Tomorrow I have my first lesson observation since becoming involved with twitter and blogging. The night before an observation I am usually a wreck. If I am not stressing about the activities I have planned, then I am worrying that I haven’t catered for the more able or the SEND students. Have I used my LSA to good effect, have I included a link to numeracy, literacy, ICT etc. You would have thought that with 14 years experience behind me I would be an old hat at lesson observations. The truth is they have the ability to turn me into a quivering wreck. I never really understood why until recently. I usually don’t have a problem with anyone wandering into my classroom. I have been known in the past to be completely oblivious when the head has walked in with visitors. I thought the kids had become unusually quiet then they told me after “Miss, miss, the head came into our class!” But send someone in with a check list and a magnifying glass and something inside me changes. Over the years I have tried to figure out the secret of an outstanding lesson. I thought I had come close on many occasions and even received the coveted “Outstanding” grade for some lessons. If I’m honest I still remained clueless as to exactly what “outstanding” meant.
I first became aware of teachers using twitter in October 2013. One of our Leading Practitioners did a teaching & learning briefing on using twitter. It got me interested in how teachers were using the internet and social media to improve their teaching. My twitter account was born in January 2014 but it took me a further 6 months to pluck up the courage to start using it. I couldn’t see why what I had to say was important to other people. I decided that my twitter account would be my way of following what other teachers were doing and my blog would be my reflection of my own learning journey.
In the summer I was researching SOLO taxonomy when I came across Damian Benney’s blog. Damian talked about how he had discovered #RAG123 marking and had combined it with DIRT to ensure students were provided timely, personalised feedback that they acted upon. It was all underpinned by using SOLO taxonomy to structure his success criteria. My interest was piqued and the internet couldn’t move quick enough to Kevin Lister‘s blog post on RAG123. All of this was happening in August when I would normally be trying to forget about work and enjoying what time I had left of my holiday. The posts by Damian and Kev reignited my passion for teaching. It meant that I was getting really excited about going back to work and couldn’t wait to get into the classroom to put into practise their ideas (with a few tweaks of my own!).
I began to use twitter the way I had seen other teachers use it. I shared my experience in the classroom with my followers and I blogged about my new start to the term. This had a snowball effect as my followers retweeted my blog link to their followers. It turns out that other people were interested in what I had to say. I started sharing my resources and some of my other ideas. My blog lead to me attending my first ever teach meet in Reading where I shared my strategy of combining SOLO, RAG123 and DIRT in the classroom. This was an amazing experience, not just sharing my ideas but to get some great ideas from teachers I would not normally have met. I have also shared RAG marking and DIRT with my department and some other members of staff at my school. As a consequence there are a number of staff who are now trialling this with some of their classes. There are also staff who have seen my takeaway homework menu and have asked for me to share with them how I set homework.
Twitter also educated me on the observation process. I now realise why I could never work out what outstanding was. It’s because the whole process is so subjective. Every observer has their own idea about what makes outstanding. I have had at least 8 different appraisers over the last 14 years and every time I thought I had it sussed a new observer would come along and point out other areas that had never been an issue before. One might place a greater focus on differentiation and their idea of differentiation was different from mine. Another would expect to see explicit evidence of literacy. No wonder I remained so confused by the whole process. I also appear to be the only teacher in school aware of the fact that OFSTED no longer grade lessons. When I have raised it with some they seem to be under the impression that it hasn’t come in to force yet. I politely point them in the direction of @teachtoolkit‘s blog post about it (you can read it here). I think it’s really important that teachers know OFSTED don’t grade their lessons any more even if their school still does.
Had I not joined twitter I may never have discovered RAG marking, Teach Meets or how DIRT and takeaway homework was being used to great effect. I would certainly not have travelled to Reading to share my experiences or put my name down for consideration to present at Teach Meet Oxford and I wouldn’t have been having so many inspiring conversations about how to improve the learning that goes on in classrooms. I may never have discovered the root of all my observation confusion or discovered that I have the ability to inspire other teachers. I firmly believe that my students are far better off now because of my twitter experience and their learning will benefit in the long run.
So with my lesson observation tomorrow, I sit here now calmly writing a blog post when once I would have been panicking about my lesson plan. I know that the habits I have instilled into myself and my students over the last 10 weeks will stand me in good stead. My books have been marked at least once a week and students have been responding to my feedback through DIRT. I look forward to inviting my observer into my classroom to show what the students can do. Do I think I have finally cracked “Outstanding”, in all honesty no but, thanks to twitter, I finally know what kind of teacher I am, what my style is, my typicality and I think this is so much more important. I am no longer a mish mash of styles trying to please subsequent observers. I am a good teacher who is doing her best every day to ensure her students learn in the best way possible. And after all isn’t being good every day outstanding?