I have been very privileged in my career to work with some really talented teachers. They have challenged me to do better and expect more of my students. As an administrator, I have also had the opportunity to observe some great teachers at work and they are the ones who make the difficult job of teaching and learning look easy. Yet, despite how talented these professionals are, they still have the notion hanging over their heads, that whenever they are observed they must produce an outstanding lesson. Over time, through teaching and observing, I have become increasingly convinced that there is no such thing as an outstanding lesson.
Observing a standalone lesson for forty-five minutes or one hour will not provide sufficient long term evidence of progress , except the performance of the teacher and students on the day. We have long known that when we are being observed as teachers, we tend to do things a little differently. In reality, even the students themselves act differently when there is someone else in the room.
Teachers often put themselves under enormous pressure to ensure that the lesson has all the right elements and that it is all singing, all dancing. This pressure is applied in order to avoid not receiving negative feedback. It therefore means that as administrators, we need to rethink how we give feedback. I have now resorted to not mentioning the following words when I give feedback; outstanding, good, poor or any word which could be seen as a judgement. Instead, I ask a series of questions which will help to paint a picture of what is taking place in that classroom on a daily basis and tie that in with what I recently observed. The questions I ask include the following:
- Where does this lesson fit in with the outcomes that are being covered?
- What have students had to learn in order to get to this point?
- What did they already know?
- How will you develop what students have done so far?
- How might the next lesson be adapted in light of what happened in this lesson?
- How do you know if students are making progress?
- Why did you make the decisions you made in today’s lesson?
- Is there anything you might do differently?
These are the kinds of questions which rightly support the fact that teachers are professionals and make informed judgments about how and what they teach. When the teachers answer these questions, I then look for confusion or uncertainty which indicates that the teacher needs some help. However, if the teacher has thought about his/her teaching and knows his/her students really well then that is an opportunity for me to learn from the teacher’s experiences and to know exactly what is happening in that classroom on a daily basis.
If the aim of giving feedback is to condemn a professional, then looking for the elusive outstanding lesson is the way to go. Conversely, if our focus is on quality teaching and learning for all students, then let us make the lesson feedback process a developmental one. There is no such thing as an outstanding lesson but there are definitely outstanding teachers.
By Leisa Simapili.