In a recent tweet @LearningSpy referred to lesson observation as ‘problematic’ and posed the question, ‘What if we didn’t do it?’ There’s no doubt that the use of observation in the English education system has become a matter of some debate and even controversy in recent years. The crux of much of this debate centres on the way in which observation has become normalised in colleges and schools as a crude, reductive assessment tool, largely serving the interests of a performance management agenda with little benefit to practitioners and resulting in many counterproductive consequences. Teachers have come to experience a growing sense of disempowerment, increased levels of anxiety and general discontent in relation to the use of observation over the last two decades. But is this reason enough to discontinue its use? Whilst I have been critical of what I refer to as ‘performative’ and ‘restrictive’ approaches to observation in much of my work to date, I firmly believe that it has an important role to play in improving the quality of teaching and learning along with contributing to a greater understanding of these processes. For me, it’s important to avoid falling into the trap of ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’. What’s needed is a fundamental reconceptualisation of the way in which the profession engages with observation as a form of intervention. As a starting point, this means stepping outside the current constraints of viewing observation predominantly as a method of assessing and monitoring teachers’ classroom performance and realising its potential as a method of collaborative enquiry.
The way forward in maximising the potential of observation as a tool for improving the quality and understanding of teaching and learning lies in the adoption of an enquiry-based approach where teachers are empowered to become active researchers of their classrooms. What teachers need is more collaboration and less coercion when it comes to interventions in classrooms and a greater trust in their professionalism and professional capabilities to steer change and improvement. Peer-based models of observation have been shown to offer the potential to enhance pedagogic understanding and in turn contribute to the on-going process of teacher development. Putting the case forward for such models as a viable replacement to dominant performative models is now the next challenge that lies ahead for teachers if they are to reclaim classroom observation as a tool for empowering their professional learning and wrestle back control from the hands of the ‘Quality Police’.