31 Jan 2020

How technology can help schools get the most out of lesson observations

Like many international schools, our pupils often move around during the course of their education, changing schools, countries, cultures and languages. With the added mix that at any one time a number of students in a class may also be getting to grips with a new curriculum, carrying out valid lesson observations can be somewhat complicated.

It can be difficult for an observer to judge, for example, whether the teacher is struggling to deliver a great lesson that engages children. Or, whether it could be the recent intake of pupils, new to learning at such a high level in English that is holding engagement back.

It’s for these reasons that since I became head at St Paul’s School in Brazil, we have taken a different approach to lesson observations. And technology is at the core of that.

Technology to support lesson observations

For us, developing unique lesson observation frameworks was a good place to start improving our lesson observation process. The same template doesn’t work for every lesson, so we created a series of lesson observation templates so the right one is available in a variety of situations.

A year nine sports lesson will have a very different set of criteria than an IB lesson that focuses heavily on elements such as collaboration. The observation is much more valid if the observer is looking for the right elements from the word go, so our database of templates needs to reflect this. Observers can use the templates digitally or download them and print to take to lessons.

Scrapping grading lessons

On our journey to improved lesson observations, I made a recent decision to move away from grading lessons, as have found that it wasn’t benefitting teachers.

The reason I brought in the change is because you can often see excellence in a lesson that overall wasn’t necessarily excellent. And you can also see some mediocre practice in a lesson which all together creates an excellent outcome.

Having to mark one lesson as a ‘one’ and one as a ‘two’ does not provide good feedback to staff.

What is helpful to staff, is that you can always see something positive. In order for our observers to submit their observations, they always have to highlight online what went well in the lesson as well as areas for development.

A two-way dialogue linked to development

I have found that lesson observations work best when there’s a two-way dialogue between the teacher and observer. With the system we use from BlueSky Education, observers can upload feedback straight away. Then staff can respond online, and we always offer teachers the opportunity to discuss any feedback in person.

It’s important to recognise that there’s no point observing lessons if the information isn’t then used to inform staff development and CPD.

We allow staff to highlight online any training they think they need. Centrally we can then see if there are any trends developing or maybe a requirement to invest in training for the whole team. It means our staff are at the centre of their own development journey.

This new way of using technology to support lesson observations is making a world of difference to our teachers – and that’s a great start.

Louise Simpson is head of St Paul’s School in São Paulo, Brazil. The school is a member of COBIS and HMC.

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