It’s looming, and with a blend of trepidation and excitement ITT students around the country and starting to turn their focus to September. It’s new term time! Which means this blog is starting up again in ernest. I am going to do another post on my summer goals, but the summer has been restful and eventful with many wonderful things happening. Among these things has been my dear husband’s preparations for his ITT in Biology. I’m very excited to learn many things from him as he is completing a PGCE and my training was on the job through School Direct, as well as supporting him in a truly empathetic way. It is one of the most varied, intense and wonderful careers anyone can choose, so I’m thrilled for him and the year ahead.
Leading on from this, I am writing these posts for the gear up back to school and hope to cover some of the main events and concerns surrounding the basics of ITT. Today, we are talking about observing lessons. Observing lessons is one of the most important things you do during your ITT and something you have precious little time to do throughout the rest of your career. As such, it’s important to make the most of it and gain as much as possible for yourself and your practice. Here are some tips to make that happen:
This is probably obvious, but whenever there are children on site in a school the rule of thumb is to dress professionally. There will of course be exceptions, but just because you are not teaching does not mean you can rock up in Uggs and jeans. Keep it smart – remember, you could be teaching this class at some point.
2.Notes Notes Notes
It’s likely you will be given some sort of formulaic observation form for your teaching file. As well as filling this out, keep a notebook on hand and note down anything you felt worked well or could be recycled when you take the stage. This could be behaviour management techniques, starters, plenaries, assessment and progress checks, even formatting worksheets. If there is a worksheet you really like, see if there is a spare copy you can have at the end of the lesson. Nearly all of my teaching ideas have stemmed from observation rather than theory because you can see them in situ and in practice.
3.Student Centric Focus
No doubt your training school will give you various foci for your observations, but a great one to do is to imagine you are the student in the lesson. After observing and understanding the components of a lesson, observe the students and see what their experience of the lesson is like. You will most likely be observing the subject you are teaching and therefore have a vested interest in it, so think for a moment about the kids who cannot stand your beloved specialism. How are they dealing with the lesson? Taking this one step further, ask to have a copy of the resources one lesson and take part as if you were a student, thinking about whether there is support as well as challenge. If it’s possible. try to complete this exercise in another subject area as well so you can feel what it is like to be taking part in a lesson completely outside your comfort zone. I did this in my school last year and it was a really interesting experience.
After you have seen a few lessons and are getting the hang of things, try to get involved. You will find this helps with your energy levels (sitting in the same place all day taking notes is surprisingly exhausting) and helps you engage more with the lesson. Offer to help handing out resources, circulate and listen in on group work and ask students about their experience (ask permission first as some staff may not be comfortable with you doing this). If you can get involved, it not only gets you talking to the students and considering pupil voice, it also makes it clear to them you are part of the teaching profession. Most of them will be used to observers talking to them during performance management, so you will immediately gain a sense of status in their eyes by doing this. Just remember – take what some of them say with a pinch of salt and avoid taking them off task for too long – we all know those plucky few who like to show off to newcomers or ask pertinent personal questions!
No matter how long you have been teaching, it is stressful to have someone else in your classroom judging what you do. Even in a non judgemental situation like this one, it can feel invasive in a way. Nothing makes signing up to observations more unpleasant than someone walking in and criticising left right and centre when they have not done the job. Be polite, thankful and courteous – you are not there to judge how good the lesson is because, to be brutally honest, you don’t know yet. You are there to gain knowledge, ideas and experience of a classroom environment, so focus on that. Even if the room caught fire and there was a scissor fight, some element of the planning or management of the tricky situation will provide you with a learning experience because these are situations you could find yourself in and you are seeing those same situations dealt with by a more experience colleague. There was a lovely feedback system for peer observations in my training school this year; ‘thank you’ postcards with sentence starters such as ‘thank you for the privilege of letting me observe your lesson. I particularly enjoyed…’ As teachers, we tend to be our own worst critics, so being encouraging and positive in a specific and helpful (rather than gushy) way is really important as an observer. It is a rare privilege to watch a colleague at work and it should be treated so, because one day you will be that colleague!
This series of posts simply contains things I found useful in my limited experience. They are in no way comprehensive and I would love to hear what your experiences are and what your top tips are so we can start a discussion. If you are a trainee teacher preparing to start or having just started, what are your concerns? What would you like me to cover in other posts? Let me know down below or through Twitter and, as always, thanks for stopping by!