We go to learn NOT teach – Developmental lesson observations.

There has been much debate in recent months about lesson observations and whether or not we should judge them. It would seem that many schools are now ‘seeing the light’ and thankfully deciding that this is a flawed and unnecessary practice.
At Bridgwater College Academy we have not judged lessons for four years now and have tried to develop a system and culture that support the development of our teaching staff. This is, of course, still a work in progress and this post outlines the process that builds upon what we have done in the last few years and will be in place next academic year at our academy.
As one way of improving outcomes for our students we will continue to improve teacher quality and to do that we will improve professional development. The vision and approach I have for professional development at BCA is that there is an explicit obligation for individual colleagues to take responsibility for their own professional development with SUPPORT and CHALLENGE provided from all levels. Whilst we acknowledge that we, of course, work within parameters, it is essentially left to staff in negotiation with line managers to establish their own focus for their professional development. However, the choice will be inevitably limited by academy, subject, curriculum, key stage demands.

At our most recent all academy staff meeting we decided as a staff body to develop the way we use observations for professional development purposes. This post outlines what the process will look like next year at Bridgwater College Academy.

2014-2015 will start with celebration and reflection in the form of a ‘teaching and learning fair’ at one of our professional development days at the start of the year. This will be an opportunity for the staff at our academy from all phases (we are an all through 3-16 academy) to get together and share their professional development focus and successes from the previous academic year in a marketplace type event. Staff are expected to set out their ‘stalls’ in the morning prior to an afternoon of sharing and professional dialogue.

September
Reflection and action

September 2014 will be a time of reflection and action. At some point during September, every teacher in the academy will be, as in previous years, required to video one of their lessons – these videos are the property of the teacher and used solely as just one way to inform their decisions about the priorities for their own professional development. I do not get to see them unless staff ask me to watch them, which has happened but is inevitably uncommon. Staff in the secondary phase tend to record a whole lesson whereas staff in our primary phase generally record specific elements of their teaching such as whole class teaching or working with a specific group.

In September all teaching staff are issued with a Professional Portfolio; a file in which they are encouraged to document and evidence their successes.

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In September all staff are required to compose their own Personal Development Plan (PDP). This is an evidence based document that forms the focus of all subsequent personalised professional development. This important document is evidence based in three ways. Firstly, any knowledge that our teachers have already about their teaching through previous observations and their own professional judgement should inform the completion of their Personal Development Plan.

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This is generally information stored in their Professional Portfolio.Secondly, the insights they glean from their video will inform its construction and thirdly that research evidence suggests that the focus of their PDP is worth pursuing in the first place. The PDP will then be agreed and written in negotiation with your line manager. The focus of this ‘PDP’ is also established within the parameters of our ‘framework for exceptional teaching’: our T&L policy.

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October
Action and practice
October 2014 will be a time of action and practice. The newly established focus for professional development is broken down into manageable time phased chunks and sustained, deliberate practice is encouraged. The focus for all teachers’ professional development is displayed in every classroom so that anyone visiting a classroom may be able to provide some feedback on the desired focus. This display also has the added advantage of conveying to our children that teachers are also learners.

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By October half term 2014 every teacher will have been through the annual Appraisal & Capability process and have established 2-3 targets: a data driven target based on their class or key group, a teaching and learning target (this is simply the PDP target to avoid any additional and superfluous extras) and if you have a leadership responsibility you will also have a leadership target.
Within our Appraisal and Capability policy there is a requirement to attempt to complete the PDP fully and then to actively engage in professional development throughout the year in order to improve or disseminate effective teaching practice. In effect, teachers are required to proactively seek to continually develop their professional practice.

CPD tied to targets and professional standards can inhibit teachers taking risks and experimenting with new teaching strategies. We often set targets that we know we can achieve rather than really challenge ourselves. To counter this we are trying to create a culture of personalised and continuous improvement. Therefore, we see that it is the responsibility of our teachers to continue to improve their classroom skill and to focus the improvement on ideas supported by evidence. It is the responsibility of our leaders to create this expectation for continuous improvement, keep the focus on what is likely to improve achievement, provide support and challenge and encourage risk taking. The removal of lesson grades certainly has a beneficial effect on the willingness of teachers to take risks. Lesson observations at BCA are NOT graded and NEVER will be.

November
Practice and feedback
The first of three lesson observations will take place at some mutually convenient point in November 2014. The purpose of lesson observation at BCA is to…
…accurately portray what is happening typically in the classrooms across our academy.
…stimulate professional reflection and dialogue.
…inform the coaching process and future developments both as an individual and at whole academy level.
…help us deepen our understanding of learning and how we can, and do, make an impact upon it.
…make us even better teachers.
The purpose of lesson observations at our academy is emailed to staff prior to any period of observation and staff are encouraged to contact me if they feel that their observation did not meet these expectations.

Observations during November 2014 will be focused on the Personal Development Plan and conducted by your line manager. The date, time and group are all determined by the teacher not the observer. Cover will be made available for the observer if required. On several occasions, throughout all phases of the academy, I will join the observers to create an opportunity for additional dialogue and ‘quality assure’ the process. It is hoped that much of the observation and coaching will be ‘live’ – real time feedback to affect change there and then. This works especially well with less experienced colleagues who more actively seek guidance. I personally will observe all new qualified teachers with their mentor and all second year teachers with their mentor too.

Any lesson notes will be recorded on our essentially blank lesson observation sheet – not a tick box in sight! It is all about evidence of the PDP focus in action and questions composed by the observer with the intention of encouraging the teacher to reflect on reality. There are no evaluative comments, just information on which to reflect – a story of the lesson focus if you like. After the lesson there will be a meeting to discuss the lesson and at the end of this professional dialogue the teacher and observer must agree…
Goal: What do you want next?
Reality: Current situation?
Options: What could you do?
What, who and by when: What will you do?
Success Criteria: How will you know you’ve been successful?
Support: Who is going to support you with this and how?
Share: How are you going to share your successes with others?

At the end of any professional dialogue at our academy each person must go away knowing exactly what their next steps are to be.

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January to March
Action, practice, collaboration, coaching, and learning.
Traditionally this has been a time when members of the academy leadership team observe all teachers at the academy. Next year we have dispensed with this as an approach and have decided that the theme of this round of ‘observations’ is…
We go to a lesson observation to LEARN not teach.

Therefore, it is planned that the ‘observations’ that take place throughout the spring term 2015 will be focused again on the Personal Development Plan. They are called ‘Peer Support’ as opposed to peer observations. However, instead of someone coming to you to give you feedback on your development focus, there will be a requirement for you to visit another teacher to learn alongside this colleague. The teacher you visit will have a similar focus to you and it is also planned that CPD time will be made available for you to plan alongside this colleague prior to visiting and learning with them. The ‘observing’ teacher will record their visit in two ways.
‘What I noticed’ and…
‘What I am going to take from this lesson to help my own teaching’
There will be an expectation that, as a result of your visit, you also consider your ‘next steps to excellence’:
Goal
What do I want?
Reality
What is the current situation?
Options
What could you do?
What and by when
What will you do?
Success Criteria
How will you know you’ve been successful?

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To enable staff to visit other teachers the senior leadership team will cover lessons. The leadership team will also use this time to look at books in your classroom and talk to students about their learning. CPD time to meet, share and plan in groups based on personal development plans will be made available and staff will be grouped to enable and encourage sharing and the ongoing development of the PDP. These grouping will be displayed to enable staff to initiate their own study groups.

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I would like this round of observations to take the form of ‘lesson study’ and I will be encouraging some pilot groups to trial ideas in classroom based collaborative action research. Hopefully this will involve 2 or 3 staff in each ‘study group’. The focus for their work being a similar identified aspect. They will research the pedagogy, collaboratively plan with one teacher delivering but the others involved too in some capacity. There will be a subsequent debrief and reciprocal visit. This will be a work in progress for next year.

APRIL and MAY
Practice and refining
Further practice and refining of appropriate classroom strategies.

JUNE
Feedback, coaching, and reflection.
These observations will be similar in purpose to November and, therefore, observations during June 2015 will be focused on the Personal Development Plan and conducted by your line manager. The date, time and group are all determined by the teacher not the observer. Information about your lesson will be recorded on our lesson observation sheet and a follow up dialogue undertaken in the same way as it happened in November.

JULY
Sharing and celebration
In July 2015 there will be a whole academy Teachmeet which will showcase and share effective practice:
Direction of travel keynote from me
Learning Innovator Projects
Other projects
‘Bright spots’ and innovation
Nano presentations

Throughout the year we will further look at approaches which enable staff to learn from each other;
‘Finding the bright spots’ (thanks to @shaun_allison for the phrase) leadership learning walks with the intention of spotting best practice to further share.
Subject / curriculum leaders learning walks
Key stage leaders learning walks
Heads of year learning walks
NQT and RQT learning walks
Open weeks

We are currently running a staff competition to rename ‘learning walks’. We all know what they are but I just hate the name!!

At BCA we must try to make our professional development genuinely continuous and continuously effective. Coaching is very much becoming a way of working for us. Although we ‘train’ some staff as coaches, our aspiration is for everyone at BCA to become a coach. Coaching at our academy will help build capacity, foster a better team spirit and spark dialogue about pedagogy. Over time it will lead to sustained improvement, personalise even more our CPD programme and empower our teaching staff. Hopefully in time our support staff too but one step at a time!

Effective professional development at Bridgwater College Academy focuses on improved student learning not teacher behaviour. It identifies teacher development needs based on the student’s learning needs and builds on teachers’ existing skill, providing a balance of improving students learning and transferable teaching skills. It offers choice to our teachers but is based on evidence: that this focus will have an impact and research suggests that it is a focus worth pursuing. Our professional development is about taking small sustainable steps and embedding practice; making it habitual through periods of sustained practice. The whole process is collaborative; providing support and challenge, and involves observing and coaching each other. Each teacher’s professional development is actively sustained for a significant amount of time with cycles of trialling, practising, reflecting, and adjusting. The process that each member of staff goes through is celebrated and shared and encourages excellence.

We need to be the very best we can be at our school and it is hoped that through sustained practice with lots of immediate coaching feedback, reflection and gradually, but consistently, raising the level of challenge we will create an environment for excellence. That’s the plan anyway! Please tell me what you think.