Making the Best of Mickey Mouse

In recent years, we have started to include qualificiations as part of our courses which go beyond just English. It started off with Maths & ICT, which was a sort of natural “basic skills” fit, but more recently we have delivered qualifications (while I teach ESOL, I merely deliver these qualifications) around the theme of employablity skills, work skills and e-safety. They’re fairly innocuous, and, like the ones I’m doing at the moment, designed to reflect more or less what we would be doing with students now anyway. If I’m entirely honest, I’m not a fan of the qualifications (the usual metaphor is that of a well known cartoon mouse) nor of the political and economic context that has led to their imposition. But sometimes with these things, ours is but to do or die.

So let’s do, shall we.

To my mind, for an ESOL teacher doing this with an ESOL class, where perhaps you, or the students, or both, are perhaps not entirely on board, you’ve got 3 options:

  1. treat it with the contempt it deserves and tokenistically bash through the activities, dictating what students write, and get it done and out of the way in one quick session.
  2. Take it absolutely seriously, really buy in to the whole process and do it properly.
  3. Be an ESOL teacher and see how you can exploit them for language learning.

It therefore goes entirely without saying that I’d always aim for the third one, although I spent much of the last third of last year doing the first, treating that process with the absolute scorn and cynicism it deserved. However, this year I’m aiming to extract at least some value from the things, so this is what I’ve done.

We are using two work skills units as a starting point for the year. One is on Self-Assesment, and the other on problem solving at work. These were chosen quite sensibly because the content fits neatly into our induction period (talking about goals, strengths and weaknesses, what to do if you have a problem in college and so on.) I’ve approached the tasks at face value: “let’s just do them” but with an intention to draw out as much interesting language and develop as many meaningful interactions as I can.

So we’ve had discussions about problem solving and who to ask, and how to ask, and what to say when you ask. As a result we developed the following rather rich range of language:

I was reminded about how much I enjoy those little decision making moments: do I exploit the difference between manual as a noun and as an adjective, for example, or see if the students bring it up (they did). Do we run with some idioms and some sayings, or do we wait and see? (“Easier said than done” was one which seemed to take root in the class.)

With another class, predictably, some similar phrases came up, but also the difference between “arbitrate” and “mediate” and between “oppress” and “exert power”, or between “it’s playing up” and “it’s broken”.

It is always a surprise to me how much variety can come up from the same source material, and how much one can expand and explore the language.

For the self assessment unit, things are much easier. The tasks are more or less what we would do at this time of year anyway: where are you up to, strengths, weaknesses, goals, all that personal planning gubbins where everyone pretends that it’s a personalised, student led course with a shared, negotiated syllabus, but actually is entirely dictated by the teacher. So yes, it’s been a much easier task, treating it as a warm up for the tedious business of individual learning plans and the dreaded SMART targets (yep, they’re still hanging on, and nope, there’s still no evidence that they’re anything other than managerial horsepoo dressed up as learning).

So it’s been less bad than it could have been, partly because it’s been planned for, and we’ve all been mentally prepared for it. But it’s also still a series of lessons which, while productive, could also have been even more productive, more focussed, lessons which centred on stludents’ reasons for being there in the first place.


#NewTerm #Excited #sorrynotsorry

It’s that time of year again, folks. Well, almost. In FE it’s about now that everything goes crazy: GCSE results day tomorrow, and trying to squeeze part time adult learning around that big enrolment. And then it’s a week or two of mopping up, extra enrolments, that kind of thing, before, finally, term begins.

The other thing that marks out this time of year is the flurry of new and experienced teachers taking to social media to explain how thrilled they are to be going back to work, and to start teaching their new classes. Fair enough, especially for new teachers, because they’re lining up a new career, a proper new start. For more experienced teachers, too, there may be genuine excitement. I’m a fan of September: the weather is usually reliably good, and I’ve been in education for most of my life, and for much of that time, September has always represented a very literal new beginning: new students, new classes, and a chance to experiment, try new things, and to avoid the mistakes of last year.

But I’m also dreading going back. Not because of any internal politics, or because I don’t like my work, or even because of where I work. It’s much simpler than that. At the same time as looking forward to a new year (and believe me, I have a really nice timetable this year), I’m also not looking forward to the end of the holidays, because, well, it’s nice to have the best part of a month of not being at work, and spending that time either with my family at home, or going away somewhere. And then there’s the adjustment from not having to get up and out at an externally prescribed time to living by a timetable: this takes mental and physical effort to switch, and it’s not always welcome. I’m sorry if that offends anyone, but honestly, it’s just hard to get back into work. There’s nothing wrong with this: it’s just human to struggle with these changes, no matter how much you enjoy the work you do.

But yes, I have a good year ahead. Last year was a deprofessionalising misery from Easter onwards, which I’m feeling confident won’t be repeated this year, and I really really need to look at how to improve my students’ reading exam successes. Plus I’m trying some new stuff: we have a slightly different style of timetable, I want to explore using Microsoft Teams instead of a VLE, I’m going to get into some good marking and feedback habits, and try some new things generally. I’ve got a research project brewing, and might well have a look at growing my qualifications at long last. So there are good things ahead. It’s just hard to get back into the routine, that’s all, and, well, sorry, not sorry.

Being well

I’ve been in Birmingham this weekend at the NATECLA National Conference, and have come away, as ever, with a natty exam board sponsored bag full of goodies, a bunch of open tabs of sites and resources to look at, faintly weary fingertips from tapping out notes and the more than occasional tweet, some new and renewed friendships, some happy memories and, of course, a head and notebook full of ideas, reflections and thoughts.

Now, I’ve had what we can only describe as a less than stellar few months at work. I won’t go into the details, because there are questions of propriety, but it’s been a long, gruelling and challenging few months, which is at least one of the reasons I haven’t posted a blog since April is because sometimes you need to work through these things, and some laundry is too dirty to air in public. So anyway, you’d think that given the tough time, I’d perhaps be wanting to switch off from the whole business of ESOL teaching, and get my head into another place. And certainly a proportion of advice you see tends to suggest this sort of thing, and when a well meaning workplace offers you wellbeing it’s often in this sort of format: time out, relaxation, and so on. One of the other things is upping your physical activity, and looking at your physical well being. These are all, of course, absolutely right, but only, I think, up to a point. What these things fail to do is sort out the problem in the first place, so that if the tension is relatively minor, then, like a sticking plaster on a cut, that’s fine, but when things are deeper, then the problem just comes back later.

Often, of course, the things which stress you out are beyond your control: you have to develop some means of coping with them. Support networks of people, for example, both in and out of work. What has worked for me, however, is, oddly, working harder.

Now, perhaps this is a variation on the “take your mind off it” approaches, but one of the few things that actually stops me being stressed at work is focusing on the bits I really enjoy, and the bits I really enjoy for me are not the administrative side of things, but the bit where you go into a classroom and be a teacher, and, crucially, help your students learn stuff. Emails can (and should) go unanswered, demands for paperwork can go ignored, administrative duties beyond the immediate can be forgotten, and you can live, for two short hours or so, for the moment, doing something you really enjoy doing.

And this love of the teaching side will always create challenges for me at work. Last Monday, for example, I had a massive job of marking portfolios to do, and a deadline to do it by, but spent at least some of the time I should have been marking on a lengthy debate about the challenges and benefits of teaching pronunciation and why our higher level students were struggling so much with this. This was a much more appealing thing because, unlike marking a bunch of fairly tedious portfolios (which I did finish marking, in case you were wondering), it was intrinsically and professionally interesting.

And so back to NATECLA. One of the challenges I’ve had at work this last few months has involved working with ESOL students to complete not only their ESOL exams, but also The aforementioned portfolios of work for extra qualifications. And I’ve said this before I think, but it’s not enough for me just to teach ESOL students, but also to teach the subject ESOL, and teaching them other things just doesn’t quite cut it. Sorry, and all that. As a result, then the opportunities to teach and to talk ESOL have been few and far between of late. Being at NATECLA, then, whilst perhaps not being restful (that Friday night Ruth Hayman Trust pub quiz!), has been deeply reinvigorating. So thank you to NATECLA for putting it on, and the community of practice that is represented at the conference of course, but also to my employer, who, I should add, paid for me to go. Cheers!


Given that this is partly a post about stress, here are a couple of the sites I found while I was writing giving advice on workplace stress. I was ready to sneer about some of the advice, but it seems all quite sensible. I know that sounds like you me of those “if you’ve been affected by the issues in this programme…” things but you never know.

ESOL and…

A number of years ago, I taught PSD (Personal and Social Development) to a group of 16-18 ESOL students, and I hated it. Quite, quite profoundly, too. While I could get behind the idea of helping students with personal stuff like health, money management, teamwork, that sort of thing, gaining accreditation for knowing you should eat vegetables always felt a little bit on the Mickey Mouse spectrum. The other, and probably more dominant reason was my own validity in teaching these things: you feel a bit of wally talking about healthy eating, then heading off afterwards for some Pepsi Max and a packet of fruit pastilles. “Do as I say, not as I do” is not a great teaching motto.

Fast forward a few years, however, and “ESOL with” is an increasingly dominant model for all students. Adult ESOL has moved from discrete embedding of maths and IT on a voluntary basis, i.e. where students are offered things if they are interested, to where institutions are running courses where the maths and IT are increasingly fully integrated into a package of qualifications. Most recently, qualifications like employability have begun to be offered as part of this package.

Now, I have no problem with embedding, up to a point. I will, where appropriate, highlight maths in a class if it occurs naturally (statistics in a text, etc.) but I won’t shoehorn it in because duh, that’s not embedding. I have, badly, taught entry level maths in discrete classes for ESOL students: badly because the teaching of maths took me back to the naked boredom I recall when learning it. (This is a personal thing: I am very sure there are plenty of maths teachers out there who are similarly unimpressed by grammar.) I’ve also been a regular teacher of ESOL and ICT for the last goodness knows how many years, which is ironic, really, given that out of all the things mentioned so far, ICT is, on paper, at least, the one thing I am least qualified to teach, It’s been entirely picked up as I go along, which is, perhaps, a testament to informal learning.

Very often, both maths and ICT are things that, in my experience, ESOL students want or need, but not always in the way one might think. I have a student who comes to my ESOL and ICT class who does so purely for the extra English practice, as without the language barrier, she’s probably better qualified than I am in terms of ICT skills. However, even in cases like this, they can see the value of formalising their experience and understanding of ICT through the medium of English, in much the same way that I will, one day, get round to formalising my ICT skills through a qualification.

On the other hand, this kind of course isn’t for everybody. Neither is ESOL and employability, or ESOL and Childcare, or ESOL and Construction, or ESOL and anything. After all, any given cohort of ESOL students is massively diverse and complex. Sure there is diversity of need and background to any group of people, but in an ESOL setting superdiversity is the norm, with parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, carers, accountants, civil servants, social workers, trained teachers, small business owners, semi-professional gamers, care workers, artists, nurses, graphic designers and farmers all rubbing shoulders.

Therefore it follows that to require that students do a course in any of the “ESOL with…” combinations is patronising at best, downright insulting at worst. It’s also a failure to meet the stated needs of the students. If I turn up at a college wanting to learn French, I don’t want to also have to do an entry level maths course at the same time. I might want the opportunity to do it, and there’s no harm in asking me if I want to, but it should not be a condition of enrolment: I reserve the right to say “no”. Of course, if my enrolment were enforced, I could vote with my feet, and only attend the bit of the course I want to attend, but the there are consequences – my reputation goes down as an unreliable attendee, and therefore a bit of a risk for subsequent courses, not to mention a reference for work.

The reason, of course, that this sort of thing exists is that the funding for these qualifications can be used to prop up the shortfall in the appalling funding situation for ESOL, not to mention financial shortfalls in FE generally. If ESOL were actually funded appropriate to the necessary learning involved then organisations could offer other things as an optional extra, and even be a bit creative with other alternatives, offering students a package which is not only useful in terms of developing language, but also in terms of developing and capitalising on their other skills; something which can only be good for all of us. The reality is that ESOL is not seen as deserving of funding, never mind respect or integrity, and thus teachers are squeezed into uncomfortable professional compromises by an unsympathetic sector.

Plugged in (like a magpie?)

As a contrast to my last post on last week’s lessons, I thought I’d reflect on a lesson I taught this week with two of the same groups as before: so level 1 ESOL (broadly B2 ish), mixed nationality esol in the UK.

It was the 7th March, World Book Day, and so I selected a text (note, please, the pronoun) on the benefits of reading together and for pleasure published by the World Book Day organisation. It’s quite a rich text, with some rich vocabulary and some fine examples of different ways we use the present participle, which is something I had planned to cover (again, pronoun).

We did a pre-reading discussion; we read for gist; we read for text type and purpose; we read for detail; and we did some vocabulary work around word formation (create/creative/creation/creativity, etc.). There was also a task around identifying and using the ing forms which we didn’t get round to in the class, but which I set for homework.

Now, and I’ll let you into a dirty little secret here, it was, without a doubt, absolutely fine. Not problematic at all. The students all engaged with the text, and succeeded in understanding it. They got the questions and challenges around type and purpose, and were all good at the reading for detail tasks. They did great at the vocab, and we had a number of “ooooh” moments. Partly this was with the vocabulary itself, but also with the use of paper dictionaries, which I made the students use. This was a genuine novelty for the students, because they are very very used to online dictionaries. For me, researching vocab like this, a paper dictionary beats any app or website, no matter what Ms Ticky-Tick-Box MicroManager would argue is a missed opportunity to develop digital literacy (FFS, they use their phones all the bloody time – it’s hardly something they need to develop.) The familiar CELTA type structure meant that I could switch off from managing the class because I know how a lesson like that “works”. Instead I could work the room a bit and promote and encourage interactions and questions, scooping up the gobbets of interesting language and conversation that came up during the lessons.

Which is where this all starts to come together a bit. Not every lesson has to be based on walking with a smile and a question and seeing what happens, and anyway, that can be quite wearying, even with a little more structure involved! Plus sometimes, no, quite often during a dogme type lesson you notice language areas that really do need some in depth analysis and presentation, a bit of formal input and practice, which is really hard to do on the fly. The reality of the job is that you change your approaches to fit the context. This is why I am wary of “standard” practices imposed from management (and they do impose), or of “best practices” because what works in class X could very easily bomb in class Y.

I’m not, and have never been, a purist. Not for me dogme only, or TBLT, or whatever. You can keep your educational fundamentalism for pointless spats on Twitter. I have always been a bricoleur  (if I may borrow the concept), choosing the most appropriate tools from a range, and hammering them together into something that works for the teaching situation. If someone pinned me down for a “what kind of teacher are you” discussion, then I’d say magpie, pinching all the glittery shiny things from whatever I like, and using them how I like. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. You learn, you listen, and you  avoid making the same mistake twice. Well, three times, anyway.

Unplugged in 3 rounds.

Like many (well, 100 or so) in the UK ESOL community last week I managed to rush home to pick up a webinar run by Scott Thornbury on an “ecological” approach to ESOL: essentially drawing together ideas from dogma, participatory education and task based learning and applying them to the UK ESOL context: that is, teaching English to migrants in an English language setting.

A couple of things struck me: first was that this was a very similar line to the approaches I’ve described at various NATECLA workshops: using the lives of the students and the language contexts in which they live and work as the starting point for learning, and within that, enabling and using the students’ emergent language arising from the those contexts as the course content, rather than teacher selected grammar and vocabulary items. I don’t mean in a situational “Mr Khan goes to the chemist” sense, but rather using planned classroom strategies to open the learning space to whatever language the students need: creating a space for language to arise through interaction. You create interactions which expose gaps in the communicative skills of the students and you fill them. It’s not winging it, in the sense of planning and thinking about the how of the lesson, but leaving the what up to chance. This is a bit of a distance from the standard model of FE (in which I work), which requires that there be teacher dictated learning aims for every lesson, with teacher dictated activities and teacher selected content: the content and “aims” originate with the students on the day. We move from aims and outcomes, and the dreaded SMART, and instead we look at affordances and thus learning opportunities: not so much we will learn to we have learned.

There’s a lot of skill and understanding involved: where some language arises, you’ve got to know whether to explain and analyse, perhaps expand and practice, or whether to simply “infill” the correct form lexically, so to speak. You’ve got to be on the ball, listening to the students across the room, to decide whether one students’ language is something that will benefit everyone, and is whether it is worth sharing with the whole class. You need to know your students: how are they likely to respond to your lesson structure? How will they engage with each other? Which students are likely to produce more complex structures and who is likely to need more support?

So anyway, inspired, or perhaps reminded, by the webinar, I thought I’d have a go at an explicitly “unplugged” lesson. I had three groups of students at level 1, two on Thursday morning, and one on Friday, and I did a sort of mini-action research project by using the same basic lesson structure to see what happened.

As a stimulus I used pictures of various places around town. I chose relatively significant places: supermarkets, libraries, the job centre, the council offices, and fairly commonplace ones: a cash machine, a railway station, a chemist. I quite like these as a stimulus: they’re familiar and reusable: one set of 25 A4 colour photos (ssh, don’t tell the boss) can be used on multiple occasions. Plus there’s lots that can be done with them.

I divided the lesson into rounds, rather than stages. Round 1 was simply identifying the places. Each group of students received an envelope with some of the images in. They looked, identified and discussed their ideas before handing the photos to the next group. Repeat as necessary until everyone’s seen all of them, then a bit of teacher led plenary to pull together answers and ideas, and to share the emergent language. And what a lot there was, even at this stage. In one group, we ended up with zero hours contract,minor ailments and insufficient funds; with another we had time waster and pass the buck; and in the other a clarification over the difference between jungle and woods.

For round 2, the students worked in pairs to identify problems which might arise in these places. This is where it got really interesting. With the first two groups the focus was much more squarely (but not purely) focussed on problems in the places themselves (being overcharged, refunds, benefits problems, a card getting swallowed, that sort of thing). With the third group, the issues more often focussed on outside: looking at issues around parking, transport services and so on. This was significant because this influenced how the third round played out.

Round 3, then, was intended to have the students writing a dialogue based on one of the problems identified. However, the most appropriate response to, say, a lack of parking, isn’t to harangue the guy on the front desk of the council office, but rather to write, or email, the relevant department. So where, in rounds 1 and 2, the emergent language was relatively similar, particularly, as you might expect, with the two groups based in the same geographical area, the language arising for Round 3 was radically different not only in the individual bottom up language (grammar, vocabulary, etc.), but also in the types of language interaction the students needed in order to deal with the problem.

There is much talk in FE, and indeed in education generally, about meeting individual needs. The traditional ESOL approach to this is assess students, identify areas for improvement, design course to meet these needs. This is all very lovely and idealistic, and perhaps in the early Skills for Life ESOL class maxing out at around 12 students it might even have a little value. As class sizes have swollen to 18+ students, the reality is that across the course everyone will probably need some exposure to pretty much everything. What this sort of approach does is create a learning environment which is based entirely on individual needs: after all, whose language are we working with? Where are the gaps in communicative ability coming from? In some ways, this approach is far closer to the holy grail of individualised learning than anything which involves various formalised assessments, target setting and the rest: it’s assessment for learning in action, if you like, making use of what you learn about your students in the lesson to maximise their subsequent learning, unfettered by planned aims and teacher dictated content. Plus it probably winds some people up, and that, quite frankly, is reason enough for anything.

Has observation improved me as a teacher?

I was involved in a small debate on Twitter last week about the value/benefit of lesson observation. It’s a well worn topic for me, and I’ve spent plenty of time discussing the problems with lesson observation linked to performance management, the benefits of peer observation and so on.

But one thing came up and that was this statement which I made off the cuff, but realised was probably completely true.

I found myself wondering if this was just keyboard warrior braggadocio or whether it was true: is there anything in my practice that I can trace directly back to lesson observation feedback?

Luckily (or not) I have a bit of a data trail for this, and I have lesson observations from records going back quite a few years, so I went and had a look through them, focussing on the areas for improvement identified.

I don’t want to bore you with the details, but what I did find is that where my practice was confirmed as meeting the standards, that is, the stuff I was doing well, then those things stayed, even where (as in my most recent observation) those things were relatively new or experimental. That is to say, where the feedback confirmed something was effective, then these things have generally become (it remained) a part of my practice.

The areas for improvement, on the other hand, have been more challenging. Sometimes, I think, they’ve been too specific: something which occurred in that lesson and that lesson only but which, as a general rule, don’t seem to happen in most lessons (like an attendance issue in my last one, for example) or which are specific to a type of lesson and may or may not make their way into practice. A good example of this was demonstrating progress and feedback by using email exchanges in an ESOL and ICT class. I know the person who suggested this sometimes checks in on the blog, so just in case, I’m sorry, but I never really did get round to ever doing it, not properly. I gave it a go for a week or two, and it just never felt like it was doing much for me or the students, apart from generating a bit of a paper trail which nobody looked at or cared about.

There are a batch of “procedural” actions, around paperwork or admin, or tracking, or something, which, yeah, next year, I promise, but which are never going to be my strong suit. I’ve had stuff like that in every appraisal, never mind lesson observation, since time immemorial, and I’m still useless at it. Related to this are the comments relating to standardised practice – patronising comments about things which are so bland and meaningless (health and safety, learning objectives on display, that sort of thing), that you have to wonder whether or not the feedback was generated by some managerial predictive text, with the writer simply stabbing the middle button on an iPad app.

More often than not, however, the ideas are just, well, a bit meh. Fair enough in their way, nice ideas, but nothing that really excited me. There was nothing in the “rejected” pile of action plans from previous observations that made me go “fuck me, that’s the answer I’ve been looking for!”. I’m not sure if I feel comfortable with the word uninspiring, but it’s the closest I’ve got.

So, the answer to my question? Was I just showing off? Sadly, no. Sorry to all my observers who read this, but all that carefully crafted feedback and those individualised suggested actions have all come to a big fat bugger all. Partly it’s the reasons above, but also, I think, there’s the element of the observation being done to you. I didn’t get to choose the lesson, for example, be it a comfort zone lesson where I’m trying something a bit out there, and would like some help, or one with the bolshy teenagers where I struggle with what is probably some pretty basic behaviour management stuff, and again, would like some non-judgmental support where the feedback is entirely without consequence on a professional level, but which focusses has n something important. The word I’m looking for here I think is safe. Not safe from criticism, mind you, but rather that the observation and the feedback are safe from the demands of performance management. But what happens instead is that the lesson might have been a bit of a so-what lesson to start with, with me following a safe, predictable and reassuring procedure that I know works well, and ticks lots of boxes (in fact, the chances of that are pretty high, I can tell you now), and so the feedback tells me very little.

There have been some observations leading to change, but these are ones which go back over a decade or more, to when I was doing my DELTA, and thinking through the linguistic and theoretical frameworks behind the lesson. Even here, however, the observation was the culmination of several other factors. Yes, the observation was the agent for change, in the sense that had I not been observed for the course, I wouldn’t have made those changes, but it wasn’t the source of the change. The ideas did not grow from the act of being observed, but rather from other things.

All of which takes to the question of where changes have come from. I’m not in some weird stasis, after all, and I’m not the teacher I was fifteen years ago. Some of it, no, an awful lot of it, has come from me thinking about things for myself, reflecting on things and adapting accordingly, either in the class or after. This isn’t big-headed (well, not much) it’s just that the only regular observer of my lessons aside from my students is me, and that’s what I do. I’ve changed lesson styles, teaching ideas, resources, all sorts, as a result of my own reflections. The other change “from within” is more about trying new things – sometimes I just have an idea I want to try, so I do. It either works, or it doesn’t, and so it goes. By the same token, feedback from students has also contributed to change: less dramatically, perhaps, but where they have made suggestions, I’ve listened and adapted through the lens of my own professional judgement.

Changes have also come from reading. Dogme/Teaching Unplugged has been a huge influence on me, and I’ll tell you now, nobody in mainstream FE teaching would dare suggest that you can learn without having everything painstakingly planned and dictated by the teacher, so that has definitely not come from lesson observation feedback. The main driver for that change has been through exposure to ideas through books, followed by practical experimentation.

The other big source for ideas has been through conversations with colleagues – talking to a peer and listening to their ideas before taking them on. In fact, I can identify several concrete teaching practices that have come from these conversations, or from virtual colleagues via Twitter, or indeed any other source but again rarely, if ever, where these conversations have followed a formal observation.

But perhaps we are being too hard on the lesson observation. Perhaps it’s really not meant to be that effective in promoting change, certainly not the standard once a year model, anyway: why would it be? In educational terms, an observation is an assessment and this model is more like a summative rather than a formative assessment. It’s something that happens once a year, and captures the development and changes that have occurred across that year. It presents an evaluation of the performance of that individual, measured against externally dictated criteria. Actions following feedback are too an afterthought, from both an individual and an institutional perspective; that is to say, development is not the principle driver behind the process. So yes, I am being too hard on lesson observation: perhaps I have raised my expectations too high, or have believed somewhat idealistically in the system as a force for development.

So in answer to my question, after quite a lot of thought, the answer remains no. All that effort around formal observations, mine and my observers, has had negligible impact on my professional practice. It’s quite a frightening reflection, really, given the status accorded to lesson observations, but also one which should be acknowledged by observers (I include myself in that group as well). Could we observers do better? Feedback is so often a recitation of judgements, rather than a discussion and a challenge, but again this is because judgements are demanded by the process: we can’t just debate the pros and cons like professional adults, but are forced into an unequal teacher-pupil type relationship by the observation system. And that, I guess, is why lesson observation has categorically, emphatically, not improved my teaching practice.