1. Take One Change At a Time
Observers have an interesting perspective of the class. It’s a real life Educating Yorkshire angle. You’ll spend a good chunk of time observing other teachers and you’ll have it too. They can see EVERYTHING. They see Johnny roll his eyes at you, Jane checking her definitely-banned mobile, Eddie’s wearing trainers and Sophie hasn’t actually written anything for the whole hour because she was busy drawing her prom dress. Some observers will write all of this down, plus all their other criticisms and that can be exhausting and deflating to listen to and take on.
Being honest, we all miss things all of the time. You’re coping with up to 33 humans in a few square feet – you cannot see everything and it takes a little time for your teacher senses to come in (they’re like spidey senses but no one wants to make a movie about them) and for your ability to see all/hear all/magically know that Joel is about to throw a glue stick in 3…2…1… to develop. You need to just take ONE THING away from your observation notes. You would never give a student 20-odd EBIs and it’s the same for you. Take one key problem area and make that your week’s aim to improve. Other bits will come in time. Remember: you have years to perfect this.
I cannot impress this on you enough. Part of handling criticism in the right way is reflection. Reflection is the difference between an alright teacher and an exceptional one. There are lots of ways to reflect. These 3 are my favourite:
Make a deal with myself to not think about my observation until I’m running. This works for a number of reasons: When I’m running my brain has nothing else to do so I start to think about my lessons and what I can do differently next time. I find it gives me an immense amount of mental space that I don’t have in school and I have never once got off the treadmill feeling more stressed. I can also run quicker and for longer (I did my first 12K run after my worst observation) meaning I feel calmer afterwards and eat/sleep better. This puts me in a better position to go in the next morning and smash it. Now obviously it doesn’t need to be running but find yourself a space and hobby where you can think calmly.
The Post It reflection. This is a lovely one for each lesson or just every day. I like to WWW/EBI myself and they often look like this: WWW: Year 9 loved carousel activity, clear analysis improvement. EBI: Consider different way to help Y10 with Shakespearean language. I think the small coverage of a Post It ensures I can’t write loads, meaning I have to summarise. The summary then gives me a clear target for next time.
The Survey My ITT provider required a set of student voice forms at the end of the course. I actually chose to use these termly with all of my classes and they’re so revealing. It showed my that my classes wanted more group work or more exam writing lessons and felt that sometimes I moved on too quickly. Remember that hundreds of children see you for 3-4 hours a week – they might not know about specific pedagogy or best practise and some of them write dumb stuff (my all-time favourite from a Year 11 was ‘All we do is answer exam questions when I want to write a poem’) but there are some gems hidden in those forms that you might not have realised or been told.
3. Know. Ask. Read.
You need to do a wee bit of a self-critique about what you actually know and I think there are 2 ways to approach this: cry and declare you’re crap or know, ask and read. One of my favourite quotes is ‘your success is defined by the number of uncomfortable conversations you’re willing to have’. This is true of the conversations you have with yourself just as much as it is with others.
If you’re struggling in one area, I’d be surprised if there weren’t blogs, tweets and books about it. My biggest issue this year was feedback because I just couldn’t figure out what made feedback useful. I asked my department but not much came up. So I searched Twitter, which led to blogs, which led to books, which led to me revamping our department’s marking policy. This wasn’t a thing picked up in my observations, until I changed how I did it. I think at first my observers were pleased to just see me marking and students’ green pen-ing, (because to be honest, they weren’t reading it. The first 3 months of my marking was just me writing a load of tosh) but when I started delivering specific whole class feedback, my observers started mentioning it.
Be honest with yourself about what you do and don’t know, and go and find it. Don’t forget to use your mentor/colleague’s strengths too: I mentioned to my mentor, who was also SENCo, that I was struggling to create meaningful differentiation (not just a worksheet) and she recommended so many materials to me.
4. Do Something
Sometimes you’re going to get a lesson spectacularly wrong. Sometimes you’re not going to agree with the grade and observation notes. Sometimes you just sucked at teaching for the whole week and you actually can’t remember why you’re doing this. It’s at these points you need to avoid the whinge trap. Sitting around telling everyone about how you think that ‘requires improvement’ was absolutely unfair because you spent 7 hours planning that lesson is not going to fix a thing. It’s also going to make you look unwilling to progress and massively ungrateful for the time people are giving to you. Get off your butt, go and observe a teacher who is amazing at whatever aspect it is that you’re struggling with and get learning. Likewise, go to extra CPD sessions, watch Ted Talks, engage with Twitter advice and talk to the teachers running your course.
Learning when you’re an adult is really hard sometimes. It can be hard to be told – sometimes by people your own age or younger – that you’ve just done something a bit naff. You need to accept that teaching is a huge process, which is always evolving and never stops. You need to accept that it takes 2 years to qualify for a reason. You need to accept that the people observing you have taught and seen thousands of lessons and are more than qualified to tell you what’s up. You will grow to be able to read the minutiae of your lessons and will be able to reflect by yourself very quickly. That’s when you start to adjust lessons as they go on and ultimately where you become an awesome teacher.
Likewise, you need to not beat yourself up after every fall and accept them as part of the climb to brilliance. I remember towards the end of ITT I had 2 observations in a week with the same class. My first one was just all over the shop – I felt unwell and I was basically just rambling. I wasn’t on form – my mentor knew it, my class knew it and I knew it. At the end I went to my mentor and just told her what went wrong there. She had the exact same things written down – it was quite literally my worst observation grade in 6 months – and she sent me home because I wasn’t right to be in. 3 days later, I was better and it was obvious. My lesson was great and my mentor had commented in the little box about reflection that she was pleased because I’d taken on the reality of what happened the previous lesson, I didn’t make excuses and that I just got on and made the next one better.