For my love of going into other people’s classrooms, I always feel a sense of dread when it comes time to do the formal observations. There’s always a tendency to ‘put on a show’ rather than just ‘do your thing.’
I’m wondering why that is.
Fear of stuffing up – those lesson plans I’ve made almost always end up being stuffed up by an expected curve ball. Technology that always works sometimes doesn’t. A kid is having a moment. You get tongue-tied.
Fear of negative judgement – Teaching is a deeply personal activity and one that requires huge amounts of emotional investment if you are doing the job right. Putting yourself out there opens yourself up to the risk that someone might not like what you are doing requires strength.
I’ve been in schools where observations just happened, a senior leader would plonk themselves in the room unannounced and see what is going on.
I’ve also been in schools where observations are pre-organised.
I actually prefer the former. If observations are pre-planned there’s a tendency to show off the best aspects of your practice and hide away the faults. However without taking time to look honestly at your faults you are never going to improve.
However without a strong relationship between the person giving feedback and the person receiving feedback, the process becomes one of fear.
This is a voluntary pairing. We learn better from different people. Instead of being assigned a coach, a more productive learning relationship will occur when there is choice.
This isn’t a one time thing Often observations are infrequent which makes them a BIG DEAL. Small infrequent observations lesson the stakes and improve the opportunities for small incremental change.
Honesty and trust – First thing I was taught in teacher’s college was that without an effective relationship, learning won’t occur. Honest requires trust. You can see there was a strong pre-established relationship between the two coach and coachee that lead to honest conversations about practice and changes in learning as a result.