When I first entered into the teaching profession, I quickly became used to having lots of different people coming into my classroom and giving regular feedback on my teaching practice; professional mentors, subject mentors, professional tutors, subject tutors and my Head of Department. I didn’t realise it at the time but back then I had it made!
We place great importance on giving feedback to our students to help them improve. However, in a profession that has great demands on our time, rarely do we devote this time to feedback on our own teaching. After my initial training year, I found myself waiting for those once per term, high stakes observations, in which I would receive three or four vast areas for development, and which we all know do not give an accurate reflection of the day-to-day teaching and learning that happens in our classroom. We all know that one teacher that pulls it out of the bag only when it counts or the great teacher that panics under the pressure of these one-off judgement based observations. Neither of these teachers receives the professional development they actually need. As an NQT I definitely felt that I had been left to my own devices, and it initially felt great to have the autonomy, but as a teacher who wanted to develop my skills in the classroom, I felt I had stilted somewhat.
Fast-forward a few years and I am extremely happy to now work in school where I know I am constantly developing as a teacher. Over the past year at Dixons Kings, we have embarked upon a weekly coaching programme to provide regular feedback to every teacher. Each week everyone from the Principal to the NQT is observed for 15 minutes by their coach and has a feedback meeting soon afterwards. These coaching observations are supportive and non-judgemental. They focus solely on the strengths seen in the short observation and then one focused and specific key lever, which can be implemented within a week. In the follow-up meeting we are encouraged to practice the strategies that we will use in the next lesson. The difference between this and those one-off high stakes observations, is that we can put strategies in place to improve our teaching immediately and receive feedback on this the following week instead of having to wait a whole term. By receiving feedback weekly, we receive as much feedback in one year as most teachers do in twenty!
Last year I wanted to focus on my deeper questioning skills in Spanish. The targets that my coach set for me following the coaching observations were simple and easy to implement. Over the course of the year, these slight tweaks to my teaching practice have meant that I can now question my students on complex grammar points and they can respond to my questions in Spanish.
And it’s not just as a classroom teacher where I reap the benefits. As a Head of Faculty, these coaching sessions allow me to have a clear picture of the teaching and learning that happens across the department on a day to day basis. I believe that the information collected through coaching observations is much more reliable than any information collected on a one-off high stakes observation.
The coaching programme has also been instrumental in planning the in-school CPD as each week there are updates on the CPD needs for every teacher. It has also created an open door culture, in which we can informally observe other teachers who have been identified as having strength in a particular area.
Coaching has allowed us as a school to constantly develop our teaching and to celebrate the success of everyone- from the cover supervisor to the experienced teacher.