Lesson observations are a key tool in developing teachers both new and old. They’re designed to support great teaching, no matter the year group, subject, or school. Yet for the teacher, lesson observations can be stressful, and often feel like a tick-box exercise. However, run correctly and with time to prepare, lesson observations can be extremely beneficial.

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 is where a senior member of the department or staff watches a lesson to assess the quality of teaching.

There are two main reasons for this:

  • Ensuring students are benefiting 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 are conducted by peers, administrators, or even external parties. They can be planned or unplanned observations.

Why does my school run classroom observations?

Lesson observations aren’t designed 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 focused 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. so when you’re about to prepare for a lesson observation, this is step one.

Treat every lesson like a lesson observation. 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 minimize 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

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 behavioral issue you felt you handled well?

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.

Ask for a review session

The reason many teachers can feel like their lesson observations are not very useful is the lack of follow-up afterwards. Each lesson observation should have an observation review. When it comes to how you 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. 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. This will help you make changes so that when your next lesson observation comes up, you feel prepared.

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 should already know how to do it. Or that people don’t have time.

But asking for help in any job is a key skill. Especially if you’re not sure how to achieve what’s being discussed in your lesson observation review. 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.