Posts Tagged ‘Observation’

Time, Collaboration and CPD

January 8, 2015 4 comments

Collaboration, it’s been on my mind a lot recently. Partly because it’s the focus of my current masters assignment, and partly because it keeps coming up in conversation with various people. It’s a complex word, with many degrees of meaning attached, and something we all do, but possibly not enough.

I’ve read a lot of literature for my assignment, and there are some key themes that keep cropping up.

Talking pedagogy

Many of the articles I read, not least West (1998), expressed views on the importance of getting teachers talking about pedagogy. Discussing approaches to lessons, discussing questioning styles and discussing resources. Alexander (2008) even went as far as saying that it was, in his view, the most important thing we can do to improve teaching.

I often engage in these discussions with colleagues, both within school, those in other schools and now with the explosion of teacher social networking teachers from across the world. I feel this has been a great part of my improvement as a classroom teacher, and hope to continue.


The Sutton Trust Report (Coe et all 2014) spoke about lesson study in Japan and the impact it had on driving improvements in Teaching and learning, picking out the collaborative aspects of it, and the time built on for shared reflection, as being a major part of it. This ties into the ideas from West and Alexander I mentioned earlier.

This seems particular relevant to me at the moment as I keep seeing letters from MPs in response to the recent NUT lobbying programme about workload. The stock response seems to be that Nicky Morgan and her department are working to reduce bureaucracy and free up time for “what really matters in the classroom: teaching and learning.” on the face of it this seems a good thing, but I worry that it might be missing the point. Teachers in the most high performing countries (according to PISA) have considerable less time teaching and learning, and significantly more time for planning, marking and professional development. And I feel this is they key. Often in the UK teachers are supported through their NQT year and then that’s it, no CPD to speak of except the odd death by PowerPoint, unless they go on a weekend of course! Workload can be high and they can then shy away from the sort if collaboration and pedagogical discussion that may actually improve their teaching and save them time in the long run. I recently re-read this from John Tomsett who mentioned this nice quote from Dylan Wiliam:

“Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better.”

We all do strive to improve, but sometimes it is hard to find the time. I recently spoke to a teacher who expressed irritation that he’d not been able to observe others to help improve his practice for a long time, and another who hasn’t been offered the opportunity to go on any subject specific CPD for a long time.

Worldwide collaboration

There was a recent issue of Forum entitled “Teachers reclaiming teaching”. This issue had many articles written by bloggers, some I was familiar with and some I wasn’t. The main focus of the issue was the benefits of this new world staffroom that we all have access to. I personally find it fascinating and helpful, but I know a lot of teachers have neither the time, nor inclination, to really get involved with that. I think it’s a shame, but it wouldn’t matter too much if we were all having these discussions anyway, as it would only take one person to bring in an idea. The ideas you gain from elsewhere may not work in your context, but thru may. Being able to have discussions about pedagogy with your colleagues is means you can share opinions on things from outside and whether they can work in your context. If you’ve tried and it doesn’t, then you can discuss why.

As Bob Hoskins used to say, “It’s good to talk.” but in the words of Paul Heaton we “need a little time.”


Forum (2014) Volume 56 number 2 Teachers Reclaiming Teaching

Alexander. R. (2008) Education for All, The quality imperative and the problem of pedagogy IOE London

Coe, R. Aliosi, C. Higgins, S. And Major L. (2014) What makes great teaching? Review of the underpinning research. Sutton Trust.

West, M. (1998) Quality in schools: developing a model for school improvement. International handbook of educational change. Kluwer: Dordrecht

The future of CPD

May 6, 2014 1 comment

At the NTEN-ResearchEd-YORK conference on Saturday a lot was said about CPD and pedagogy. David Weston (@informed_edu) spoke about CPD and it’s delivery. He spoke eloquently about the way CPD is run in most schools and how he believes that it should. One of the key points he made was that of purpose. CPD should start with a need and then should be developed to address that need and evaluated against it.

This is an idea that seems so simple, but is often lost in schools. The reason why us evident. It would be a mammoth task to coordinate an individual CPD programme based on each staff members individual needs, but does this mean we shouldn’t try?

Miss Cox (@MissDCox) wrote this piece recently on the death of whole school CPD and I think she makes many great points about how and why we should move forward.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what an ideal programme would look like and I think it would definitely incorporate these elements:

Lesson Study

John Tomsett (@johntomsett) spoke of the ethos of observations at his school. A gradeless system with no fear, with development based objectives. This is something of think can be extremely useful. Both from a management perspective (ie SLT helping to develop staff) and a peer basis. Staff could link with people who have strengths where they need to develop and vice versa.

Subject Specific Pedagogy

Mark Miller (@GoldfishBowlMM) mentioned on Saturday that he had enjoyed one of my recent maths based posts and that he saw a future where there was less general pedagogical CPD, and more subject specific pedagogy and CPD. I think that this is important moving forward. I feel that teachers need to have an excellent knowledge of their subject and an excellent knowledge of how to teach it. There is no ideal, one size fits all pedagogy that covers all subjects and although there remains good ideas that may work across subject we need to start tailoring development programmes around subjects as well.


I know that during my NQT year I had a mentor and a coach who was an SLT member, and both of them helped me immensely. This could and should be an ongoing thing to help people continue their development.

Master’s Level Profession

I’m currently studying towards a master’s in education and I feel that the stuff I’m learning is of major benefit. Not only am I learning things that have an instant impact in the classroom, but I’m engaging with the research in a way that I wasn’t and I’m learning to critically question the ideas that are laid before me. These are skills that I feel would benefit all of us, and I would certainly recommend further study to anyone. Becoming a master’s level profession may also raise the profile of the profession and help recruitment.

Personalised Programmes

As mentioned above, and in the posts I have linked to, every teacher has different needs, and the CPD offer we receive should meet those needs. Tom Bennett (@Tombennett71) mentioned on Saturday that the ResearchEd conferences were “teachers doing it for themselves.” H used the word revolution, and I’ve written before on this here. This is indicative of what is going on with these conferences, twitter, blogging, teachmeets etc, but this is still only the minority of teacher taking control of our CPD. More of us need to do so, and perhaps this should be part of the teachers ongoing CPD programme for the 21st century.

These are all ideas that I have been thinking about, and that make sense. We need to make sure we are developing in the way we want to, in the way we need to, to ensure the best outcomes for our students. John spoke about a “Growth Culture” within his school. One where students and staff alike were growing and realising their own potential. Surely this has to be the aim for all of us, to continue improving and to be the best that we can be?

Observations, Ofsted and the Trial of Alfred Wegener

December 19, 2013 2 comments

Last week I had a morning conversation with a colleague from the science department that got me quite excited. I was about an hour before lessons were due to start and the colleague in question came into the workroom and started cutting up some cards for his lesson. I noticed one mentioned “the jury” so asked him what he had planned. He informed me that he was looking at continental drift and was running the lesson like a trial. It was to be set at the time when Wegener had first come up with his theory and pupils were role playing parts of defence and prosecution barristers, expert witnesses on both side. The lesson sounded awesome, I was gutted not to have a non-contact period when it was on so I could go and see he lesson!

While we were discussing this I reflected that often when cutting up resources in the workroom the question gets asked “are you being observed?” This is something that normally bothers me, I don’t understand why people would change their approach to a lesson because an observer is coming in. Obviously, there are things you wouldn’t do for you PM observation, I can’t imagine there being any point in observing a mock exam where the class are working in silence for instance.

Our discussion moved on, as my colleague suggested that he wouldn’t do the lesson if he was being observed, as there was potential for it to go wrong. This was the polar opposite to the usual expectation, and I wasn’t sure what to make of it.

This got me thinking about observations. I think that by altering the way you teach for an observation gives a false picture, and means there is absolutely no point in the observation taking place. But, if you are planning exciting lessons, but are using safe and steady lessons for observations, you are also giving a false picture.

It think the key word we all need to keep in mind, is appropriate. My colleague Mark Miller recently wrote this piece exploring the Ofsted annual report. The evidence he found within is that Ofsted are finally moving towards an approach that recognises that a single one-size-fit all prescribed lesson format is ridiculous. The context of each school is vastly different; the context of each class within a school is also vastly different. Even classes of similar age and ability will have a different context, and what works for a class with one teacher may not with another. It’s all about finding the appropriate lesson for any given class at any given time.

I think that, as professionals, we should be striving to give all our classes the best lesson for them. Making sure the lesson is planned appropriately. The right amount of stretch and challenge. The right sort of activities for the class, and the right seating plan to enable the class to all make the best progress over the course of the year. And that should be the same for all lessons, whether you are being observed by SLT, HOD, Ofsted or no one at all.

Observing, and cross-curricular ideas

July 13, 2013 Leave a comment

This week has been a good one. It’s been the last real teaching week before summer, as next week is ICE week (Immersion Curriculum Enrichment week) which means we are off timetable doing a week of activities around a theme. The theme this time us the environment, and the activities look to be fun. One of my favourite bits about ICE week is the chance to do something different and hone my teaching skills in an unfamiliar situation, but more on that later.

Back to this week. We have had most of our new staff in this week, including one of the new NQTs who I am mentoring. I am looking forward to the role of mentor, and have now informally observed him twice. Already there has been a marked improvement and a response to advice, which is pleasing. I was a bit worried about observing in this capacity but the mock observations project I completed with my PE colleague earlier this year and the ITT student observations I have done definitely helped. I also gained a good insight into my own teaching by observing and there are always bits to pick up.

Also this week I completed a joint observation with my HoD on a colleague who was kind enough to volunteer. Again this was unofficial and the purpose was so she could check my ability to grade and give feedback. This was great, my confidence as an observer was boosted as she picked up on exactly the same positive points and areas for development that I did and we agreed on the grade. I also learned a lot about giving feedback and she gave me some great pointers in that respect.

There were also tons of things from the lesson that I picked up, my favourite being this: During a traffic light show me activity he put three wrong answers up. The majority of the kids chose the nearest one and some assumed they must be wrong. This was a superb discussion point and there was some real good contributions from the class. I was unsure if he had done this on purpose, so asked him afterwards. He said that he had in this instance and often does this because he did it once by accident and the results were great. I think this is a superb idea that I will use myself.

Also in Thursday I observed a new y9 science lesson. A couple of my form were in the class and have been in trouble a bit in science so I went to see how they were and offer assistance if required. The lesson was on penguins (always a winner) and cooling rates and included an experiment where the pupils were simulating the huddles emperor penguins stand in to keep warm. It was good fun and the difficulties some members of the class had with graphing made me think that as a maths department we need to embed this skill better in KS3. It also got my brain flying about cross curricular lessons with science on graphing and I hope to implement those next year.

This is one of three cross curricular projects I have in the pipeline, all of which excited me. The second is with an English colleague (@goldfishbowlMM) and involves looking at “The maths of Shakespeare”, and is very exciting. The third is once that a music colleague has suggested to me and involves trying to help improve the times tables of our pupils using the medium if hip-hop!

With these projects and mentoring an NQT, next year is looking incredibly exciting already!

New timetable, PE, Rugby and a Teachmeet!

June 11, 2013 Leave a comment

Last week was a brilliant week. There were parts of it that were knackering, and tough, but all in all it was a great week.

At our school may half term signals a timetable/year change. The old y11 and y13 stand down on study leave and everyone else moves up a year. We all get a new timetable and we get a half term to work with our new classes before the summer, leaving only new y7s names to learn in september. This year it’s an even bigger change as we’re moving from 6 periods a day to 5!

On the face of it, I’m pretty happy with my new timetable, it’s got an excellent mix of key stages and abilities, although I really loved my old one and my new classes have a lot to live up to! I’ve kept my GCSE group, who I am really enjoying teaching.

Obviously, with no Y7s or y12s, we have lighter timetables and all important “gained time”. I intend to use mine to write a KS5 SoW (part of my new role), and to observe as many teachers as possible to improve my own practice. Last week though, and this week, there is little time for that because we have Old Y11s and 13s in at every opportunity to cram in as much revision as possible!

Teaching wise, I’ve loved the revision and I’ve got off on a good foot with the majority of my classes, which has been good. I’ve also learned most of the new names!

On weds, a colleague from PE asked if I would go and check out his starter, and I stayed to see a very enjoyable lesson on Ultimate Frisbee! He has been trying to add literacy and other cross curricular links into his starters/lessons, and as such had asked me to head down and watch. The starter involved the pupils coming up with things they expected to learn about UF using the letters of the name to be the first letter if each idea, in a similar fashion to an acrostic poem. This worked really well and we got some great answers. He asked if I had any other ideas for him, and I’m working on some but haven’t finished them yet. (Do comment if you have any other ideas!) I loved the starter and the rest of the lesson was superb, showing great examples of chunking, group work, competition and higher order questioning. There were a few ideas I have taken away to integrate into my own lessons!

On Friday I was lucky enough to be able to watch three of our pupils turn out in an U13s match which pitted the best of North Leeds Schools against the best of South Leeds Schools. The match was superb, thoroughly enjoyable. And I watched with immense pride as our three superstars hit tackle after tackle and took drive after drive. It was a close game, and unfortunately we were pipped on the final hooter. But it didn’t matter, the lads did us proud. I was especially pleased to see one lad playing as he hadn’t even considered playing rugby 9 months ago, but after some persuasion from me he joined the school team and now he plays for school, a club and the schools representative team!

If all that excitement wasn’t enough, I attended my very first “Teachmeet” on Saturday, and saw some superb presenters speak on an array of topics. The Teachmeet was English themed, but I managed to keep my mathysness under wraps and got out without taking a beating! There were some great ideas to take away that I could apply to maths, and the ones that were purely English focused were still very enjoyable as I love the subject (but shhhhh, don’t tell the English department! [nb that said, maths is still much better!])

The week was topped off with a Bon Jovi concert(which was awesome). Throw in some cricket, a trip to a Leeds Rhinos match and the lions tour, it’s no wonder I’ve not found time to listen to the exciting new episode of “Wrong,but useful” yet!

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