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How to prepare for a lesson observation review

Lesson observations…sigh.

Yes, they’re a key tool in developing teachers both new and old. And yes they’re designed to support great teaching, no matter the year group, subject, or school.

Yet for the teacher, they can be anxiety-inducing and often feel like a tick-box exercise over something designed to help.

However, run correctly, with an emphasis on learning and improvement, lesson observations can be extremely beneficial.

And there is plenty that teachers can do to make sure the next time they’re observed is a real benefit.

So, let’s look at how to prepare for a lesson observation and, make sure your next one is as supportive and useful as it should be.

What is a lesson observation?

Now, we’re sure if you are reading this you know the answer to this question. But just in case…

A classroom observation (a.k.a. lesson observation) is the scenario of a lesson being observed, ideally by a senior member of the department or staff, to assess the quality of teaching.

There are two main reasons for this:

  • Ensuring students are benefitting from the most effective and appropriate learning experience.
  • Helping teachers develop their skills, resources, and teaching to drive greater success.

Any teacher can, and should, be subject to a lesson observation at any stage of their career. These can be conducted by fellow teachers, administrators, or even external parties. They can be planned or unplanned observations.

Why does my school run classroom observations?

Although the idea of being observed can be a daunting one, lesson observations aren’t meant to be a tool to scaremonger teachers.

Instead, they’re used to identify ways you can improve your teaching and classroom management skills. The aim is to reduce blockers to student learning so they achieve their full potential under your guidance.

Lesson observers are on the lookout for the biggest blockers to student learning in the classroom. Then they should be providing teachers with meaningful feedback on their lesson, including ideas and techniques they can implement to improve.

But, all too often feedback is given in a poor format, with many schools opting for a simple written report on platforms such as BlueSky or via email. This is not sufficient or effective.

Classroom observation feedback needs to be delivered face-to-face, during a planned review meeting. Emails and entries on BlueSky can be missed, are too one-directional and lack the opportunity for a good chat to better understand each other’s points.

Feedback needs to be open, honest, and focussed on improvements, not chastising the teacher.

Teachers must be given clear and actionable feedback based on accurate observations for the lesson observation to have been a success.

If this sounds completely the opposite to what you are used to, it’s time to take action. Start by sharing this approach with your colleagues.

How to prepare for a lesson observation?

Ideally lessons you are observed in should run no differently to your everyday lessons. But we all know that in reality teachers are sometimes guilty of approaching an observed lesson a little differently – more planning, more interactivity, more pre-class coffee.  

Here are a few tips to help you set up right for your next lesson observation and follow-up:

Treat every lesson like it’s being observed

Anxiety can get the better of all of us - doesn’t matter if you’re an NQT or department head with 20 years experience.

When it comes to "how to prepare for a lesson observation", this is step one.

Try to reduce lesson observation worries by treating every lesson as though you’re being observed. What does that lesson look like? That’s how all your lessons will ideally look.

By doing this, you not only ensure uniformity in your teaching, but you start to minimise the likelihood of and impact that anxiety can have on you.

Don’t try to over-perform and plan an overly complex or showy lesson. It’s human nature to want to deliver a showpiece but if it’s not in-line with your usual approach it isn’t an accurate representation of you. Also, you’re more likely to trip up if you make a lesson too elaborate for the benefit of your reviewer.

Every lesson should be planned and designed for your students first and foremost. Focus on giving your class the best possible learning outcomes. Everything else is secondary, and potentially just a distraction.

Make your own notes too

Remember the lesson is only part of the observation. There should be a follow-up chat at some point soon too. It’s great to go into that discussion with some thoughts and notes if possible.

During the lesson, make mental (or if you have time, physical) notes about key events that happen. Make sure to write these up as soon as you can.

Did a struggling student benefit from a particular approach you took?

Was there a behavioural issue you felt you handled with pinpoint precision?

Was there a moment that really stumped you?

Make a note of it all.  It may well be something you want to discuss or point to in any review session.

Make sure you get a review session

The reason many teachers can feel like their lesson observations are not very useful is the lack of follow-up afterwards.

Every lesson observation should be followed (within 72 hours ideally) by an observation review between teacher and observer. When it comes to answering the question "how to prepare for a lesson observation" this is your most vital step.

The aim of this session is for the observer to share their thoughts, notes, and advice on how the lesson went and what could be improved upon. It’s also a chance for you as the observed teacher to ask questions, get clarity, and ask for help.

So if you’re in the all too common position of just getting feedback over BlueSky or email, speak up. Let you observer, manager, or headteacher know you want more. Ask for a review so that you can best understand and take action on the feedback.

Don’t take feedback personally

We can all get a bit defensive when hearing feedback about ourselves. It’s human nature. But it’s also not very helpful.

Try not to take feedback personally. The intent of feedback is to be constructive and help you grow. Remember any improvements your observer suggests will only help you develop and become the superstar teacher they see you can become.

Ask questions during the review

Don’t feel that the review is just about your observer talking at you. The best review sessions are highly collaborative and two-way.

Ask questions. Seek clarity on any point you feel needs it. Put your viewpoint across (in a constructive way).

Your key outcome during this session is to make sure you 100% understand the feedback given. You also need to have a clear idea on how to take action. So, make sure you ask questions until you’re happy.

Set goals and timelines

Depending on the feedback you receive, formulate a plan around how you are going to take action.

This almost certainly will mean goal-setting to some degree. And that’s no bad thing.

Goal setting increases the likelihood of us achieving targets, improving our performance and satisfaction along the way.

So, if appropriate, draw up some actionable goals and timeline them out. A thorough goal plan will only improve your development and success.

Ask for help when you need it

If you need support after you’ve had your feedback, ask for it.

Again, it can be human nature, especially as we progress deeper into our careers, to avoid asking for help. We think we perhaps should already know how to do it, or people’s time is better spent elsewhere.

But asking for help in any job is a key skill. If you don’t know how to achieve what’s being discussed in your lesson observation review, speak up. Ask for guidance and support wherever you need it.

Head into your next lesson observation relaxed and ready

You now have some solid tips and strategies to use when it comes to addressing the question "how to prepare for a lesson observation".

Just remember the whole purpose of them is to help you develop your skills and grow as an educator. Make sure they’re doing that and speak to your manager if you’ve got any concerns.