on issues that, in the past, would be hidden. Let’s work together to develop practice in areas we hid because if we looked at it during a lesson obs previously we would be graded inadequate. We need to move on from that.
We took the decision to remove grading from our lesson observations to make us better teachers. To remove the fear of being judged inadequate. To encourage our teachers to take risks. To encourage our teachers to be the best they can be and deliver lessons that they may not normally do. To encourage our staff to be truly great. To be great we cannot be worried about failing, indeed to be great we actually have to experience failure to get to this level. Great teaching exists where our best teachers exert their professionalism to ensure that our students succeed. We believe that this approach will improve the outcomes for our students. We believe that this will make us better teachers.
I have discussed this with some colleagues who have said that our decision is ‘brave’. I disagree, I believe it is right. I spoke about this with an OFSTED inspector who was concerned about ‘accountability’. I actually think that this model increases accountability. By sharing our practices, by working together to improve those lessons that we struggle with and by looking at those groups we find challenging actually increases accountability. It is brave to try and improve the outcomes for our students and accountability lies on what we get for our students. I think our approach will definitely improve the outcomes for our students.
We are professionals. We know what works. We know what we need to do to make our practice better. We must make these improvements away from the fear of being labelled to be failing. One of my sporting heroes is the basketball player Michael Jordan. As a mad basketball fan I admired his technical ability, his unbelievable court presence and his seemingly amazing ability to make the winning shot. It was only after listening to him about what made him a truly great player that I tripped over this:
‘I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.’
To be better we have to learn from our mistakes. But we can only learn from our mistakes when we are free from the risk of failure. Failure makes us better. But we can only be better if ‘failure’ is acceptable. If we have a system where ‘failure’ is discouraged then we will always have professionals who suffer from fear of failure. If we remove the gradings from observations then we encourage staff to take risks, we encourage staff to ‘fail’ whilst taking those risks and, ultimately, we create better teachers.
I am not saying that this approach will work for all schools. It may not. We are on a particular part of our journey and we feel it is right for us. We look forward to making our school a truly ‘great’ school and feel that this approach will help us.
That is why we have stopped grading our lesson observations.