Fake Headteacher: Lesson Observations – Newsletter No.5

Dear Staff,

We have finally made it to the end of half term. Thank you your hard work completing the data analysis, completing your marking, staying late for parents evening and running parent workshops. I realise that lesson observations and learning walks didn’t do anything to ease your workload but that’s just the way it goes. I need to make sure you are still good teachers. 

By completing learning walks and formal lesson observations I will be able to decide who needs coaching this year. I have to protect myself because if Ofsted happen to see a poor lesson, I can tell them that I have already put in place an action plan for you. I know you are good teachers most of the time but I can’t afford to be caught out.

In nearly all of the lessons I observed I couldn’t help notice how untidy your working walls were. I appreciate that schools have moved away from static displays that used to look gorgeous, full of interactive questions and stimuli to engage the children, but you must now update your working walls regularly; every day if possible. They should look funky, slightly off centre and with nothing backed to show how cool and hip we are – to really prove that the working wall really is work in progress. Don’t even think about using a staple gun – blu-tack or pin everything! 

Everyone started their working walls off well but as the term’s workload has increased, you have appeared to have added less and less. Sometimes they look unfinished or even out of date by two weeks. Please update them after school as much as you can. You can always mark your books and plan your lessons at home.

Remember, I only wanted to see a typical ‘day to day’ lesson. This gives me a good picture of how you teach. However, for those of you who surprised me with a ‘one off-special lesson,’ I was really impressed. I appreciate this was playing the ‘lesson observation game’ and the lesson had no bearing to the rest of your week but it was worth it. For those of you who did as I asked and taught a lesson based on careful daily observations of the children, made good use of assessment for learning and daily re-grouping of children, I wasn’t as pleased. Your lessons weren’t quite as snappy and heavily resourced which was a shame. You probably wanted to show yourself in a normal situation. You are probably more confident as a teacher and did not feel the need to rely on a ‘special one off ‘ lesson to impress me. Perhaps I should demand that no one teaches ‘one off lessons’ for observations because they don’t reflect your day to day teaching. I still want to see a normal lesson. Confused? 

If I was still allowed to give lesson grades, I would certainly give outstanding to those of you who were up until three in the morning every night this week preparing for your ‘one off lesson.’ I appreciate this appears to reward teachers who prioritise school over their health and important family time but that’s just how it is. To be good or better, I always reward the all singing and dancing lessons even though I know these lessons are not typical. I know this sends the wrong message to some of you but that’s just how I see it. I also tell people I only want to see normal lessons. Still confused? 

I apologise for missing the first ten minutes of some lessons. I was held up in the office. I hope you didn’t spend too long preparing your snappy starter to ‘wow’ the children and to engage them in your lesson. I appreciate this part of your lesson is where you feel more confident because it looks good and shows off your positive personality. Sorry. Similarly, I had to leave earlier than anticipated during other lessons. Sorry. I hope you didn’t spend hours preparing your lesson. I always try to stay the whole hour out of respect and to show an interest in your teaching methods. After all, they do form part of your formal professional appraisal. I hope I saw the best parts of your lessons before I left?

Please make sure the children can regurgitate the exact learning objective. Children must know what they are learning about. If they can’t tell me ‘word for word’ the learning objective, they are clearly not learning anything. For example, in one class children were happily playing in the role play shop where they had to add up small amounts of money and give change. When I asked the Year 2 children what they were learning about, they replied, ‘we are learning how to play shops’. As a result, the teacher has now been offered extra coaching from another teacher from another school. I know we have many good teachers in our own school that could easily offer informal mentoring – which would stop the embarrassment of having a coach publicly visit them each week, but it seems quite fashionable to have ‘coaches’ at the moment. The shop lesson would have been excellent other than that. It was a shame the children didn’t know what they were learning about.

On the plus side, I enjoyed spending time with many different groups. I hope this didn’t affect your lessons too much. I realised afterwards, when I read one plan properly, the group I sat with was going to be working with the TA. I am sorry about that. Perhaps I should just sit back more and observe the lesson so that you can approach any table without thinking ‘oh no, she has sat with that group. I better go to another group’. You know me, I always seem to pick the wrong child or group to sit with and then judge your lesson on their responses.

Many of you have expressed concerns that you have had fantastic feedback for delivering the same lessons in your previous schools but rarely receive any positive feedback from me. That’s because every school is different regardless of the children’s learning. Most head teachers have a particular way they want you to teach and if you don’t follow their personal philosophies you won’t do very well. It’s probably not fair on so many levels but that’s just how it is. For example, I prefer to see an overuse of lolly sticks for questioning. If you don’t use them your feedback will suffer. I also like the learning objective shared right at the beginning even if it means the anticipation of the lesson and the ‘discovered’ learning is ruined. I also like plenty of mini plenaries. I don’t know why but it seems to be quite fashionable. Also, please refer to your working wall just to highlight how up to date it is. I like children in their seats at all times so I can easily track how the different abilities are doing. If you insist on doing drama or exciting maths lessons where the children are engaged and having fun away from their desk, please do so for just a few minutes. I don’t know the children very well so I won’t be fully aware of how you are extending their learning.

Wouldn’t it be great if I made my personal teaching philosophies transparent to you so you knew how to get better feedback? If teachers knew what I prefer to see, then I am sure they would produce better lessons. Two of our younger teachers are beginning to understand this and they have nearly sussed out how to please me. For those of you who have been teaching at my school for some time, you already know how to pull the perfect lesson out of the bag. That’s why you stay? How would your teaching be assessed if you moved school? I am looking for consistency across the school so please don’t teach lessons you know might upset me even though another head thought you were amazing delivering in this manner. It shouldn’t matter but it does.

Finally, it is no surprise that teachers with smaller classes with fewer behaviour problems did very well. For those of you with very challenging classes, who had to work extra hard to find the lesson that would engage your class but not send them loopy with excitement, hard luck. Your lessons didn’t look quite as good because I didn’t take any of the above into consideration. For example, in one Year 5 lesson I observed, the children stayed in their seats the whole time and produced some work. They were a little chatty but overall, there was a pleasant atmosphere. I appreciate the same class is regularly disrupted by certain individuals who think it’s amusing to throw objects around, swear at each and rarely complete the work. The class are renowned for their poor behaviour. But, I still wasn’t able to say it was a good lesson because they couldn’t tell me what they were learning and they hadn’t written enough for a typical Year 5 class – despite the obvious improvement in their behaviour. Sorry.

Thank you again for allowing me to spend time in your classes this week. There were some real positives that you should be proud of. I will let you know what they are at some point. Have a great half term and don’t work too hard. I will try not to email you too often.

Fake Headteacher

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