Throughout your PGCE year, you are bombarded with observations. In the first term, it was the training provider policy that all trainees are observed once a week, which then rose to twice a week in the Spring and Summer terms. This was in addition to any lessons that were casually observed by other teachers in the room. Therefore, during that year I became very used to having other teachers around when I was teaching and was almost immune to being observed as it was such a regular occurrence. I feel that having such regular observations results in feeling less pressure, as if one lesson doesn’t go to plan, it doesn’t matter as much because you can prove that you have rectified those issues very soon afterwards.
However, now as an NQT, the policy of my school is that NQTs are observed once a half term. I have recently had my first NQT observation, and I felt much more nervous for that observation than I had for most of my PGCE observations! I was really out of the observed mindset and had become quite used to being the only adult in the room, however having the feedback from my observation is something that I realised I have missed over the part half term. Of course, in an ideal world, every single one of your lessons would have had the same level of planning as your observed lessons, however this is just not possible. But if the lesson that you have prepared for your observation is wildly better than the lessons you regularly deliver when not being observed, I feel like you should be making some changes.
My top ten tips that I have picked up for observations are:
- Show progress in your pupils. I find the easiest way to do this is by posing my lesson objectives as questions, which I call Questions for Learning or QFL. This questions are quick and easy to ask at the start of the lesson, which pupils will not know the answers to. Therefore by the end of the lesson you can repeat the same questions, and all pupils should be able to answer the questions. These are also easy to differentiate, either by using different levels of questions, or by anticipating different levels of outcomes from the pupils. But it is essential that for a good or outstanding lesson that all pupils are making progress, and you must show this in your lesson.
- Create an observation pack for your observer. This is something that I did right from the beginning of my PGCE. Before the observation I would prepare my lesson plan, seating plan, data of all pupils, copy of my mark book, IEPs, print out of my slides and copies of my resources and put all the documents into a plastic wallet ready to give to whoever is observing me. I also include a copy of some sort of feedback form and during my PGCE year would include the Teachers’ Standards.
- Have your behaviour for learning techniques sorted. This is probably more applicable to NQT observations, however your lesson is much more likely to go to plan if you have established your expectations and laid the foundations of authority. There are few things worse in an observation than feeling like you are battling with the class to behave, as then you do not really have the chance to try demonstrate what you are able to do and pupils are unlikely to make as much progress. Remember to stick to the school’s behaviour for learning policy consistently throughout and use rewards to encourage positive behaviour.
- Clearly differentiate for your pupils with additional needs. Most of my lessons are mixed ability, or lower attainment sets, therefore I very regularly need to differentiate for my pupils. Your observer will be looking at the IEPs of the pupils in the lesson and looking for how you have accommodated their needs in the lesson you have created so that they are able to access the lesson and make progress. This could be through differentiated resources or additional support on slides, such as sentence starters or key words. Observers look to ensure that all pupils are making progress, and it is important to know which pupils are pupil premium, free school meals, EAL or SEN to ensure that they are making as much progress as the rest of the class.
- Find out what the person who is observing you is specifically looking for and tailor your lesson for that. I have had several colleagues tell me that certain teachers who are due to observe me later in the school year are very interested in certain areas. For example, one regularly focuses on SEN and differentiation and the other on data. Try to find out what your observers often focus on from other people that have been observed by them and ensure your lesson displays your abilities in that area.