Different perspectives on evaluating lessons and developing as teachers at Kingdown Community School, Warminster







PGCE Educational Study 

Richard Denny








Resubmission       June 2003


Introduction                                                        An overview of the study

Page 3


Background                                                        Ideas about teacher development from professional


Page 4


Information Gathering Description of my research method and its validity

Page 5


Findings part one                                         Novice teachersÕ perspectives on reflective practice

Page 6


Findings part two                                        SchoolÕs perspectives on reflective practice

Page 8


Conclusions, evaluation and limitations                  

Page 12



Page 14


Appendices                                                          Questionnaire, interviews and reflective data

Back pages



Education is a fundamental aspect of the human condition. The interplay between thought, language and social relationships is, for me, the act of education. My interest in education stems from this belief. I see beauty in the construction of ideas by people through discussion and action. At a practical level I thoroughly enjoy building with children their understandings of the world around them in science lessons. This education is not the exclusive property of the youth; of equal interest to me are the things which I am learning in school. I view this year as a project of my own education, in which I have learned and am learning many things about my own nature, and about the nature of learning.


Kingdown Community School is a large mixed gender comprehensive school in Warminster with sports college status, where I have spent much of the last year as a novice teacher in the science department. There are around 1400 pupils including a sixth form of over 200. There is a large staff at Kingdown, this year with three NQTs, two of whom are in Science. The school has as one of its mission statement aims Òto make effective learning the most important aim of the school.Ó (KCS, 2002) With so many teachers of all levels of experience, it is natural that this Òeffective learningÓ involves teacher, as well as pupil development.


In my role as a novice teacher I have seen and realised much around me this year which has been perplexing; my learning curve has been as steep as any at the school. I have had to engage with so many different issues and develop so many different values. I have no doubt that I could not have engaged with issues surrounding my practice as a novice teacher with sufficient intellectual clarity to continue had it not been for the support of other novices, established teachers and the staff support structure of Kingdown.


Engaging in conversations with other novice teachers at Kingdown allowed me to realise that others shared values with me, and that there were some things of importance common to teachers at the start of their careers. I wanted to investigate how one of these issues, reflective consciousness, developed through the professional life of a teacher, and what the role of Kingdown is in helping staff to develop in this way. The essence of this study is to reflect on how Kingdown School supports staff in their personal development as teachers, from the initial training, through the probation year and beyond into their career. To research this question it was necessary to reflect carefully on what my own educational values are, and in learning about Kingdown as an environment for staff development I have had the opportunity for much personal growth. This is a study of reflective practice at Kingdown from four different perspectives; those of novice teachers, NQTs, experienced teachers and senior school management.



In the nineteen seventies Lawrence Stenhouse proposed a system of curriculum development which was based firmly within the domain of teachers. He was of the opinion that no classroom was an island (Stenhouse L, 1975, p157) and that by sharing their research teachers could generate enough data for revisions of local curriculum policy to be considered. Now, a generation after his ideas were put forward curriculum decisions are arguably even farther removed from teachers in the UK than they were in the Seventies; none of us really have a great deal of choice as to what we teach or, increasingly even how we teach it. There is often a sense among teachers practising at the moment that this government intervention for, it is claimed, short-term political gain restricts good teaching and removes a sense of ownership from professionals for their work.


I am inspired to work through this sense of distance by the work of the Brazilian educationalist Paulo Friere. He wrote that education is the act of freedom (Friere P, 1974, p147) and that educators must believe that people are capable of participating in their own pursuit of liberation (Friere P, 1972, p150). I am motivated to teach by a belief that education is an act of emancipation. The contradiction between this sense of freedom and the growing sense of control from government is one I feel strongly in my practice. Only through reflecting on what happens in my lessons, and on my behaviour do I manage to teach in this space between freedom and control.


A reflective practitioner in the classroom context is a teacher who develops through analysing their practice in order to make better sense of the teaching and learning that takes place in their classroom (Sebba J, 1994, p81). Lesson evaluation may not necessarily be a process of simply identifying problems:


ÒWe donÕt pretend to start with a problem, clearly articulated and defined, and end with a solution. We are more engaged with consciousness raising than in problem- solving.Ó

(Carspecken P + Macgillivray L, 1998, p171)


This more informal approach to lesson evaluation, without strict rules and boundaries may be very important to teachers. Through informal conversation we are enabled to articulate feeling and opinion, testing our own perceptions against those of others (Hannan et al, 1971, p113). I discovered by surveying novice teachers that formal review is often onerous. It is reassuring to read of the value in less stringent evaluation.


Reflection of this kind can come about in the normal social course of a teacherÕs day. It is common for British teachers to talk together about their problems and successes in the classroom, and to provide mutual support. (Claxton G et al, 1996, p71). Certainly my experience of Kingdown was that this collaboration did take place. However, it is important for me to find out why reflection is such a salient issue in the lives of teachers, and how the structure of Kingdown allows for it. ÒIs it too great a claim to say that reflection may produce school reform?Ó ask Osterman and Kottkamp (1993, p171). In my context it may be possible to identify whether school policy at Kingdown is motivated by a need for reflective practice or whether it merely reflects the personal need of teachers for development.



Information gathering


This essay is built around data gathered from novice teachers during a period lasting from the middle of the block one practice to the middle of the block two practice, and from staff at Kingdown at the end of the academic year. This data consists of a questionnaire and several interviews taped and typed up, along with my own reflective writing on these pieces. The questionnaire data is presented as anonymous and I have changed the names of the participants with whom I conducted the interviews. Full transcripts are presented in the appendices.


This is not quantitative research. I do not believe that such a small scale study could possibly contain the depth of research needed to make valuable statistical inferences. It can however indicate trends in opinion, highlight points of interest and raise questions and arguments. Admittedly this could be well done using minor statistical studies (rather than proofs), but the issues I have been interested in studying are better revealed by telling stories about their protagonists, indeed the very telling of those stories allows me to consider and develop aspects of my teaching. Does this make it valid research?


If a study does not address a problem and seek to solve it then it is not research (Mallick K, and Verma G, 1999). On a more specific level, Cohen and Manion have argued that research constitutes undertakings and activities aimed at developing Òa science of behaviour for the clarification of issues with a bearing on education.Ó (Cohen L, and Manion L, 1980, pp.43-4). As my work has been preoccupied with means of developing my practice and clarifying issues in my education, it fits quite neatly under these banners of research.


Suggesting that teachers transform their practices in an attempt to answer questions about their situations, Jean McNiff (1990) plays with the idea that a teacher adapting her or his practice is an act of research, that theories are brought about by a teacher Òmaking external, through the act of writing, what is internal.Ó (McNiff J, 1990, p56).

The idea that teachers research education by writing about their practices is shared by John Elliott who talks of a relationship between developing and understanding teachersÕ thinking. He argues that encouraging teachers to inquire into their own practice, in order to research how they perceive education, in fact becomes a form of teacher development (Elliott J, 1992, p206). As this essay describes -in a sense- the development of some trainee teachersÕ perception of education, I believe I can justifiably call it research.


I have often found fascinating and liberating ideas in education and other fields to be inaccessible, hidden away beneath a spurious mass of academia and impenetrable text. Rather than hope to reproduce with my essay the exacting standards of intellectualism deemed necessary to make such research valid, I must look to tell my story in other ways, ways accessible to me and, I hope, the reader. The following discussion of my findings and their concluding overview are intended therefore to be engaging and accessible accounts of how reflecting on lessons affects teachers at Kingdown. These accounts are told firstly through the eyes of four novices as they begin to experience such practice. Perspectives on how the issues of evaluation and development might progress into the probation year and beyond, and how Kingdown as an institution is committed to aiding this development are then gained from the reflections of an NQT, an experienced teacher and a member of the senior management team.





Part one:                   The Novice teacher perspective- Why is reflecting important?


It is springtime and I have taught well over a hundred lessons. I probably have pieces of paperwork relating to every single one of them; IÕm certainly supposed to have. I should be able to demonstrate that I am Òcommitted to improving personal teaching practice through reflection and collaboration.Ó (UoB, 2002, p54). Naturally I will do everything I can to meet this and other standards, but such targets do not motivate me to develop. I want to improve my practice to be a great teacher, not to meet the basic entry levels of the profession. A typical lesson for me would end with a little personal reflection and some amount of feedback from the class teacher. There is almost always an experienced teacher to offer her or his opinion alongside my own. The two do not always concur (I donÕt always point this out to the teacher, for obvious reasons), so who is in the right?



 ÒMy mentor is pretty honest. [In my review] he was quite formulaic. What he was saying was IÕd achieved my objectives, IÕd kept control of the classroom, so if he was ticking boxes then yes, it was a successful lesson, but no, it wasnÕt the best one IÕd ever done. But normally I get a feeling if a lesson is going well, and itÕs normally if IÕm having fun. If IÕm enjoying it, then normally itÕs going well and if I ainÕt enjoying it then itÕs usually because itÕs heading downhill.Ó


ÒSometimes I can feel it when itÕs going and I just know itÕs going well, other times, when IÕve been in a bad mood about the lesson before and IÕve thought Ôoh this isnÕt going wellÕ but when IÕve come back out and thought about it and the teacherÕs gone: Õthat was a good lessonÕÓ


ÒIÕve had that! IÕve had lessons that I know are going well, and lessons that I thought were shocking, and I was in a foul mood when I stormed out, but the report IÕve got back from it was quite the opposite. Whether that was just to keep my spirits upÉÓ

Interview, Jan 03


I donÕt think anyone would disagree that one of the most important duties of tutors and mentors is to be supportive. It seemed in the early days of the autumn that novices tended towards overly negative reviews of their own performance in lessons; one colleague was so negative that she eventually left the course. This negativity left the tutor to take the lead in reflecting on the positive points but this was not a problem as in those days they seemed to be more aware of what had happened in the class. I found their ability to review as a unit the entirety of my work and effort in a lesson both useful and irritating.



Teachers are great to learn from because they are often masters of their art and by their nature good teachers.


I canÕt fault my mentors, butÉ


Teachers are awful to learn from because they are teachers and they canÕt turn it off. The more detailed and intricate your actions are, the more deeply and savagely they dissect them. The harder you try the more they push you. They are never satisfied with your learning. Happy, yes. Satisfied, no.



Interview, Jan 03


This leaves us in an interesting situation. Nobody likes to be criticised, and teaching is such an emotionally exhausting job that the last thing anyone wants at the end of a long day is to be told or to tell themselves exactly what it was they could have done better. However, although it may not be possible for even the most reflective of novices to be entirely honest with her or his self about the performance, reflective practice does not have to be entirely an act of self flagellation. Reflection may well, as Day (1999) points out, be initiated in other ways, for example curiosity or escape from boredom. The danger, he points out is that teachers become prisoners of our own intent and only see what we want to see (Day C, 1999, p27+28). The role of the tutor and mentor may therefore be said to be one of guidance; not necessarily expounding how she or he thinks the lesson went, but overseeing the noviceÕs reflections, making sure they are not too far from reality.


The need for some form of review is clear. Novice teachers surveyed had some interesting suggestions as to how that review should come about.


Evaluation needs to be reflective but should be done in a variety of forms; interview, written, discussion. Should be in a form appropriate to the teacher.


Helps with some lessons but doing them for all lessons is time consuming and repetitive.


Needs to be done with other teachers, novices and pupils. If I do them myself then I miss a lot.


I find it helpful to evaluate my lessons but just by jotting down a few notes about what was good, bad, and what to do next time. University evaluations are tedious and pointless.

Questionnaire to Kingdown novices, Dec 02


I particularly appreciate the idea that evaluations should be appropriate to the individual teacher and that they are collaborative. It is of no surprise that novices resent the imposition upon their time of the university, who often come across to us as abstracted from the realities of teaching. It does seem an oversight however that there is little opportunity for pupil evaluation of novice teachers. A normal part of the teacher pupil relationship is one of feedback. If this feedback is missing from the novice/pupil relationship then not only do we miss the most important educational perspective of all, but we also make it that little bit harder to define ourselves as teachers.


Rather than seeing evaluation as a bolt on attachment to my teaching, I prefer to see it as an integral part of my practice as a teacher. If I experience problems with some of my educational values then it is natural for me to imagine a solution to the problem, act in the direction of the solution and then evaluate the solution (McNiff J, 1990, p56). With good guidance there is no reason why this cannot become a normal teaching habit, something which would aid my teaching no end.


Part two                     The school perspective- How do teachers go about reflecting on their practice?


One of the chief problems that I have experienced as a novice teacher this year has been in defining a role for myself. OneÕs existence as a novice teacher is spent occupying othersÕ roles, and imitating their behaviour. From this process of imitation we gradually develop our own style, but I feel we are still teaching other peopleÕs classes in other peopleÕs schools. That is not to say that we are intentionally made to feel like outsiders, far from it, as the Senior Leadership Team point out:


[The role of novices at Kingdown is]Crucial, because we see that we are developing our future teachers. They are not teachers, but we see it as an integral part of what we do as a school. We want to have an input into our school and other schools with future teachers. To be able to guide and impact on that is really important to us as a learning community.

Interview Sara Edwards, Deputy Head Kingdown, June 03


Novice teachers are a part of Kingdown, but we are not teachers. Experience is the key to becoming an expert in any field. I honestly believe that good theories develop from practice, not the other way around. Everyone must, however, start somewhere, so what are the expectations of novices? To what extent does our role fit that of a teacher?


ItÕs difficult because you are not being paid a salary by the school so I think that the mentors would find it unfair and novices would find it unfair to be given certain jobs to do which teachers do as part of their everyday role, administrative things or resource development. I see novice teachers as someone whoÕs in training until Christmas. When you do a complementary placement I would expect a performance approaching that of a qualified teacher. Certainly by the final block youÕd expect QTS standard teaching. By the end they should be thinking less and less about how to teach a lesson and start thinking about whatÕs going to go into the lesson.

Interview Mike, experienced teacher, Kingdown, June 03




It is important for me to relate my position as a novice teacher to the position of established teachers because I will shortly need to make the jump from novice to NQT. Whilst evaluation has been very important to me this year, it has also been at times an extremely onerous task. Is evaluation important just to help us become teachers, or is it necessary to oneÕs continuing professional development as oneÕs career goes on?



Novice teachers always get their lessons watched and reviewed. Does that happen with NQTs as well?


Yes but not very many lessons.


What do you think about that? Do you evaluate other lessons as well?


No not really. They will evaluate it and IÕll try to apply that evaluation to my teaching, but I very rarely evaluate my own lessons.


Do you agree with their reviews?


Yes, but you know when they are coming in, so you act in a certain way; you do things well in the way you should do, and thatÕs not always the way a lesson would go for you. Sometimes your lessons would be better, sometimes they would be worse. So no, I donÕt think theyÕre a fair representation of us teaching.


ThatÕs not the only support you get as an NQT at Kingdown?


ThatÕs the only feedback we get. ItÕs good to have that, good to have feedback.


But if you have a problem you can go to other teachers. Does that system work?


Yes, itÕs worked extremely well. I suppose we do evaluate the lessons but in more of a what went well, what went badly way. We can try and apply that and get support from other teachers, itÕs informal review.

Interview with Sally, NQT, Kingdown, June 03


I was quite surprised to hear that there is only minimal formal evaluation of NQTs. As a novice it is an absolute part of life to have someone present in my classroom. This has caused problems with children not knowing who is ultimately in charge, but at the same time it has been a reassuring safety net. Having had such detailed and absolute observation this year it is possibly difficult for me to conceive a situation where one has a degree of independence. This independence will carry benefits and costs with it: we remove the pressure of constant assessment and allow oneÕs teaching to be more free, and less bound by the anxiety of critique and the desire to conform to a notion of what is expected. In gaining this freedom however, we may lose our best opportunity to improving as a teacher; collaboration. Without another perspective on the classroom a teacher is limited to what they are able to see, and what they will allow themselves to feel. With an independent point of reference a much fuller picture of a lesson can be constructed. The main reason, IÕm sure, that formal review is so much less intense at Kingdown for teachers than for novices is one of time:



Novices have to write things down after every lesson. I know that full time teachers simply donÕt have the time to do that after every lesson. Is that writing down then to get us into the habit of thinking reflectively?


If you have a series of questions to ask yourself after a lesson then it puts those questions into your mind, even if you donÕt enjoy doing it. If that becomes part of how you do the job, even if you donÕt necessarily write things down anymore, then you are still doing the evaluation.  I did a lesson last week with one of my groups that was particularly bad. When I came out I sat down for five minutes and went over what happened in that lesson that caused it to be so bad. Then the following lesson I could take steps to make sure they donÕt reoccur. Without the process of evaluation you are never going to progress beyond a mediocre teacher at best. More and more research is saying that teachers have to adapt the way they teach to different classes, not that kids should have to adapt to the teacher they are getting. A good teacher is one who can teach in different styles depending on the group and the time etc.

Interview Mike, experienced teacher, Kingdown, June 03


This corresponds to the view it seems Sally was espousing; that once one has a full or almost full timetable then review and evaluation becomes informal but instinctive. The risk with removing written practice in this way is that something may become informal to the point where it is not really done at all. As Mike states, a reflective commitment is the key to developing beyond mediocrity in the classroom. With this contrast between need and time, does the school have a policy towards the practice and development of reflective teaching?



There is no official policy stating that every lesson you do you must fill in an evaluation form, but every good teacher should be evaluating their own lessons and knowing what went well and what didnÕt. In terms of observations of lessons, there is a proforma, agreed on by all staff about what we should be commenting on, and we have space for strengths and areas of development, so that does cover evaluation of a lesson like that.

Interview Sara Edwards, Deputy Head Kingdown, June 03


There are several important points to make here. The first is that the staff with whom I spoke are clearly thinking in line with school policy on lesson evaluation; that some form of review at the end of every lesson in essential. This is very important and agreement such as this is one reason why Kingdown functions as a society so well; there are basic educational values which are shared by senior management, teachers and pupils. In fact reflection on the part of pupils regarding what they have learned and how they have learned it is actively encouraged in Ôlearning to learnÕ lessons and within the implementation of the national key stage three strategy.







The second point is one of involvement on the part of the school management with the teaching which goes on at the school. I felt that the senior leadership team played a very proactive role in encouraging reflective practice. This encouragement was more successful precisely because it did not make unreasonable demands upon the time of teachers by asking for more formal review of every lesson, but at the same time it was known that to be dispassionate about ones performance was not acceptable:



Is there an expectation that teachers develop their practice?


Yes, a very high expectation. ThatÕs why we have things like me going into observe regularly, and we have staff evaluation, where we go into a department and look at teaching and learning in faculties.

Interview Sara Edwards, Deputy Head Kingdown, June 03


Staff evaluation is carried out as an internal inspection of teaching and learning in departments every couple of years. This gives a very clear point of reference for department heads to negotiate development with teachers, and allows the management of the school to have a direct and well thought through influence on teaching at Kingdown, important when formulating policy. It is perhaps most important as a practice, however, because it gives the management of the school the opportunity to engage with teaching and learning in a very direct way. It is this engagement between teachers, managers and pupils which helps make Kingdown a nurturing learning environment.
Conclusions, evaluation and limitations


I have discovered with this essay that I can tell stories of my existence with my practice as a teacher, at the same time engaging with the educational society around me; the school. I can use my profession to examine the realities of my life, but I discover new confusions at every turn. Concluding his book ÒMythologiesÓ, Roland Barthes offers empathy and hope for me with this dilemma:


ÒThe fact that we cannot manage to achieve more than an unstable grasp of reality doubtless gives the measure of our present alienation: we constantly drift between the object and its demystification, powerless to render its wholeness. For if we penetrate the object, we liberate it but we destroy it; and if we acknowledge its full weight, we respect it, but we restore it to a state which is still mystified.Ó

(Barthes R, 1957, p159)


The fluid interplay of knowledge, freedom, power and human emotion within education fascinates me. I havenÕt sought to categorically define this interplay in telling my stories, I have sought to highlight through my descriptions the ways in which groups of people can seek to better themselves with an awareness of the world with which they engage.


That I cannot hope and do not desire to resolve or avoid all the difficulties I may face in teaching does not mean that I am dispassionate about my practice. My passion for education is what motivates me to be a teacher and it is natural for me to exist Òas a living contradiction, [holding] certain values whilst at the same time experiencing their denial in practiceÓ (Whitehead J, 1993, p98). It is this paradigm of experiencing practice as a contradiction which the personal tone of my essay has intended to highlight.


I often find it difficult to synthesise what I am feeling about lessons and my motivations for teaching lessons, with the judgements of those who monitor those lessons. I can still, however, appreciate the importance to my teaching of evaluating my lessons. I live as a shadow of full time teachers, aspiring to join their ranks and imitating their performances. At the same time I fully believe that I am a teacher, because this has been the only way in which I could engage with my work this year, and exercise my passion for education. In order to find out how life at Kingdown operates for teachers with regard to this issue, I engaged with three members of staff to get a sense of their perspectives on lesson review.



ÒWe came to see teacher knowledge in terms of narrative life history, as storied life compositions, These stories, these narratives of experience, are both personal, reflecting a person's life history - and social - reflecting the milieu, the contexts in which teachers life.Ó

(Connelly & Clandinin, 1999, p.3)


From the simple and often monotonous practice of writing lesson evaluations in the training year, to experienced teachers reflecting on how to best teach lessons for every child, the variety of ways in which teachers at Kingdown develop their teaching skills is of great interest to me and engaging with the school during this study has been of value to my own development as a thinking teacher.

To an NQT the pressures of the job are large. This is another example of contradiction in education, because these pressures make formal review of lessons difficult. Without any review, however, there is little opportunity for practice to improve. At Kingdown school staff support each other and are supported by the senior management team in developing their practice as teachers. The feeling amongst staff is that reflective practice is not a bolt on addition to a teacherÕs repertoire, but an intrinsic part of life as a teacher, and that reflective habits should be formed early on, preferably in the training year. This is perhaps a point that the PGCE course could make more explicitly to trainees, as the feeling amongst novices is that lesson review is time consuming and repetitive. It is important that novices appreciate the value of forming these habits, although perhaps their voice is saying that onerous form completion after every lesson is not the most effective way.


The research methods employed in this study have put me in a good position to listen to voices and tell stories. There is no notion of absolute truth to be found within a study of this nature, the stories are my evidence. By offering my own thoughts and reflecting on different perspectives I have been able to develop my own educational values towards lesson evaluation, and approach my teaching from a better standpoint in this regard. For this reason this has been a useful study. To find out more about reflective practice and itÕs use at Kingdown school a survey of more teachers might have been useful. That would have allowed some study of different means of reflection, for instance do all teachers reflect by asking what was good, what was bad? Or do some teachers note down salient points, and save value judgements for a later time, when distance might enable clarity? Answers to questions like this would be very useful for one to assimilate into oneÕs educational knowledge, and so become a better teacher.







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