Excellent Windows

Finn in 'Frisco

I have a poster on the classroom wall. It has a quote attributed to Steve Jobs:

Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.

Reading Dirk Van Damme writing in the OECD education today blog [1]:

Excellent teachers view teaching as a collective responsibility within the profession, not as an individualised thing happening behind closed doors. They open the doors of their classrooms, inviting colleagues to engage in what they are doing but also disclosing what happens in classrooms to the outside world. It is that kind of teachers we need to work with our kids.

I realised that this echoes statements from the head of Ofsted I’d read earlier today:

This meant that they talked a lot about their teaching to others, were happy to go into other teachers’ classrooms and were only too willing for other teachers to go into their classrooms. They acknowledged that, no matter how experienced they were, teaching was a learning experience.

I consider myself extremely lucky to work with people that encourage and challenge me through observation. But, within the wider profession observation can be a contentious point. Why?

Pondering on the NUTs 15-page guide on classroom observation I was struck by the disconnect: observation is a powerful tool for improving learning and teaching but observation can also be a source of extreme stress for classroom teachers. How can that be when it’s the time in the classroom with students that teachers I know and respect do the job for? That’s the piece of the job they love, and why wouldn’t you want to get better at something you love doing?

I suspect two causes:

  1. That in the past classroom observation has been used poorly as a performance management tool, and that, rather than the profession working to find better ways for managers to manage performance, there’s been a reaction against the tool used to measure.
  2. As a new teacher there’s more things I’m told I need to do than I could possibly do. I have to prioritise and as a result I could be measured against any one of the many things I don’t, or rather can’t, possibly do. When a formal observation is coming people work silly hours to do the things that should be done [2]. That isn’t because they are shirking the rest of the time, it’s because there’s more than could possibly be done.

    I think that is what is behind statements like the following from the NUT guidance, an attempt to reduce the stress and silly hours…

Classroom observations which fall within the protocol, however, should not be scheduled to take place in the ten days after an Ofsted or Estyn observation

As a consequence many [3] people aren’t used to using observation as a tool to improve and develop. They don’t associate it with a way to achieve, or sustain, excellence. It’s perceived as a way for others to prove a lack of excellence.


I have a poster on the classroom wall. It has a quote attributed to Steve Jobs:

Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.

I think that on Monday I’ll move it next to the window.



[1] The post is based on the OECD publication Teaching Practices and Pedagogical Innovation, a report based on evidence from TALIS. Available as a PDF here.

[2] One benefit of the no-notice 10 minute notice Ofsted we had last term…

[3] I’ve no idea if many is the right adjective because I have no data.

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