BLINK: The way forward with department reviews?


In September, after years of successful departmental whole school reviews, I decided we needed to alter our current review system.  Like many schools, we prided ourselves on being a school where intense, lengthy, robust self-review of teaching and learning occurred, with talented, hard-working staff observed, praised and, where necessary, challenged.

We designed a four-year published programme of reviews.  A key report with inevitable action points was published after each review.  My concern, and – crucially – the concern of the staff is that this can be too lengthy a process and if the department is successful or causing concern this needed celebrating or addressing immediately.  The key message for me is that staff want to be observed, not judged, and one of my greatest pleasures is being in lessons, supporting and, at times, developing staff.  I have yet to meet a teacher who starts their career simply wanting to do a ‘satisfactory’ job!  The joy of watching and assisting a NQT to blossom into leading a department and beyond is a source of great pride.  If you create the opportunity, the right staffroom, the right school, this can occur and staff can thrive.

One day ‘Blink’ reviews of all our departments in one term was our ambitious aim.  Therefore, we started a rolling programme of fourteen days of ‘Blink’ reviews.  The target was to being to ‘take the temperature’ of all the departments in a snapshot, a blink, which meant I or a member of the SLT saw everyone teach at least once.  This may have been for only fifteen minutes but I was in a 123 lessons. With senior leadership assistance, that meant 250+ non-judgemental lessons were recorded.

Time spent in lessons is always a pleasure and is never wasted time and, for our staff, a clear message was hopefully reinforced: teaching and learning at our school is the most important thing, and progress of the learning of students in every lesson is the priority.

I believe we developed a format of the reviews that was mostly successful as:

  • Early publication of schedule of the reviews and crucially never cancelling or postponing a review. I can still remember, as an NQT, my nervousness at my first observation, only for it to be postponed and the ensuing incorrect feeling that the ’extra’ preparation had been wasted due to this cancellation.
  • Each lesson observation being recorded on the following ‘Blink Review Observation Form’. It’s based on a Questions/ Favourites / Feelings model outlined here by @murphiegirl which she had had found to be very effective in walk-throughs conducted as a SLE. We adapted the form to suit the format of our ‘Blinks’ as outlined below.

Blink observation form

  • All departments knew that on the review day we would each be in at least three lessons during any one hour in larger departments and would be focussing on students’ work and the effectiveness of teacher questioning. Therefore, no observation should be a surprise in this review process.
  • A two page report with suggestions written and discussed with the department would be published within a week.

Reflecting, a term later on, that oft-used teacher feedback ‘what went well’ (WWW) in the ‘Blink’ Reviews was:

  • As a headteacher who prides himself on being active and not office-bound, it was lovely to totally immerse myself in the classroom with a clear sharp, focus; not interrupting the learning but assisting the process. Working with every teacher has meant the initiation and continuation of crucial dialogue, prompted by the ‘Teacher’s comments’ section on the observation form.  An understandable criticism of observation, during a stressful ‘Ofsted’, is that the ‘snapshot’ observation does not see the whole lesson, the whole learning process and key moments of the observation are missed by only recording a partial observation.  Therefore, in allowing the teacher to reflect on what was seen and make a responsive comment has been a significant change to some traditional observation and meant the process has been more ‘done with’ than ‘done to’, focussing on ‘this is how you could improve and build on strengths’.
  • A further bonus has been that the ‘Blink’ review will mirror the new  ‘Ofsted’ framework, which is likely to be one day ‘snapshots’ of schools with walk-through of lessons becoming the norm.  As I feel a major part of my job is protecting the school, preparing the school for inspection, this process is therefore invaluable.  Observation should mirror how we are judged.
  • It was agreed by all that despite the brevity of observation, the observations were accurate and helped move the department/individual teacher forward. Staff liked the feeling that they were all going to be observed and were clear about the process.
  • A huge amount of valuable information was provided about our school; it reflected to what extent our ethos and culture were embedded.

However, reflecting on how it could be ‘even better if’ (EBI), it was clear that the support of a colleague, head of department or teaching buddy would have greatly assisted the observation process.  Where the observed teacher was taken to see another teacher to discuss or observe key findings, for example, someone who was perhaps using group work effectively or whose marking was being responded to, the practice was developed more rapidly, than when feedback was purely a conversation. As with teaching, modelling plays a key part. Effective observation is a skill that I feel I have learnt through training and through hours spent in classrooms (yes, I am an Ofsted inspector) so to share what we are looking for is simply good practice that can go awry if senior staff are not trained or are not consistent in their approach to observation and are not very sensitive to teachers’ feelings about being observed.  A good ‘Blink’ review will capture the essence of the class and the teacher.  A poor review will be perceived as rushed and will be a wasted opportunity.  Successful feedback, that has impact, is essential for staff as well as students is the obvious message that sometimes can be too easily forgotten.

Nevertheless, with even the most reluctant teacher, we have opened the classroom doors and been to every area of the school.  The next stage perhaps, is for departments to buddy up and after key training, follow up the ‘Blink’ reviews by being paired with other departments to peer ‘Blink’ review.  English paired with science, for instance, will produce some interesting observations and get two sides of our large school conversing with hopefully a new focus, a fresh pair of eyes.

The development of this aim could be the focus of my next blog – I will get teachers out of classrooms discussing learning and the methods required to be a great teacher.

And yes, Ray, I will continue dreaming.


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