Observations on Observations

WE would like to offer our sympathies to all those hard-working teachers who have recently had to endure an observation grilling.

telling off

As a result WE have put together a list of reasons why observations, at least in their current form, make little sense:

1. They lack objectivity because objectivity is unattainable. The mere selection of criteria with which to judge a lesson reflects bias. Managers will argue that they are only following the criteria and it is the same for everyone but humans do NOT interpret things in the same way (is the glass half-empty, half-full?!) and this will be reflected in observations. Managers who say this are kidding themselves or are hiding behind them.

2. There is no proof that any particular teaching style is more effective than any other. There is anecdotal evidence but nothing compared to the hard science of splitting the atom. What we are left with are hunches and fashions. It is then your right as a teacher to do WHATEVER you like. Rote learning or group chanting, no-one has the normative right to tell you it is wrong. They only have institutional authority.

3. Similarly, the whole notion of learning is still controversial. Recently, Ofsted have peddled the belief that “learning = task completion” whereas in the past learning was all about creativity. Again, there is no categorical proof that learning is what we think it is. Currently, context and situation are seen as key components in learning. This is not reflected AT ALL in Ofsted’s notion of a good lesson.

4. You have a PGCE or such like. If your grades are low, what have they been teaching you on the course?

5. Observations can be rigged. You can teach the same lesson every time. You can have others plan the lesson for you.

6. They upset people. What good is a system that demotivates and demoralises?

7. If managers are also observing then this adds to suspicions of bias. If the manager likes someone then this ‘halo effect’ will be reflected in their grades and vice versa.

8. It damages relationships between staff by creating false divisions. Those who are graded high and those who aren’t.

9. If it is developmental, then why not have them every week? Too busy? No faith in them?

The solutions are to remove the institution from the process by having peers observe each other without grades and without the potential for punishment. The Edumonolith doesn’t want this a) because it means relinquishing control and b) it could to them losing their jobs.

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