Tag Archives: self-belief

Teacher development: looking for solutions outside the teaching world

 Part 1: Don’t let graded observations get you down! 

‘’Why do managers in education fall back on graded observations as their main default management tool?’’

‘‘Are there better approaches to supporting frontline teachers?’’

‘’Can a manager nurture and develop a teacher’s classroom resilience skills, or does it have to come from hard-earned experience?’’


These questions are different ways of looking at the same root challenge: can managers in education and academia truly inspire teachers? Or does the traditional ‘command and control’ approach get results?

 From the supervision of staff through to the problematic aspects of classroom management, both teachers and middle managers in education are often left to develop coping skills as they go.


Who develops you?

In the teaching world we have become more and more focused on a learner-centred approach, and while this is no bad thing, I sense that we are often left with a gap:  we develop our method through numerous INSETS, but do we develop ourselves as teachers? Terms such as ‘good teacher’ or ‘outstanding teacher’ have been hi-jacked (certainly in the UK) by regulation and inspectors. And the whole debate appears to have shifted into measuring the process over the impact.

 If you’ve ever stayed up late writing long lesson plans for an observation that you feel is simply a process-driven exercise, then you might well agree.

 Taking the lead: 3 approaches

 In this series of posts I look outside the sector for ideas and inspiration. If you’re currently struggling – either in the staffroom or the classroom – then, first of all, it is good to know you are not alone. In a survey of just under 4,000 adult education tutors three quarters disagreed that graded observations had helped them to improve as classroom practioners’[1]. Matt O’Leary[2], Educational Researcher and Principal Lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton, says there is an increasing consensus among those working in further education (post-16) ‘that graded lessons are no longer fit for purpose’[3].

 In this first post I look at how not to let graded observations de-motivate you, especially if you are looking for genuine solutions or practical ways to improve.

 In posts 2 and 3, I look at completely different approaches to developing yourself: systems thinking, positive enquiry and solution focused approach in leadership, tried and tested by business leaders. Can we adapt these models for teachers, in their role as ‘leaders’ of their classroom?

Developing ourselves

 I want to propose ideas that don’t necessarily originate from educational research but from business management theories. They have proved invaluable in my own personal survival guide to teaching and stem from my pre-teaching management career.

 The weakness of the current observation approach in improving teachers as leaders

One of the most surprising things about my career change into teaching was the lack of investment in me as a teacher, in effect as ‘leader of my classroom’. Where corporate managers and leaders can often go on expensive training, in-house coaching or mentoring throughout their career, teachers seem to learn this critical aspect ad hoc. Even worse, someone then comes and ‘’observes’’ you as the leader of your classroom. Somewhere along the way, observations have become the main management tool. If time was prioritised for supervision, one-to-ones, mentoring and peer observations, I am convinced that teachers, especially those new to the profession, would flourish far more than they would under current practices.

 Measuring quality

Of course, all teachers need to be observed. We need to know that bad things aren’t happening in the classroom. But I’m convinced that observations should be just one method of many that we use to develop teachers. Matt O’Leary, author of ‘Classroom Observations’ (Routledge, 2014), has come up with a range of more sophisticated approaches to assessing teaching[4].


Why the current observation culture is not a replacement for real management and coaching

 Process V impact

Observation culture has become the default practice, replacing real management and mentoring


  • Have you ever had an observation that left you feeling unclear, despondent or demotivated?
  • Have you ever had an observation where the final piece of work produced by your students in follow up lessons was requested by an observer?


You may be surprised to know that feeling demotivated after an observation is not ‘your fault’. Something has gone wrong with the feedback process. Even where real improvement is required, the feedback process should leave you feeling ready to take steps to change, or should inspire to try something new. It certainly should not leave you with sleepless nights.


But I know that observation stress is a common feeling among teachers. It has led me to question two things:

  1. Are observers trained to genuinely look for impact? Many seem trained only to look for process. I know observers look at student work during the observation. But to my mind, that’s really just a snapshot of impact. What about student work produced subsequently, maybe as homework or in the follow up lessons, when the cognitive learning has really embedded itself? Now that really would be impact over process.


  1. What can be done to improve observation feedback? In many non-teaching professions, learning how to give inspiring or difficult feedback is something that is core to any management training. Even when giving bad messages, management feedback training focuses on leaving the recipient positive and clear about the next steps. My management training embedded in me the rule that no serious feedback must come as a total surprise to a recipient. I reeled when I got my first observation feedback as a newly qualified teacher in FE. I hadn’t realised that the deficit model was still alive and well!

 The lost potential of the observation culture

Of course, it’s probably because academic managers/teacher trainers in turn often don’t know how to really enable staff development (back to a management style that values process over impact again). It’s such a missed opportunity to create trust or to inspire change. On a personal note, the most beneficial observations I have had are from managers who came in to the classroom to support me; to be an ‘extra pair of eyes’ and help me figure out a particular problem. I learnt so much from their years of experience.

I’m convinced that process over impact predominantly creates a tick-box approach. In response, the teacher creates excessively long lesson plans to meet the criteria of those boxes. And that chance to truly learn or benefit from a senior practioner is lost. Jim Scrivener, author of ‘Learning Teaching’[5], believes that ‘the act of teaching is essentially a constant processing of options. At every point in each lesson, a teacher has a number of options available; he or she can decide to do something, or to do something else, or not to do anything at all.’ Lesson plans are important but they are a guide. If a short-planned activity turns into a learning point that the students want to expand, should we go with it if we are being observed?

Side-stepping the victim teacher trap

There is so much excellent leadership training and strategies out there – all being used in other sectors. In my follow up posts, I look at how you can stop feeling like a victim teacher or a victim manager, and instead teach yourself these leadership techniques.

 The teacher as a leader

Because, what is a teacher, if not a leader of the classroom? We direct, we plan, we prepare the strategy of each lesson and the wider scheme of work. We aim to motivate, to improve results, deal with performance problems……..perhaps even inspire. You don’t need to be an NLP expert to see how much the language of leadership overlaps with the language of teaching.

 Borrowing ideas from outside the sector

This series of posts looks at why personal development and supportive management skills are currently under-valued in education.

 Does a solution lie outside the teaching world? I believe it does.

40% of new teachers are leaving within 5 years

Last year, OFSTED (the UK education regulator) released statistics showing that 40% of new teachers in the UK are leaving the profession within five years of training[6].

 Ofsted Chief Michael Wilmshaw rightly calls this a ‘national scandal’ and says new recruits ‘are left to flounder without support from more senior staff’. He lists the reasons why the numbers are so high: poor teacher training, inadequate support once in the classroom, a lack of on-going mentoring from leaders within the school and an ‘infantilising’ of the profession, where teachers are encouraged to think like ‘victims’.

We could go round and round looking for the causes: government targets create downward pressure on regulators, Ofsted create a command and control approach………That in turn creates the backdrop to graded lessons being adopted by colleges and schools as a draconian tool. But the result is that it has left the teaching world far behind other professions when it comes to genuine coaching and nurturing of new entrants into the profession.

 While some teachers in the world of private education may not have quite the same rigorous approach to being performance managed, there can still be a sense that a wider knowledge and implementation of educational coaching and management could pay real dividends (two years of my own teaching experience has been in private education).

Are we long overdue a change?

 I would very much appreciate hearing from any teacher, student or educational manager who would like to respond, particularly teachers and lecturers who have experienced a positive type of assessment, professional coaching and collaboration. 

In the next posts I want to share tips on how business leadership training can be applied in the classroom and to your own development. I’ve tried them myself. I’m going to look at three recognised theories: systems thinking, positive enquiry and solution focused leadership.


[3] http://www.niace.org.uk/sites/default/files/documents/adults-learning/2014-spring/AL-Spring-2014-Vol25-pg38-41.pdf

[4] Author of ‘Classroom Observation’, Routledge 2014

[5] Macmillan Books for Teachers

[6] http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/jan/15/ofsted-chief-teachers-quitting-scandal

Empowering your students: What makes me an effective learner?

By Fiona Deane

frustration“I don’t get it!”.  “That´s stupid!”  “That´s impossible!”  These  student utterances may resonate with you and perhaps hound or hinder you in the classroom.  The age of screenagers, google and instant gratification can lead to impatience, exasperated sighs and a holding of the teacher as responsible for classroom success or failure.   Many students are not yet aware that they themselves magically hold the key to better learning and understanding.


As the first of a series of posts focusing on empowering our students, this post will:

  • explain students´ lack of faith in themselves
  • discuss theories to resolve this
  • give an activity to start empowering our learners to trust and develop themselves


Harmer (2001) tells us “passivity… is the enemy of true learning”.  The role of instant media plays its part in this passivity. Manyiphone_addiction students come to the classroom with a developed reliance on others or a search engine to give them quick answers.  Problem-solving, critical thinking, brainstorming, deep reading can therefore be met with a rolling of eyes or infuriation since demands are made on the brain beyond lower-order thinking such as “copy” and “paste”, or “play”.

Scrivener (2012) argues that a certain type of passivity may be developed at home.  Some teenagers may have experienced an education culture where obedience to authority is valued above thinking for yourself.  In his book “Korea The Impossible Country”, Daniel Tudor writes that Confuciansim has created a culture where between “older and younger….the superior partner should act with a duty of responsibility and benevolence to the lower, who should respond in return with loyalty and obedience.”  This older/younger relationship is easily transferred to the teacher/student relationship.

Lack of self-awareness

who am iMany learners come to the classroom “not… aware of their individual cognitive or perceptual learning styles” (Lightbown & Spada, 2006).  Indeed, they may not even be aware that such concepts as learning styles or multiple intelligences exist.   Answering questions such as: “Am I open-minded to different points of view?”, “Am I a visual or kinesthetic learner?”, “Do I like solving puzzles?”, “Does stress affect my performance?”, “Can I think on my feet?”  are crucial to establishing and prioritizing individual learner needs.

Meta-cognition & Reflection

rockwell_mirrorAccording to Geoff Petty (1998), “reflection involves a systematic and objective evaluation of the student´s concrete experience”.    Encouraging students to consider who they are as people and share this with their classmates is arguably the first piece of the learning puzzle.  The cornerstone is their reflection on their innate strengths and weaknesses, which can then be followed up regularly with reflection on their progress on these points.

Taking responsibility

Petty (1998) suggests that reflection “may be largely undertaken by… the teacher at first, but the long-term aim should be to get the students to carry out the process by themselves”.  Scharle and Szabó (2000) believe that responsible learners are “learners who accept the idea that their own efforts are crucial to progress in learning, and behave accordingly”.   They go on to say that learners “need to realize and accept that success in learning depends as much on the student as on the teacher”.  By asking your students to question their learning habits and identity, you are effectively turning them into responsible learners without them realizing.

make hole in wall-breakthroughThe gateway to empowerment & self-belief

Crucially, we as teachers need to disengage from our “leader” role and encourage our students to get to know themselves, look at themselves in the mirror and know their strengths and weaknesses.   At this moment,  the student may first experience positive feelings of empowerment and trust and begin to understand that they hold the key to their learning.


questionimgClass activity: What skills and personal qualities make me an effective learner?

Class type:  ELT Exam or General English groups at Intermediate to Advanced levels.

1) Learners are asked to discuss in pairs the question:  “What skills and personal qualities do I need to be an effective language learner?”

2) After about ten to fifteen minutes of discussion, we share our ideas together on the board.  It is always the students themselves (with little if any prompting from myself) who come up with such fantastic answers as these:

  • imaginative
  • open-minded
  • finding fun in the learning process
  • thinking outside the box
  • believing in myself
  • patient
  • outgoing
  • not afraid to get things wrong
  • hard-working/diligent
  • able to identify what I need to improve
  • reading frequently in English”

3) The students are asked to reflect in pairs on which of these attributes they already possess and which they might perhaps need to work on.

4) This is then fedback to the class as a whole to ensure that learners understand that all students have strengths and weaknesses and that these will be different for each of them.

what makes a good language learner5) Creators of their own advice:  I take a picture of the ideas brainstormed on the whiteboard, print it out and put it on the pin-board in the classroom.  Conveniently, as the course progresses these student created ideas can be referred to at times of struggle to encourage them on their journey.  For example, if a student may resist trying out a new technique or activiity, I refer them back to the ideas that they came up with and ask them if open-minded was a good quality that was mentioned in order to be an effective learner.

I have found this an invaluable activity on all the Cambridge CAE exam classes that I have taught. It lays the foundations for further reflections that take place throughout the course.   Try it out and let me know how it goes!


References & Recommended Reading

Harmer J The Practice of English Language Teaching (2001) Pearson Education Ltd

Lightbown P. & Spada N How Languages are learned  (2006) Oxford

Oxford R Language Learning Strategies: An Update (1994) http://www.cal.org/resources/digest/oxford01.html

Petty G Teaching Today A Practical Guide (1998) Nelson Thornes

Pulverness, A. Just how low can you go? IATEFL Learner Independence PL Newsletter (2000) IATEFL

Scharle A & Szabó A Learner Autonomy, A guide to developing learner responsibility (2000) Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers

Scrivener J Classroom Management Techniques (2012) Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers

Tudor D Korea The Impossible Country (2012) Tuttle Publishing