Observing Lessons…..What makes the grade ‘Outstanding?’

I absolutely love observing outstanding lessons.  Not only do I enjoy the feedback and watching the teacher’s reaction when you give them the good news, but the joy of knowing what a terrific education the children are getting in that classroom.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I look for the three Ps; passion, pace and pitch.  These need to be underpinned by solid assessment for learning strategies to ensure children understand what they are learning and why they are learning.  It is about embedding the learning – ensuring that children understand their next steps and how they can really improve their work.  Children need to be clear about what they are ‘learning.’ When I go into lessons I usually ask similar questions in each class.  Questions usually are along the lines of: Can you explain what you are learning? What helps you to learn?  What stops you from learning? How do you know if you have been successful in your work?  What are your targets or next steps?  How do you know how to improve your work? What would you do if you get stuck?  
These are the key and basic questions that I would ask during an observation.  I am looking for children to be able to answer these questions clearly and fluently.  You can tell the difference between practiced answers and ’embedded’ answers.  When children are confident in responding to these questions you know that there is some excellent learning taking place.  That, coupled with an observation where it is evident that all children are learning at their own levels, where the pace is quick and engaging, and where children remain on task and are suitably challenged – these are all ingredients for what would be an outstanding lesson.
It makes a headteacher’s life much easier, knowing that the children are in highly capable hands and that each lesson is planned and prepared for with the utmost attention.  I trust teachers to deliver.  They know this as well which I hope allows them to feel the freedom to try new things while still guaranteeing an excellent education for every child in their care.
What does ‘outstanding’ look like to you?  How is this shared across your school?
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