Sunday, 30 September 2012

Anatomy of an outstanding lesson.

Well, tough there isn’t one. This is a lesson I learnt as a Head Teacher.

Whilst  school leaders are expected  to be able to  recognise  one when they see it, many schools end up weighing the pig, sometimes weighing it to death in an effort to judge  quality of teaching and learning in classrooms accurately forgetting that frequent weighing of the pig will not make it any heavier. Planned weighing though could help improve arrangements for its diet which would help it grow heavier in time. This goes into the school improvement plan contributed to by all staff.

The point of weighing lessons known popularly as lesson observations is to improve students’ learning and our key indicators for this are: progress in children’s work, teacher’s assessment and progress during lessons, it goes without saying that using one lesson observation to ascertain this could prove misleading. Pupils’ progress must be over time not one made in a single 30 minute observation with a showy teacher who knows how to pull all the stops to pull a rabbit out of the hat. Thankfully most school leaders and others who hold teachers to account know this. I learnt very early on in my career years ago that an inspector within 3 minutes of entering your class can judge these factors accurately.

As school leaders go, I have not deviated from this astute observation skill when visiting classes. Actually this method puts less on teachers as it supports coaching through which discussions rather than judgements take place putting the teacher at ease and to feel more supported and trusted by school leadership; it goes without saying that everyone performs better without a whip on their back. A system I introduced to my staff was lesson study comprising a triad of teachers who plan together, support each other during delivery period of those sequences of lessons including taking it in turn to observe each other’s lessons and discussing strengths and an agreed area for improvement. Teachers engage in coaching and peer observations continually with this system which incidentally also ensure each one’s PD when they take different roles in the team. My only involvement was individual teachers letting me know what target they would like to work on as part of their PM arrangement. It is rewarding to see the resulting team work and most important of all, improvements in practice and students’ progress.  Read more about lesson study here: 

Back to what are the key features of outstanding lessons, the answer should lie in what progress the students are making. Outstanding progress only results from outstanding lessons from all across the school.  It is important to point out here that this does not just happen and some of the following aspects of practice must have been embedded in school practice:

·        The classroom is lively and interesting
·        Students support each other and are very keen to improve their own individual skills
·        They assess self, others, own  and others’ work
·        Students are challenged and enjoy lessons
·        Teacher develops students’ basic skills in the core subjects in across curricular ways
·        Teacher’s assessment of students needs  is accurate and ongoing
·        Teacher displays students’ work from all abilities along with annotated levelled ones
·        Teacher uses innovative teaching methods which take students’ learning to a new dimension on thinking level.

Seeing these features in a lesson will not take more than three minutes once one steps into a classroom, hence the saying that an inspector can form accurate judgement of the quality of teaching and learning in that period, particularly when applying the litmus test of ‘Is there a real relationship between students and teacher in this classroom?’ If yes, the lesson does not always have to be perfect to be outstanding, we can all have our off days.   

Anyhow, outstanding teachers know they are outstanding from the results they achieve with the students. It is a good idea to bear the following point in mind  ‘I am as good as the level my students reach.’ This is a motivating statement which always comes in handy when all the chips are down and one needs some reassurance.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are entirely mine and do not claim to represent the views of other practitioners.

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