Q&A Highlights: Opening a door to teacher observation and CPD

It isn’t easy to establish a culture supportive of observation; some teachers feel anxious when the word is mentioned and keep the door to their classroom firmly closed. The challenge for organisations is to establish observation in a safe, non-threatening and non-judgmental way and make it a natural part of continuing professional development.

Kristin Walters, assistant director of studies at the Military Technical College in Oman, gave a presentation at the 2016 TESOL Arabia conference on the college’s nascent teacher development program that adapted the Cambridge Teaching Competency Framework.

Watch Kristin’s Q&A session on the evolving teacher development program or scroll through this summary.

What were the challenges for teacher training at the college when you started?

The college was only founded in 2013, with a mix of local teachers and staff contracted via Australia. It was the job of our small team to establish a teacher development program in an evolving, iterative way.

While policy frameworks were being developed, teachers were working in completely new facilities, juggling significant face-to-face contact hours each week and taking on other student management processes outside the classroom.

Teachers also came from a broad range of backgrounds, with diverse qualifications, experience and beliefs about learning and teaching. Given the fact that the college had only just been established, a culture of sharing and collaborating still needed time to grow.

How did you use the Cambridge Teaching Competency Framework?

As with many education providers, the college required that all teachers needed to be observed for quality assurance. Although not initially, later it was decided that teachers were to be graded according to a four-point grading system and we needed to establish some scaffolding or framework to fit that observation requirement.

The Cambridge Teaching Framework has been around for many years, established with extensive input from thousands of teachers around the world. It was well-suited for our purposes and our preference was to adopt industry best-practice, rather than developing our own framework from scratch.

The Framework defines levels of competency that we adapted to guide our grading system:

  1. Foundational Teacher
  2. Developing Teacher
  3. Proficient Teacher
  4. Expert Teacher

The Cambridge Teaching Framework also gave our teachers and observers language to accompany the evaluation process and eliminate some of the subjectivity.

What were the most effective strategies you used in teacher evaluation?
  • We offered highly individualised professional development plans. If a teacher was graded ‘unsatisfactory’, then an action plan would be jointly created with the teacher. The teacher could choose from a broad range of activities and decide whether they wanted to work through it independently or with a colleague. After about eight weeks, the teacher could then be re-observed.
  • We kept the whole process quite flexible and person-centred to focus on the needs of the teacher at every phase. The full program includes the phases below, all of which offer individualised feedback and development opportunities:
    1. Pre-Observation Discussion
    2. Classroom Observation
    3. Written Reflection
    4. Feedback Discussion
    5. Written Feedback
    6. Grading System
  • Documentation guiding teacher development programs can often be technical, dry and theoretical. We moved through many iterations of our documents to make them practical and helpful guides to both observers and teachers.
  • One surprisingly effective strategy was to introduce a second observer. At first we worried about overwhelming teachers and taking two people away from their core work. However the teachers benefited from two observers and their different views from the lesson observation. The observers also benefited from discussing and reflecting on their perspectives following the lesson. The whole process felt more collaborative and collegial.
Results: how did the teachers respond to the program?

Teachers were surveyed after the first round of observations using the adapted framework was completed. We asked how helpful they found each stage, and two findings in particular stood out:

  • Unsurprisingly, the final Grading System stage was unpopular. The majority of teachers rated it “Not So Useful/Helpful”. Many people don’t like grades and feel that being given a grade is contrary to the idea of continuing professional development.
  • Across all other stages, teachers were very happy to embrace the professional development program. It was very encouraging to see that every phase except Grading was found to be “Useful/Helpful” or “Very Useful/Helpful” by more than 70% of teachers.
Where could the teacher development program go in the future?

The next natural step is to further standardise the observation process, in order to improve the quality and consistency of the program.

It is important to build on the strength of individualised planning, and to support this we might explore using action plans for all teachers no matter their grade. All teachers could engage in other forms of continuing professional development like intercultural competence training, efficacy, action research and teacher portfolios.

To help make observation feel naturally embedded in the college, other forms of observation that aren’t graded could be added, such as drop-in observations, peer observation, videoed lessons used in dialogues between teacher and observer, ‘unseen’ observation (in which the teacher reflects on their lesson to the person who has not actually observed it) and invited observation.

For Navitas staff, there are a number of Yammer groups that share very helpful resources for teacher development. You can find files and ask professionals in the Peer Observation in Navitas Yammer group. You can also find Kristin on Yammer to continue this conversation, or get in touch via Kristin.Walters@navitas.com

Are teachers observing other teachers in your institution to help develop and improve their practice? Teacher observation is one of the most effective strategies to improve teacher quality. Learning and Teaching at Navitas is hosting a series of events that share practices on teacher development across our Learning & Teaching community. Last month we heard from ATTC teacher trainers and SAE’s academic coordinator in a the panel session  on their observation programs. The Q&A session from the article you have just read is available to watch here. Don’t miss out on our next session! Subscribe to get updates on our upcoming events.