I’m only as good as my last… [fill in the blank]

Sundays do not count towards the 40 days of lent, so I’m in my rights to give up my writing for the day, as it won’t contribute towards the #40daysofwriting I’ve taken up for Lent. However, I’ve decided to continue writing on Sundays, but make these posts less educationish and more reflective.

This one’s about identity.

I heard it commented this week how Jose Mourinho’s ‘stock had fallen’ in recent times. The ex-Chelsea and Real Madrid manager has won more than most and has an international reputation. Yet like all of us he’s only as good as his last game or his last season. And if it was failure, then it can’t be very good.

I feel the same.

I’m only as good as my last… [fill in the blank]. For most teachers the blank is filled in like this: [observed lesson].

For me, I feel this pressure too. I place much of my identity in what people say about my teaching. Especially observers. When I was observed in the school’s previous Ofsted in 2012, I was so delighted by the inspector’s judgement of ‘Outstanding’ that I wrote an extensive post about it. I was proud. I was successful. I was ‘outstanding’.

But this year, when my headteacher saw me teach in September he said my teaching required improvement. I had positioned myself with my back to some children. These children then went off task during the lesson so a significant group had not made progress. It was irrelevant that this was my first reading lesson in 5 years (I had been doing maths interventions during that period). Some children had not made progress during the lesson. I was disappointed. I was down on myself. I ‘required improvement’.

Two opposite experiences had occurred, each one with an effect on my identity. Because it has become clear to me that I place much of my self-worth in my competence at my job. But surely my identity is more than that.

At the top of my blog I label myself ‘educator and pub-theorist’ (the latter not because I spend all my time in a pub, but because most of my theories are worthy of being generated in such a place). On Twitter I have labelled myself as ‘frogphilp’, perhaps indicating a slight irreverence and lack of seriousness. I am a dad, a husband, a son. I am a gamer, a whisky drinker, a guitarist.

And yet for all these different aspects of my identity, the thing that knocks me back the most is having a bad observation.

I’ve been considering both the negative and positive factors on my identity over recent months in the light of the negative emotions brought about by the negative observation. I think that for me there are things that I can do that make me more vulnerable to a negative reaction like I had, but there are also things that I can do that protect me and make me more resilient to such reactions. But that’s a post for next Sunday.


What I learned from ungraded lesson observations

After 4 years in my role as deputy headteacher, grading every lesson I observed, I finally moved to ungraded lessons this term. I’d like to explain the context of my school here, but for various reasons, not least the brevity of this post, I’m going to limit this post to the things I learned; the ‘why move to ungraded lessons’ can wait for another time.

  1. Teachers talked to me more about their weaknesses. We might dress it up in management-speak ‘areas for development’ but let’s face it, we all have weaknesses. And for the first time in forever teachers were able to talk to me about them. “Maths is not my strong point,” said one teacher, honestly. “No, I find teaching the less able children really hard,” said another. This helps me help the teachers. It means that pride we can adopt based on our last observation is put to one side. We can let it go.
  2. Teachers were more experimental. Previously on a ‘round of observations’, I wouldn’t have seen anything other than quite formulaic: introduction-main activity-plenary lessons. But in this round I saw split introductions where teachers introduced a harder topic for more able children after they had already sent the other groups to the main activity and I saw a lesson which the teacher extended by 20 minutes just because she thought it was going well.
  3. Mistakes were celebrated. I saw a lesson that completely bombed – the teacher and the children knew it. The pitch was all wrong and far too challenging for each group. When I went in later that day the children all told me ‘FAIL – First Attempt In Learning’. They had a laugh about it and went on to having better pitched lessons for the rest of the week.
  4. I noticed things that I hadn’t noticed before. For example in one year group in which I really rate the teacher because she engages the children so well, I noticed a couple of misconceptions that she was teaching the children. They were minor examples of misteaching but would involved some reteaching by another teacher higher up the school at some later date.
  5. There are still some teachers who want to be graded. Some prefer the contentment of knowing that their last lesson was ‘outstanding’. I found it hard to stop myself from confirming an ‘official’ grading and one occasion (slapped wrist, Steve) I did so. Must remind myself to be more determined to remain unjudgemental next time…
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