Sometimes it’s best to see yourself through the eyes of others.
I have to admit that, as a teacher, I used to hate being observed. Which was strange because I could always be very critical of my own teaching and my own performance as viewed with hindsight by myself. Having someone else view my teaching was, however, more intimidating.
I think the point was that when someone else was observing me, I no longer felt in control of the situation. The lesson and its setting was often artificially contrived either to show off the best or to avoid the worst of my teaching. Even just having someone else in the room would have an effect upon the pupil behaviour. I think, though, the bottom line was that I rarely felt that the observer was there in a supportive role; they were usually there to catch me out or there to support their subject agenda.
I daresay that no everyone feels the same about being observed. There are certainly positive benefits to be gained from having someone observe your teaching. An independent eye may often pick up things you may not notice yourself, they may notice things you did not even feel were an issue. Even if the independent observer does notice the same things you have noticed yourself, having someone else notice them tends to give them more weight or significance. Having someone else notice things makes them more difficult to ignore or push to one side, as you might be tempted to do yourself.
Of course, any observer is there, hopefully, not just to notice the negative things but also to report to you on the positive aspects of your teaching. Positive things which, again, you yourself may not have noticed or thought worthy of note. Yet positive aspects are ones that you can contribute to the school and maybe help influence the teaching of colleagues.
Despite all the possible benefits of observation, it is still usually the case that the teacher does not feel in charge of the event. Could this be changed by the teacher inviting a colleague to observe a lesson? How many of us have done that? In such an arrangement, wouldn’t the teacher be in a better position and the observer, having accepted the invitation, be in a supportive role rather than merely carrying out a duty? If the teacher not only invited a colleague to observe a lesson but also invited the observer to comment upon particular aspects of their teaching, wouldn’t this be a more professional and beneficial use of lesson observation?
In a traditional observation arrangement, the observer observes a teacher and at a later time feeds back to that teacher. Couldn’t we utilise technology in some way to enable the observer to feedback to the teacher in real time and perhaps suggest changes to try while a lesson is in progress? Sure, we would not want to disrupt the lesson more than necessary but what I have in mind is some form of audio feedback perhaps via an earpiece or maybe text feedback to a teacher’s laptop. Similar, I guess to being a TV presenter?
While on the subject of a TV presenter, many of us do not like being in front of a video camera and we would certainly not regard ourselves as presenters. Nevertheless, videoing a session, instead of or in addition to physical observation, can also have great benefit in affecting teaching performance. A simple video camera stood in the corner of a room or maybe even in the hands of pupils, can provide a fascinating insight into one’s teaching even without any added commentary or feedback. It can also be used to provide ongoing records of improvement or changes for the teacher and maybe even provide some evidence of the effectiveness, or otherwise, of such changes.
For me, the key in all of this is that the teacher should be in charge of all of it. It is used as part of their reflective practice and ongoing development more than as an intrusion imposed upon them.