Coaching, Plateaus and the Power of Lesson Observations in Teaching


Dr. Atul Gawande is a surgeon. During his first eight years he knew he was improving; he saw his surgery complication rates steadily fall and soon he was beating the national average benchmarks. Then his complication rates steadied. He immediately felt his performance had plateaued and the statistics supported this. He wondered, is this what happens at 45 years of age? Is this a surgeon’s peak? Is there a finite limit to my improvement? 

After taking some tennis lessons and instantly improving his game, he thought – I’m quite willing to pay for tennis lessons but not for surgery lessons!

He then did something unconventional.

Dr. Gawande approached a highly respected and retired surgeon and asked him to observe a surgical procedure. The operation went smoothly. Could the observer offer any advice? 

The respected surgeon said he only observed the small things. After the operation he discussed the way Dr. Gawande draped the patient, the position of his right elbow, the position of his feet, the lighting…and the list went on. 

After a 20-minute discussion, Dr. Gawande remarked, “I have more to consider and work on than I’ve had in the past five years”. 

Yes, it had felt strange and awkward having a stranger in the operation. But with an extra set of eyes and ears, and professional advice from a respected colleague, the learnings he took on board enabled his complication rates to reduce further.  

So, let’s ask - are there parallels in teaching?

Lesson observations are in full swing across Australia with NSW mandating that every teacher must have at least two lesson observations undertaken each year. 

itc publications has just completed 15 public workshop throughout NSW in the last month with over 400 school leaders attending. 

Our experience is that lesson observations should be undertaken for the same purpose as that of Dr. Gawande: professional growth. The early feedback is that teachers feel more comfortable when lesson observations are implemented for growth purposes rather than for evaluation. 

The bigger question is whether teachers, or more specifically teachers who feel they had ‘peaked’, feel they are actually teaching better as part of this process?

We’d love to hear your stories from your personal experiences with lesson observations, email us at info@itcpublications.com.au.


Comments (2)

Lesson Observations

28 October 2015
I had a fellow teacher observe me giving a place value lesson for year 2. After the lesson she commented on the connections between interactive whiteboard activity, hands on activity , written work and bringing in prior knowledge of students. We spoke at length about the positives and where to next. She was also taking the activities back to her year 2 class. I was able to observe her lesson on feeling concentrating on "compassion" while a challenging child displayed extreme behaviour. I was able to take away from her lesson ways to deflect challenging behaviour, distract a child while bringing him back to the task and continue working with the entire class. Also taking note of the use of the internet, reading the book, Stone Lion, and class discussion to develop a deep understanding of the feeling "compassion". Overall a successful exercise because we were comfortable with each other and used it as a learning tool and not a negative evaluation process.

Lesson Observations

28 October 2015
I had a fellow teacher observe me giving a place value lesson for year 2. After the lesson she commented on the connections between interactive whiteboard activity, hands on activity , written work and bringing in prior knowledge of students. We spoke at length about the positives and where to next. She was also taking the activities back to her year 2 class. I was able to observe her lesson on feeling concentrating on "compassion" while a challenging child displayed extreme behaviour. I was able to take away from her lesson ways to deflect challenging behaviour, distract a child while bringing him back to the task and continue working with the entire class. Also taking note of the use of the internet, reading the book, Stone Lion, and class discussion to develop a deep understanding of the feeling "compassion". Overall a successful exercise because we were comfortable with each other and used it as a learning tool and not a negative evaluation process.

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