Preparing for a lesson observation can be an anxiety-inducing experience for many teachers. However, with proper planning, support, and organisation, it can also be a valuable opportunity for professional growth and development.

In writing this article I initially wrote down a long list of “dos” and “do nots”. I quickly realised that this approach was somewhat flawed, in that much will be dictated by the individual reader’s stage of development, and the priorities and culture of the school they work in. Therefore, I offer instead a guide to being as ready as you can be!

Agreeing the priorities

The very nature of the observation will vary from school to school, however, when you cut through it all, one commonality emerges – what is the key area you need to develop? This should be discussed with your line manager and agreed in line with the protocols of your school. Some schools may wish you to focus on two or three areas, but if the choice is yours, agree on a single focus, and work on that focus until mastered before moving on. (This is not to say that other areas cannot provide opportunities for insights.) Examples of these foci include:

Note that these are framed as the “what” (e.g. questioning) and the “what for” (e.g. to deepen discussion). This will help keep the focus razor-sharp and purposeful.

Agreeing the lesson observation time and date

Again, depending on the protocols of your school, you may have a lot or very little say in selecting your lesson. If you do have an input, think about this carefully. The choice of lesson can be the difference between a tick-box experience and an incredibly valuable one. Hopefully you have the confidence to embrace a class you are having difficulties with for your observation, so that you can get the support and guidance on the focus for improvement. If permitted, try to get three days to a full weeks’ notice so you have plenty of time to prepare. Last-minute observations can be anxiety-inducing and serve limited purpose in terms of school improvement.

Students putting their hands up to answer a question in class.

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Deciding what to teach and how to teach it

This is easy! Teach whatever you planned to in the first place, in the way you planned to teach it! The observation process should look at the typicality of teaching in your classroom. One-off performance lessons provide no meaningful basis for individual and whole school improvement. Teachers and leaders should be working together, with integrity and honesty, to improve teaching and learning for the betterment of the pupils in the classroom. Therefore, I feel it is vital that observations are completed in line with the expected curriculum and your everyday approach to that class.

Planning for the lesson observation

As with any lesson you must consider the needs of your pupils. Consider the following:

Secondary school teacher providing one-on-one support to a pupil.

My school does not require a specific lesson plan for lesson observations; however, many schools still do, and I for one think they can be a great tool for two reasons:

  1. Preparing a plan allows you to map out the flow of your lesson and potentially predict any areas of difficulty in advance. It allows you to think and plan for questioning, transitions, and timings.
  2. Having a plan printed and ready for your observer provides them with a clear view of what you intended to happen. As we know, lessons tend to deviate from said plans! If the observation is for half the lesson, it also provides a takeaway for the observer so they can get an idea of what went before and what is to follow.

The lesson plan itself will largely depend on the protocols of your school, however, a simple timeline or PowerPoint printout in note form will suffice! An all singing and all dancing word document listing every single event and possibility is a potential drain of your valuable time! Be careful!

It’s all about you!

Lesson observations should be first and foremost about developing you, the teacher! Embrace the opportunity and treat feedback as a gift. Remember, it’s not about being perfect for one lesson, but about providing a high standard to your pupils over a sustained period.

Best of luck!

Whilst working with students with a range of special needs, almost all of them thought they weren’t very good readers. ‘Why?’ I would enquire, then point out all the progress they had made and how pleased myself and the Teaching Assistant were with them.

Try as I might, I could not convince any of them that they were…good.

Why was their self-esteem so low? Why was their confidence so shaky? The data I had collected over the years had shown steady improvement in reading comprehension, understanding of vocabulary and reading age. Empirically, the class had made great strides forward yet they still regarded themselves as poor readers. Was this the subconscious stigma of being in a special school setting? Lack of validation from others? Something else?

The school had been working on diversity. Taking pride in ourselves, what makes us individuals and how all these different parts come together to make the rich tapestry we call life. Pride. That was the key word. I had to make my students proud of their reading achievements. But how?

I decided that it all came down to audience. Reading as a shared, joyful and meaningful experience. No more individual reading now. Reading would be a dialogue, a celebration, an interactive ecstasy of experience.

A pile of children's books.

Initially we decided to explore the books that inspired the students in the first place. What books did they remember first enjoying reading? Why did they enjoy them? What made them memorable?

A whole host of texts were suggested, from ‘The Cat in the Hat’ to ‘The Wonky Donkey’, from ‘Peace at Last’ to ‘Funnybones’. Each student mentioned two or three texts they loved reading and fuelled their imaginations.

A number of these texts were available in the school library. I pretended that I hadn’t heard of one or two and went to pick them up to share with the class. ‘Yes, that’s the one! Read it – you’ll love it! Wait for this, it’s great!’ went the response when I showed a text to the class.

I looked around. These 15 and 16 year olds were waiting, with bated breath, for a slice of something familiar, something nostalgic and something they all knew and loved. Like an old pair of trainers that fit…just right.

That’s not what I gave them. In my best monotone I delivered the text. The faces changed. Quizzical. Disappointed. Outraged.

‘No, no no. The voices!’
‘The voices?’ I replied, bemused.
‘Yes! That’s the way to read it. With voices!’

Feigning ignorance, I was so pleased when the champion of this text bustled forwards, snatched it out of my hands and began to read. With voices.

The class was rapt. This person had remembered the intonation, the timing, the exact method by which this book had been brought alive. An unsolicited round of applause. A nervous smile followed by the book being thrust back into my hands.

‘That’s how you do it.’

Well. I couldn’t disagree. The book which had been Lazarus-like in my hands was now full of life.

A teacher reading to a group of school students.

‘Right,’ I said, taking up the challenge and another text, ‘so this is how you do it.’
Again, I left myself open to challenge and was rebuked. ‘Wrong voice. That’s too young!’
‘Show me how then.’ Again I was put right.

After other examples and all of the class offering opinions and advice I stopped. ‘So. What makes these books good?’ I questioned. ‘Is it the way the words are put together? Are they all funny? Is it the pictures?

Eventually we got there. ‘It’s the way you read them.’
‘So why didn’t you like it when I read them?’
‘You didn’t read it right.’
‘And to read it right, you need to be a…good reader?’
‘So you read it right?’
‘So, you must be…good readers?’

The penny dropped. They were good readers and they knew how to spread the love and enjoyment of that book.

Armed with this new self-realisation and sheen of self-esteem I suggested the next step.  Pairing students from years 7, 8, 9 and even 10 to read together. To share their love of books.

Not everyone was keen or confident. We needed a plan.

I supplied the class with a list of students from lower years. All had been identified as needing support in reading from their class teacher. The students picked their partner. The students picked the texts they would share. The students picked the time they would work together (they decided on first thing in the morning, which made sense to me). The students owned the project.

Two male teenagers reading together and smiling.

We got together – a throng of young people in a classroom only usually for ten or eleven students at most. The energy was palpable. We played language games, throwing a sponge football to each other. We shared jokes and giggles. We broke the ice.

A week after the initial orientation activities we got down to business. Sharing stories, read the right way to students who thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Once delivered, the younger partner would read the story back with, very often, the same intonation and understanding.

We are still enjoying the project, three times a week. Without fail. I can see the self-esteem and the love of reading grow. We recently asked some of the students if they wanted to ‘show off’ their reading to other staff, support staff (office and cleaners) and senior leaders. Almost all wanted to do this. The experience was wonderful, and I am sure that if Ofsted want to read with any of these students they will really enjoy it. Student voice was really positive about the scheme.

I am looking forward to seeing the empirical data too!