In the past week I have launched a short term working group in my school looking at using a coaching model for observations. The reason for this is linked to the narrative our school leaders are building towards. A large section of our staff have undergone training on coaching and using it to coach not only pupils but others and also we continually return to the ideals of system and servant leadership.
I believe a coaching model for observations will help us alleviate the fear and anxiety often associated with observations. Tell me, how often has someone observed you, gave you direct feedback and then you went to to do absolutely nothing that would improve your teaching practice?
In many schools and in many classrooms observations have little to no impact on the experiences of young people. This is because the key player in this does not have ownership or autonomy over their development. It is easy to watch a lesson and tell the teacher your thoughts but this can lead to resentment and anger or even worse…nothing. By encouraging observers to watch everything that goes on in a lesson and then ask coaching questions during their meeting to review the lesson such as why? tell me more? what do you think? and applying 80/20 talk time principles it places ownership firmly at the door of the teacher being observed. They after all are the most important factor in this. Through coaching questions you can provide a supportive yet challenging environment which forces people to talk through what went wrong, why it went wrong and what they are going to do about it.
By doing it this way we can all help each other as both the observer and the observed can learn during both the observation and the follow up discussion. This brings me to our collective responsibility.
We all have a collective responsibility for the success of each and every pupil. We also have a collective responsibility to improve each other, help each other and support each other. I want to work in a school where every teacher has learned that if any teacher or pupils is struggling and they have information that can help, they feel a responsibility to share it. Far too often teachers are an island in their own classroom. When the door closes (or stays open) and you are in front of 30 young people it can start to feel isolating but it never should be. We all teach the same young people with the same common purpose (our Just Cause) so it is ludicrous to think that we keep things to ourselves or allow others to struggle without showing them our support.
If we think of the ideas of Servant Leadership which tie in nicely with what I am aiming for here. A Servant Leader focusses on the growth and wellbeing of everyone within their community. They also puts the needs of others first and helps people around them to perform and highly as possible. In my model for observation I discussed above perhaps the observers role is that of a Servant Leader. They are placing the needs of the observed first and are using what they see in a 50 minute lesson to help the observer identify areas for improvement and strengths, of course.
A great video to watch about Servant Leadership is this short 3 minute video where John Harbaugh, Head Coach of the Baltimore Ravens discusses how he enacts Servant Leadership. In his coaching conversations he regularly asks two questions ‘what do you think?’ and ‘what do you need?. We should be asking this of our Teachers everyday and it isn’t the sole responsibility of our school leaders but of everyone as we all have a Collective Responsibility for the learning of our young people and each other.
It is way too early to share whether on not our new model for observations will be a success but I do believe that become a Servant Leader and helping everyone learn of our Collective Responsibility we can make observations meaningful and impactful when the practice translates into helping our young people experience an excellent education.