Removing grades from lesson observations? Warning! by @beautifullyfra1

If you think simply removing grades from lesson observations will solve a problem, it didn’t for us.

If you have removed grading lesson observations, are you still grading teachers? How are you evaluating the quality of teaching at a teacher, department and whole school level?  How are you able to articulate clearly and precisely which areas of teaching are a strength and which areas require development?  All schools need to be able to answer these two questions and in fact, our students require us to.

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Jennie Giovanelli and published with kind permission.

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For many people, the removal of lesson observations has (like us a couple of years ago) been replaced by not grading lesson observations but still using observations, learning walks, lesson visits and triangulating this with book scrutinies, feedback from students and assessment data to come to a judgement about the quality of a teacher.  Whilst this may provide a more sound evidence base for the quality of teaching over time, it still has the inherent flaw of grading a teacher with a number – we fine graded this judgement for a time but it was still a number.

I have written previously on this blog about our learning and teaching journey (click here).

However looking back now, whatever we did was always going to be flawed by the fact that everything developmental we did, still resulted in teachers being attributed a ‘grade’ at some point in the year.  We still reported the percentage of 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 teachers at a whole school level and department level.  And it’s probably worth saying that these are my 5 core beliefs in relation to learning and teaching and everything we undertook over the last few years was driven by this why.  But at the time, I couldn’t see any alternative to grading teachers.

L+T core beliefs

But what about governors?  What about Ofsted?  How will we report and show what the quality of teaching is like in our school?  Common questions.  And questions we had to work through to get to where we are today.  I am an absolute advocate that development is more important than measurement, and I absolutely believe that good teaching is what works.  However, I am also acutely aware and understand the accountability that schools face.   Yet I am a firm believer that schools and leaders can make schools a place where students and teachers love coming, whilst still operating within the parameters of policy. This is why @Xris32’s blog at the weekend resonated so strongly with me.  The system is what it is.  It is our job to make it work for us.

So what’s the answer?  Surely it is to apply what we know about what works in the classroom to our staff?  We all know that just grading a student’s response with a grade or number is not particularly helpful in helping the student, parent or teacher understand what exactly it is that the student needs to do next.  We all know that one grade A student is not the same as another – they have different areas of strength and areas to develop.  Teachers are no different. Teaching is so complex that it cannot be narrowed down into single judgements about that teacher’s performance.  And why would we want it to?

It is worth stating here my opinion that I do think all schools need to have a common language when it comes to talking about learning and teaching.  This common language can be different between different institutions, but it is my belief that in order to create a culture of openness and improvement, a common language which is clearly understood by all is central.  We have tried many different rubrics for this common language over the last few years, including the Ofsted criteria – which was probably the worst of the lot – but we have finally settled on the teacher standards.  This makes sense to us as they apply to all phases of our school and they are linked to our performance management cycle.  A couple of years ago, we broke the teacher standards down to try and articulate more clearly what differing levels of performance would look like for each standard.  This enabled us to create directories of expertise and share good practice and target developmental work dependent upon individual teacher and faculty needs.  We toyed with the idea of looking at breaking down a teacher’s performance in relation to particular key stages but in discussion with our Directors of Learning, we realised this was again trying to make something overly scientific in a way which wouldn’t be helpful.

Ultimately the quality of teaching (rightly or wrongly) is judged by the outcomes of a school, and therefore our evaluating teaching not teachers cycle allows us to promote data-informed instruction and evaluate the impact of teaching across all layers within the school.  Alongside this now operates the equivalent of our subject and student personalised learning checklists.  This teacher PLC enables us to discuss more forensically the developmental needs of our staff, as well as enables us to talk with confidence about the quality of teaching within our school.

It promotes an ethos of continual development for all teachers and like we have found with students, provides us with ‘data’ which we can use meaningfully to inform our learning and teaching work across all layers in the school.  It also allows us to ‘quantify’ if needed the profile of teachers, faculties and the school for those who still like the security of this.  But what it doesn’t do, is compromise our beliefs about learning and teaching.  And for that, I am happy we have found a solution which works for everyone.

@benbainesSLE has on his to-do list to share what these teacher PLCs look like, and how they are being used within faculties and across the school.  Part 1 is written…there’s now no excuse @benbainessle!

 Featured image source: Via Mark Nockleby on Flickr under (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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