It’s a great step in the right direction when you realise that being observed isn’t an exam to be passed or failed – even if you’re working at a school that treats it as such. Being observed is a great opportunity to get feedback on your teaching. All very well if your observer is saying lots of nice things about you, but harder to stomach if the feedback is less positive.
No one likes being criticised, and it’s even worse if you have to then get back straight back in the saddle and go and teach your next class. So how can you overcome an observation that simply wasn’t as good as you’d hoped?
Keep it in perspective.
Your observer only saw you teach for whatever period of time they were in the room – probably between ten and forty minutes. It’s highly likely that you did some great things either side of when they were in the room! What an observer sees is simply a snapshot of your teaching, and therefore although you should take into account their advice, also bear in mind that it isn’t the whole story.
Find out what happens next.
Fear of the unknown is far more scary than when you already know the facts. If your school is one of those which marks observations as ‘below standard’, ‘to standard’ and ‘above standard’ (in my experience IH schools certainly do) don’t completely freak out about receiving a ‘below standard’, especially if it’s a first observation. ‘Below standard’ does not mean you’re going to be out of a job next week, and it doesn’t mean that you’re a terrible teacher. The chances are that you’ll be given some extra support (for example in planning lessons) or asked to do some peer observations… and neither of those are anything to be scared of. If for any reason you’re concerned about the implications of your not-very-good observation, make sure you speak to your observer/senior teacher and find out what the next steps are.
Don’t give up!
Any time I get any sort of negative feedback, be it from students, parents, or an observer, I often want to curl up in a ball and eat chocolate until it goes away. There’s a time and a place for that – but it’s equally important not to just give up. After your feedback session it’s likely that you’ll be back in the classroom, later the same day or the following day, and although it’s far easier said than done, remember that each new lesson is to some extent a clean slate. Feedback that isn’t as good as you’d hoped can really knock your confidence, but don’t let it stop you from learning, experimenting, and trying new things.
Listen to what they have to say, and ask for suggestions.
Observation feedback sessions are about just that: your observer feeding back to you about what they saw and how they felt about it. Although they can feel like an unpleasant overly critical thing (after all, in what other profession do you get to have someone come and stand over your shoulder and then tell you how to do it better?), remember that they are designed to help you develop and become a better teacher. It’s possible that your observer may well have noticed something happening in the class that you were unaware of, or can think of a different way to do an activity that may have worked slightly better. Make the most of it by asking for suggestions or advice – this shows that you’re taking interest in your development, and they’ll probably have some good ideas!
It’s also worth remembering that your observer is not infallible: if you did something for a particular reason (which may not have been apparent to them) then tell them so!
Remember that you don’t need to be perfect.
Throughout this post I’ve assumed that the feedback you’ve received has genuinely been negative, but it’s worth pointing out that it might simply be not as good as you’d wanted it to be. A lot of teachers are perfectionists: I know I certainly am, but this can be our biggest challenge when observation time rolls round. We are often our own worst critics! Look at the positives your observer highlighted rather than focusing only on the negatives; I’m sure there will be some.
We wouldn’t dream of writing off a student because they don’t achieve great marks in everything they do – so don’t write yourself off either. Learn from what didn’t go so well – and then move on.