Observing Lessons & Giving Feedback Effectively is Crucial! So Why Do We Get It So Wrong?

by Annie Boate

Observing Lessons & Giving Feedback Effectively is Crucial! So Why Do We Get It So Wrong?

Many schools have delayed their normal process of observing lessons and giving feedback during these strange times – and rightly so. The focus has had to be solely on staff and pupil wellbeing.

Now that schools have settled into their ‘new abnormal’ in the first half of the autumn term, the focus is now shifting towards school improvement, particularly in terms of improving teaching and learning. One of the questions that high-performing Headteachers constantly ask themselves is, “How do I know what the quality of X is in my school?” This is particularly true for the quality of teaching & learning.

Covid has forced us all to do things differently in schools. And before we pick up where we left off in relation to lesson observations, now is the perfect time for schools to re-assess how we carry out lesson observations and give feedback. It’s something that happens in every school – and something we dedicate a significant amount of school time to. So, it should be a major driver for improving teaching & learning, and pupil outcomes. And our observation and feedback system should provide SLT with the information they need to drive improvements even further.

If we’re really honest though, how much impact does our current lesson observation process really have on improving classroom practice and accelerating learning across the school on a continuous basis?  

We expect staff who are responsible for developing others to observe them and give feedback on their performance. The expectation is that this will improve staff performance and lead to better outcomes for the children in our schools. And that’s exactly what it should do…

The reality is, staff are usually expected to carry out this crucial responsibility with little or no training – and because of that, they find this part of their role a huge challenge.

Research shows that most staff find observing others and giving feedback stressful – especially if they have to give ‘difficult’ messages. They’re not always sure what to look for in an observation, how best to analyse and capture what they see, and how best to feed their findings back to the member of staff being observed. In fact, they end up dreading the whole process!

At the same time, staff being observed too often report that their observation feedback leaves them feeling judged, frustrated, de-skilled and disempowered. They describe the whole process as being “done to them”, not “done with them.”  Because of that, they end up dreading it too!

As a result, staff receiving feedback sometimes become defensive, challenge the observer’s evaluation of their performance, and go away feeling angry, upset, demoralised and/or demotivated. Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t lead to an improvement in their performance.

To make matters worse, giving feedback can be time-consuming, with little impact on performance, and no positive impact on pupil outcomes. So even if you spend an hour giving very detailed feedback, it doesn’t guarantee improvement! Too often, little changes as a result of the observation and feedback – even though observers have pointed out exactly what’s wrong and how to fix it! They just don’t understand why things aren’t improving.

There’s often no consistent approach to observing and giving feedback across the school either, let alone across a group of schools in a MAT. So the whole process can be variable, with the quality and the outcomes depending heavily on the innate skills of the observer! And that leaves SLT with no consistent, dependable picture of the quality of teaching & learning across the school.

Obviously, none of the above problems are going to fix themselves, or lead to an improvement in teaching & learning so it’s important to deal with them now.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way…

…Find out how to secure an observation and feedback system that really works in our next article.

>> Click here to read it now!

Monica Austin

(Recently-retired Headteacher & Coachinginschools Accredited Trainer)