At Michaela, lessons are not graded. Like many schools, we have moved away from the old paradigm of observing teachers once per half term in a high stakes, pre-planned, pay-determining observation, towards a new one.
We have a truly open door policy in which all staff are encouraged to observe each other regularly. We also have a number of visitors each day, so I regularly have people observing from the back of the room. Rather than feeling a bit unnerved by the presence of an observer, I now feel pretty relaxed, like it’s the norm. I don’t feel like I have to perform or change what I’m doing just because someone has walked in. Even when one of the school’s SLT pop in, I don’t feel the pressure to show off.
The other great thing about having an open door policy is that there’s no pressure to spend hours the night before planning the lesson or creating silly bits of paper that only benefit the observer (endless data sheets, colour-coded seating plans, 3 page lesson plan pro formas, and so on).
My most frequent classroom visitor, of course, is Olivia Dyer, my Head of Department. She pops in perhaps three or four times a week- perhaps for 10 minutes, perhaps for the whole lesson- and fires through a quick feedback email straight away.
The main purpose of lesson feedback at Michaela is twofold: first, it needs to be immediately actionable. I should be able to read the email in a couple of minutes over break, perhaps, and then implement it straight away in the next lesson. If I can’t get to the email until the end of the day, I want to improve quickly, I do try to read it as soon as possible. Secondly, lesson feedback aims to help all teachers hone their practice, and most importantly, become more ‘Michaela’.
At Michaela, we believe in ‘rowing together’. We value consistency and want all our pupils to get a similar experience across the board. Critics might argue that such an approach is too rigid, that it prevents teachers’ individualities from coming across in lessons. This is a misconception, I think. Teachers’ personalities are still able to shine through. When I go to see Mike Taylor or Hin-Tai Ting teach, I see many of the same features (kids encouraged to put their hands up, books given out in 10 seconds, teacher saying ‘321 SLANT’, etc.), but their respective personalities are different, and their relationships with the kids can flourish as a result. In many ways, the fact that we get teachers to align on the things the mechanics of the lesson means that teachers are free to be themselves and build relationships.
We also accept that there may be differences between departments. So Science lesson feedback will probably have different emphases to that of a History lesson for example. The differences might be quite small, such as ‘when explaining the experiment, hold the beaker higher up so the kids can see it at the back’- clearly, that sort of thing won’t come up in History, but tailored feedback on the teaching of historical paragraph writing will at some point. But because the general principles are the same across the board, subject-specific differences don’t undermine the overarching philosophy of consistency.
Observers provide helpful, concise, immediately actionable feedback that supports teachers to improve.
Here is an example of a lesson feedback email:
Thanks for having me in again today.
A couple of tiny, quick fix things!
- Only ever write on the board in black, other colours are really hard to read
- It’s always ‘3, 2, 1, SLANT’, not ‘3, 2, SLANT’
Some bits of feedback to think about:
1) Pace. You need to ensure absolutely no downtime in the lesson. You should aim for the kids to always be actively listening, tracking, thinking and working. Figure out ways of logging merits, etc. quickly so it doesn’t interrupt the pace of the lesson. I like to give the kids a piece of paper and get them to write down merits and demerits – that means you can just get on with teaching.
2) Sharpen the timing of sanctions, and always frame them positively. “Sammy*, we SLANT perfectly so that we’re 100% focused at all times, so I’m giving you a demerit to remind you to SLANT really well at all times, thank you.” You don’t always need to seek understanding from the kids, but if they have any kind of negative reaction, give them a second DM. They’ll get the message! Make sure if you’re giving a second DM that you tell the kids it’s a detention – I think you gave Sammy 2 DMs but didn’t say ‘that’s a detention’. Also, pre-empt further demerits by saying something like “remember guys, a demerit is half-way to a detention, and it’d be a real shame for you to miss your lunchbreak or go home later than your friends.”
3) Radar. Your use of silent reminders and getting them to practise routines is great; now, you need to practise having your eyes on every child every minute. This will take time to develop, but when you’re delivering from the front, try and scan the room as much as possible to pick up distractions. Stand up on your tiptoes and look round the room like a meerkat so the kids know you’re watching them.
Keen to learn more about Michaela? Read our book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers, available here.
If you’re keen to learn more about how we resource our lessons, why not join us for a Summer Project this year? More information here.