It’s the lesson that is important
Make lesson observations part of the teacher evaluation process should focus on promoting better teaching and learning rather than appraising teachers
The recent recommendation of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership to make lesson observations part of the teacher evaluation process should focus on promoting better teaching and learning rather than appraising teachers, says ITC Publications co-director Gerard Alford.
He says teachers and school leaders required high-level training in lesson observations to support AITSL’s new national education framework, to be implemented in schools nationally from 2013. ITC develops resources and professional development programs to help teachers and schools promote effective teaching and learning.
The federal government’s Australian Teacher Performance and Development Framework outlines a nationally consistent approach to teacher performance and development, including classroom visits to observe teachers in action and subsequent performance appraisals. “Using lesson observations for teacher evaluations per se focuses on the wrong issue,” Alford says. “Rather, lesson observations should be the catalyst for schools to examine their current pedagogical goals with the aim of using lesson observations to meet these goals.”
Alford says it is pleasing that state ministers have agreed that visiting classrooms and providing feedback to teachers on their teaching approach is vital for professional development.
“The classroom is a very closed and private space by its architectural nature so it’s important that we open our classrooms and invite other teachers and educators to observe teaching in action,” he says. “This is how best to share effective and innovative ideas, strategies and approaches to pedagogical teaching. There are brilliant teachers at every school, so let’s provide opportunities for their colleagues to see them in action.”
However, Alford warns that the majority of teachers and school leaders feel awkward about entering their colleagues’ classrooms. For lesson observations to succeed, clear, mutually agreed guidelines must be observed from the outset. “We have delivered workshops on classroom walk-throughs (CWTs) and lesson observations to over 300 school leaders in recent weeks and it’s obvious they appreciate a clear set of guidelines to assist them to feel more at ease with entering classrooms,” he says. “Our experience tells us that school leaders require training to confidently perform observations of their colleagues. For the new framework to be successful, teachers and school leaders must gain the skills to gaher quantitative feedback and provide this data to the relevant teacher with the aim of improving their pedagogy.”
Alford says there are numerous teaching and learning frameworks to assist schools, including the quality teaching framework, explicit instruction and principles of learning and teaching.
“Once schools decide on a teaching and learning framework, the role of lesson observations becomes clear: how can we assist teachers to meet the standards of this framework? If, for example, one of the agreed set of standards in a lesson observation is ‘using strategies to foster imagination and creativity’, then what feedback can be provided to a teacher to improve this? Is any further professional development required in this area? Professional development should be the focus – not teacher scorecard ratings,” he says.
Alford says the new framework’s proposal to appraise teachers on their classroom performance was likely to breed fear rather than boost professional development. “It is important that teacher performance is not rated with a scorecard system as the federal government’s framework suggests,” Alford says. “Lesson observations are most powerful when the learning – rather than the teaching – is observed.
“True lesson observations should involve collecting data and then providing this feedback to share amongst teachers with the goal of improving pedagogy in the classroom; it shouldn’t be about evaluating and assessing performance to catch teachers out. As soon as you evaluate teachers’ performance, you breed mistrust and fear, rather than a collaborative and positive environment for professional development.”
Alford notes that ITC’s lesson observation training encourages the use of the GROWTH acronym in a supportive and non-judgmental environment:
G: Gather the data.
R: Relate it to the school-wide pedagogical framework.
W: Warmth of discussion.
T: Target future growth.
H: Honour the experts of teaching in the school.
“This acronym says it all – true teacher observation is about growth rather than judgment and threats,” Alford said.
Lesson observers and teachers need to feel safe and collegial. If done well, there will be all-round growth in the school.
G: Gather the data. Clearly state what you plan to observe. For example: what data will you be collecting? Discuss this with the teacher beforehand and reach agreement. Recognise the teacher’s position and status.
R: Relate it to school-wide pedagogical framework and what the school is striving towards in order to make a significant difference to student outcome. Consider educational research, e.g., higher-order thinking, co-operative learning, HOM, QTM or EIM.
O: Observe the lesson and the learner (4-6 learners), not the teacher. What are the students doing, saying (writing) and discussing. There should be no hidden agendas. The teachers need assurance that it is about the students, not about them.
W: Warmth of discussion. Immediately after the lesson, discuss the data you collected with the teacher. Do not attempt to evaluate the lesson. Discuss what really helped the learners.
T: Target future growth. Both parties should reflect on the lesson within 48 hours and suggest professional development ideas. Teachers have the autonomy to suggest their own professional development program.
H: Honour the giants of teaching in the school. Use the Don Bradmans and Evonne Cawleys along with school leaders. Focus on encouraging trust. The observers should be people who are respected and trusted by their colleagues.
The AITSL website is at: www.aitsl.edu.au