Ensuring the highest standard of teaching in our schools is a vital part of the headteacher’s role.
Lesson observations and learning walks are part and parcel of the school calendar and nothing fills a headteacher’s heart with joy quite like seeing a great, effective lesson.
But what do you do when you spot some ineffective teaching practices? Here are seven things that work for me:
1 | Agree on a focus before you observe
Ask the teacher what they are working on right now that they’d like your help with? This sets a culture of continual self-improvement. In this context, improving your teaching is not seen as a weakness but rather a requirement in your evolving, dynamic school.
2 | Assume the best of people
Most people want to do a good job so they won’t deliberately be doing things badly. Usually, they just don’t know what they don’t know. Using neutral expressions like, “I’ve seen X strategy work well in this situation.” keeps the post-observation dialogue non-judgemental and productive.
3 | Know your audience
Many staff tell me that they just want to be told what to do to improve – a give-it-to-me-straight approach and aren’t offended when you point it out. But some staff prefer a coaching approach that facilitates them coming to answers themselves, with your help. This is less threatening to them. If the end result is the same, it doesn’t matter how you get them there, but knowing which style to use with which teacher can save a lot of time and heartache.
4 | Keep advice practical
Generic advice like, “You need to improve your behaviour management skills.” is not actionable. Be specific about what was not effective, why and agree on some different techniques to try. I suggest staff go see a colleague to see practices in action and if I can, I go with them so we can further discuss what we see.
5 | Prioritise and don’t overwhelm
When you see several ineffective things in a lesson it can be tempting to want to instant-fix it all but teachers can be overwhelmed by having too many things to work on at once. Instead, focus on what’s most important. Shift attention to the next area for improvement when the first one has been secured.
6 | Whole school focus
Having a focus for all staff to work on can be powerful in building a culture of continual improvement. Staff can support each other, even creating peer coaching triads. This depersonalises the process of improving teaching, allowing staff to grow and develop without feeling that they are coming from a place of personal underperformance.
7 | Regular Professional Development
Our weekly staff meetings are dedicated to professional development. We discuss and explore specific teaching and learning practices. Almost all sessions are run by our own staff because we know our children, our context and needs better than an external provider. I give out reading and research material to ensure we’re using evidence informed approaches. After observations, I collate effective practices I have seen which we then discuss together. We unpick why a particular technique works and whether it would work in all subjects and age ranges. Through this process, we’re building up a bank of routines and practices that work for us, which are shared with new colleagues.
Emma Meadus is headteacher at Coppice Valley Primary School, Harrogate.