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Restrictive and expansive approaches to professionalism and professionalization: the use of lesson observation in FE colleges as a case in point. Matt O’Leary School of Education University of Wolverhampton moleary@wlv.ac.uk. Aims of presentation. To outline the research focus

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matt o leary school of education university of wolverhampton moleary@wlv ac uk

Restrictive and expansive approaches to professionalism and professionalization: the use of lesson observation in FE colleges as a case in point

Matt O’Leary

School of Education

University of Wolverhampton

moleary@wlv.ac.uk

aims of presentation
Aims of presentation
  • To outline the research focus
  • To provide a synopsis of the research design
  • To discuss the key findings of the study and future recommendations
research focus
Research focus
  • To explore and explain how the ‘observation of teaching and learning’ (OTL) was contextualised in FE by describing existing models, their perceived purposes and effects
  • To investigate the ways in which the professional identity, learning and development of FE tutors was being shaped through the use of OTL
slide7
OTL contexts, purposes & effects: key findingsTable 7.8 – Sample of interview responses to main function(s) of OTL
otl contexts purposes effects key findings1
Reliance on quantitative performance indicators i.e. use of graded OTL & the ‘much maligned lesson observation grade profile’ (Graham, Director of Quality)

Graded OTL based on Ofsted 4-point scale > fuelled by a desire to track ‘progress’ and to make teacher performance more measurable and thus more accountable

OTL contexts, purposes & effects: key findings
otl contexts purposes effects key findings2
OTL contexts, purposes & effects: key findings
  • OTL as ‘part of the furniture’ (Jackie, IT tutor) = it has become a well-established feature of teacher evaluation
  • Original concern surrounding its use appears to have dissipated over the last decade
  • Greater consensus & clarity regarding its purpose & the assessment criteria > greater awareness indicative of the ‘high stakes’ for both tutors and colleges
otl contexts purposes effects key findings4
OTL contexts, purposes & effects: key findings
  • Normalisation (Foucault, 1977) of classroom practice - tutors encouraged & expected to demonstrate normalised models of practice to achieve a high grade based on prescribed notions of ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ teaching
  • Standardisation of systems & procedures associated with OTL e.g. selection of observers, documentation (i.e. the ‘course file’), assessment criteria, frequency of OTL etc.
otl contexts purposes effects key findings5
OTL contexts, purposes & effects: key findings

‘So you know your lesson plan inside out. You put it down to three stages, make sure there’s a plenary, a couple of plenaries in there at the start and the end of the lesson. Put a load of crap in with regards to getting the students to do some sort of learning activity at the beginning to show that they have learnt from the previous week’s work, move on to the next stage, put your core tasks in and don’t forget that old chestnut about “differentiating” in the tasks you include! Give them a little quiz, move on to the next one and put up some overheads because you’ve got your overhead and show that you know how to use that, then make sure you do a good summary and do a nice little feedback session with them. Fiddle your scheme of work so you’re doing the lesson that you want to do, make sure that all the handouts have got the college logo on them and they’re all nice and neat with no smudges, do a lot of questioning, do a lot of walking around, then bring some work in with you so you can show that you’re giving them adequate feedback.’ (Terry, engineering tutor)

restrictive approaches to professionalism through otl key findings
Restrictive approaches to professionalism through OTL : key findings
  • Graded OTL as a performative tool with evidence of punishment & reprieve:

‘Our policy is that every teacher will be observed twice in the academic year. The second observation is waived if the teacher achieves a grade one or grade two in the first observation, so you get your one or two and you’re done for the year, you can breathe a sigh of relief. The big tension is with the threes because the three gets you, “Oh no, not one of those mentors!” They get a grade three and they get allocated a mentor so it’s almost like the mentor has become the punishment and this worries me.’ (Graham, Director of Quality)

restrictive approaches to professionalism through otl key findings1
Technicist models of T & L perceive the role of the mentor as repair technician :

‘I think what unnerves me is that you’ve got a grade four and you will be observed within six weeks so there is a reliance there on the fact that you can turn someone around in six weeks and if not well fair enough, we don’t care and we’re going to take you down the incompetency route’ (Abdul, teacher educator & mentor).

Restrictive approaches to professionalism through OTL : key findings
restrictive approaches to professionalism through otl key findings2
Restrictive approaches to professionalism through OTL : key findings
  • Clear delineation of power based on hierarchical seniority with little opportunity for observee input
  • Observer as ‘judgement maker’
  • Overload of OTL to carry out for observers
  • Random allocation of observers to different subject areas
restrictive approaches to professionalism through otl key findings3
Restrictive approaches to professionalism through OTL: key findings
  • Emphasis on summative aspects of OTL to satisfy management information systems
  • ‘Fetishisation’ of the observed lesson
  • Negative impact of graded OTL on tutors’ professional identities & notions of self
  • Implicit & explicit labelling of tutors’ performance across colleges
expansive approaches to professionalism through otl key findings
Expansive approaches to professionalism through OTL : key findings
  • Power differential between observer & observee less hierarchically marked
  • More collaborative, balanced distribution of power in which observee’s voice is valued
  • Emphasis on formative aspects of OTL (grade seen as of minor importance)
  • Greater autonomy for observees to decide focus
  • Importance of the notions of trust and ownership for observee
  • Subject specialist expertise of observer
expansive approaches to professionalism through otl key findings1
Expansive approaches to professionalism through OTL : key findings
  • OTL joined up to other systems of professional learning and development, forms part of ‘multiple communities of practice’
  • Convergence across CPD, QI & QA sections of colleges > shared goals
recommendations
Recommendations
  • National agreement on the use of OTL (involving AoC & main unions)
  • Moratorium on the use of graded OTL
  • Need for a more ‘sophisticated’ approach – FE has outgrown the present system
  • Need for colleges & tutors to be given greater professional autonomy to develop their own systems of OTL & decide the focus
  • Time remission needs to be formally built in to staff timetables as recognition of importance of OTL
  • Less reliance on ‘snapshot’ models of OTL – need to acknowledge limitations of observation as a method of data collection & using it as part of a multi-dimensional approach