NQT observations: tips for success

Female teacher points at map and students have their hands up in the foreground

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“If you were teaching this lesson again, what 1 thing would you do exactly the same? And what 1 thing would you do differently?” These are the 2 questions I ask every teacher I have observed. Their answers help me to understand how reflective the teacher is about their own practice.

As an NQT you should expect to be formally observed 6 times over your NQT year, with the first observation usually taking place in the first 4 weeks. Observations help to set a baseline and are useful for devising targets and support moving forward. You can also request informal observations, if there is something you want to celebrate or you’d like feedback on something you are working on.

Each school’s observation system may look different, but here are some ideas about what to expect and some tips to help you succeed.

You can be observed by anyone

As an NQT you can expect to be observed by your NQT Mentor mainly. However, it may sometimes be more appropriate or beneficial for the Maths subject lead to observe you, if Maths is an area that you are working on for example. Equally your observation may have an element of staff development involved, so as part of the Maths leaders CPD they may observe you with the support of your NQT mentor. The head teacher of the school may also do a formal observation of you from time to time. Whilst the NQT Mentor is empowered by the head, head teachers will often want to ensure they have a firm understanding of the quality of teaching in their school in case visitors arrive.

You should not be given an Ofsted grading for your lesson

Ofsted do not grade individual lessons so neither should your school (this is not always the case). You should have areas of strength and areas for development identified. These areas for development should be agreed with you, and support for meeting them identified.

You should expect feedback with 5 working days

It is important that feedback happens as close to the observation as possible as it is more meaningful and also removes the stress from the anticipation of the feedback. Your observer should give you an indication of when your feedback will be given. If they haven’t come to find you, go and find them and offer a gentle reminder that you are awaiting your feedback.

Don’t make eye contact

When being observed, do your best to ignore the ‘body’ in the room. Those furtive glances as they are scribbling away will just distract you from the task in hand. “What are they writing?; what did I just say?; Was that a good thing?” In that way madness lies. Your observer will also want to speak to the children, look in their books and get a feel as to how ‘typical’ a lesson this is.

The observer wants you to succeed

As Mentors, observers and senior leaders, we want the lesson to go well. We want you to show off what you can do. No-one is coming in hoping for a disaster. Have faith in yourself. Know that what you are doing is the best that you can do and don’t anticipate it going wrong (as this can be a self-fulfilling prophecy).

Don’t try anything for the first time during an observation

If you have been told to do something in the past, or there is a piece of school policy you have yet to implement, don’t do it for the first time in an observed lesson. Equally, when the observer asks a child in your class,” how useful do you find…?” or “Does your teacher always do this?” The truth will out (This also rings applies during Ofsted inspections). Embedding new advice or a new routine takes time. Everyone is aware of that, just be honest and keep working on it.

We all have bad lessons

Every single teacher has had a bad lesson observation and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. Things happen, the lesson structure you’ve used 3 times before doesn’t work on that occasion, the child that has had an argument with their mum and doesn’t feel like doing what you’ve asked today. You can always ask for them to come back again and see you, but be prepared to talk about what went wrong and how you would address it the next time.

Be reflective

The questions I opened this blog can me used after every lesson. Start with the positives, then identify 1 thing to change. Your observer will want you to share your thoughts on the lesson. If you thought it went badly be honest, if you felt it went well, be honest. Be prepared to justify why you thought that, and link it back to the impact on the children. As teachers we often find it hard to talk about ourselves in positive terms, but start by reflecting on the positive ways in which the children responded, and how what you did allowed them to succeed in that way.

Top tip: Use the 2 questions at the start of this blog as a reflection exercise between observations

Ultimately, your observation is a chance to share what is going well for you, and an opportunity for you to develop as a teacher. Be reflective between observations and try to enjoy the lesson observations when they happen.

You’ve got this.

About the author

Mr T is an Experienced NQT Mentor who wants to share expertise and support students and newly qualified teachers as they navigate their early career.

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