Putting Coaching and Mentoring into Lesson Observations – Graham Chisnall

Finding a fully effective style for feedback from lesson observation that provides a sound framework for impact on pupil progress but also individual development has, to some, seemed a ‘holy grail’ mission for the teaching profession. Here Graham Chisnall, CEO at Veritas Academy Trust sets out an approach that appears to achieve exactly that.

We have become very used to the formal observation visit.  Senior staff flying into a lesson and making a critical judgment on the quality of teaching and learning based on OFSTED criteria.  Although there is a place for enabling staff to pitch their practice in line with current OFSTED expectations this may not be the best developmental model to improve the quality of teaching and learning.

After an interesting discussion during our staff meeting about the role of subject leadership in critiquing the quality of teaching and learning and reflecting on the recent OFSTED inspection where feedback was devoid of judgment grades;  we asked the question of the teaching staff, “Would you prefer to have feedback without grades?”  While teachers recognise the need for managers to clearly state where practice falls short of current expectations, their response was that they would value developmental feedback on practice rather than focus on the judgment of a grade.

Looking at research undertaken by UKEd Chat on observations without judgment I have adapted a review form called the 5 Minute Feedback Form.  This is used by teachers to undertake a personal feedback on their practice observed by managers and colleagues prior to the feedback meeting. Here is an example of the form devised by @shaun_allison & @TeacherToolkit published on the UKEd Chat site that inspired me.

If we are to make our lesson observations both developmental and maintain the critique and challenge we all need in order to keep our pegdagogical practice sharp, we need to also draw upon the skills of our senior staff in Mentor-Coaching.  Mentor-Coaching allows the space for staff to think through their own practice and use this to form personal targets for development.  With this in mind the following programme will take place in Term 6 for the forthcoming lesson observations:

  1. Meet with your observer for a mentor-coach conversation to ascertain a key personal target
  2. Arrange a lesson that will enable this personal target to be observed.  This will enable the teacher to develop initial strategies to improve on their chosen area.
  3. Undertake a lesson observation.
  4. Teacher completes the Lesson Review form.
  5. Meet with the observer to review the lesson, led by the teacher’s comments in the Lesson Review Form.
  6. Define development priorities, timescales for completion and CPD needs.

This process, if undertaken well, leads to a deeper conversation between observer and teacher and lead to observations focusing on development rather judgment.

 

Research

The initial meeting took place with the teacher and mentor.  The mentor asked the teacher to talk through elements of their practice in which they were particularly confident, proud or pleased with.  As with many teachers, ‘blowing ones own trombone’ is not something we are comfortable with.  Time was given for this and mentor-coaching skills used to allow space and silence while thinking of the strengths in practice.  The teacher spoke about elements of learning that had worked well this year.

The teacher was then asked to reflect on an area of their practice that they felt less confident.  This led to a further question relating to which subjects they would place at their preferred end of a continuum and which they would place at the less preferred end.

The teacher felt very confident with their literacy and spoke enthusiastically about developing learning through story. This love for story was echoed in their topic work with history and geography.  When questioned further, the teacher spoke about the prevalence of literacy skills across the curriculum compared to the opportunities for cross-curricular number work.  We then decided together that it may be interesting to observe the teacher building in an opportunity to develop mathematical understanding in a foundation subject using a story. This used the teacher’s passion for story while developing areas of the curriculum she had fewer opportunities for developing numeracy skills.

The teacher was then given the 5 Minute Lesson Review proforma and asked to complete the ‘My Personal Target’ section and arrange a suitable time for the observation. I adapted the 5 minute Lesson Review form and included prompts to guide the teacher.

 

 

The Observation

The mentor (yours truly) arrived in the class without a clipboard.  I felt more connected to the lesson as I was a participant rather than simply an observer.  The Learning Ambassador, six year old Jessica, came over to welcome me to the room and explain what the class were learning about (Reference: The Perfect Ofsted, thank you again Jackie Beere!). Then the lesson began in earnest.

The teacher had planned a lesson that developed the understanding of ordinal numbers and the correct spelling of these numbers with a mathematical problem solving activity linked to The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch story.  The connections and threads were everywhere.  The learning was exciting and relevant to the children, the story enabled children to see the purpose in the problem solving activity.  The resourcing of the lesson was such that it encouraged children to work collaboratively on the problem.

My role as mentor was very different to more formal lesson observations.  There were times when I spotted a dynamic that would move learning on, rather than sitting and tutting with my pen in hand and chastising the teacher as they missed an opportunity for learning; I jumped up and became part of the lesson as coach.  I could see an opportunity for the teaching assistant to model questions for the children by asking the teacher relevant questions, so I walked over and quietly mentioned this. As a result, when the teacher and teaching assistant modelled their activity through questioning I saw the children physically lean forward as they engaged in this wonderful theatrical display of how to solve a mathematical problem.  I saw a moment when, during the plenary a potential link to the purpose of the lesson could be made to work in literacy, so asked a question to affirm understanding in the children. The teacher saw what I did and we could talk about the impact of this together.

Another moment that arose during the mentor visit was an opportunity to stop the teacher for a moment and ask, “So where do you think the children are in their learning, any children not there yet, any who need deepening, any who have already mastered the concept?” The teacher could step back and truly observe her class.  It only took one minute, but this conversation allowed the teacher to consolidate the learning and challenge herself to move the learning on.  Her comment at this point was that she rarely has the opportunity to stop in a lesson and truly observe her children.  We then had a conversation about how easy it would be for her Teaching Assistant to stop her and ask her these questions to prompt her to evaluate the progress in her pupils during a lesson.

 

The self-evaluation

The teacher was then asked to review their lesson using the 5 Minute Lesson Review; completing the WWW (what went well) and EBI (even better if) sections and the sections on progress, achievement and teaching. This self-reflection then formed the basis to our mentor-coach discussions.

The teacher was keen to write a lot but the 5 Minute Lesson Review form did not allow this as the boxes are small.  This is deliberate. By writing less, the teacher needs to ensure their comments are specific, precise and the relevant.  This also ensures the teacher has greater potential in recalling the key elements of their lesson and potential areas for improvement in their practice.  Less is more and less is more memorable.

 

The mentor-coach session

The key to the mentor-coach session is to ensure the mentor asks questions that helps the teacher think things through.  The mentor will need to guide the teacher to an area of their practice that will be relevant for them to develop.  The conversation also steers the teacher to focus on their strengths and tease out practice that is worthy of sharing with collegues across the school. A great read on Mentor-coach approach is Mentoring-Coaching by Roger Pask and Barrie Joy.

The conversation with the teacher allowed a deep dialogue about their practice and how the choices they made impacted on their children’s learning and their enjoyment of teaching.  The questioning led the teacher to a point that they would develop, a timescale by which they intended to achieve this and the colleagues they needed to involve to make this possible.  In short, the teacher had taught a lesson she would not have contemplated prior to this process, reflected on their successes and areas for development and committed to action these.

As mentor, I felt I had played a part in genuine staff development, leading a member of my teaching team to new skills and practice that will deepen their children’s learning. As for the teacher’s perspective…  I have asked her to blog about her experience, so watch this space for 5 Minute Lesson Review – a teacher’s tale.

 

Questions for thought

  1. How would a Coaching – mentoring approach to observation/feedback be received and used by staff at your school?
  2. Would this approach fit with your school/academy vision and values?
  3. What training and development would staff need to make it a successful strategy for all stakeholders?

 

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