The most helpful CPD is often through sharing practice within our own school or network of schools. As senior leaders in schools, we often direct our teachers to observe the practice of established colleagues in order to enhance their own disciplinary or pedagogical knowledge. In observing practice, something is sometimes lost in translation as the observer doesn't readily spot the subtleties of the practice they are watching.
What is a gallery lesson?
When visiting Singapore on a research trip last year, I discovered an education system that was keen to use the expertise of its own teachers to develop practice in schools. The Singaporean Ministry of Education invests in the development of teachers' own disciplinary knowledge, the knowledge of subject content, and pedagogical knowledge, knowledge of how to teach subject knowledge to pupils. Pedagogical and disciplinary knowledge has also formed an important part of the current Ofsted Education Inspection Framework. Singaporean schools develop this as part of their culture is through the use of gallery classrooms. A gallery classroom is provided in each primary school involving a standard classroom with a mirrored room at the back of the classroom where teachers and teaching assistants can stand and watch the lesson.
Singaporean primary school leaders encourage teachers to enter an 'expert teacher' pathway. If assigned as an expert teacher, the teacher remains in the classroom, and is charged with providing training and development opportunities for their colleagues. The expert teachers within the school will book out lesson times in the gallery lesson and staff in the school can book a time to watch. This creates an interest and conversation around both disciplinary and pedagogical knowledge amongst staff.
How can we apply this principle to our classrooms?I also had the privilege of visiting a school in London who had used technology to allow teachers to have narrated observations. In this practice, an expert teacher would narrate an observation of a lesson to teachers watching a lesson. Narrated lessons are used to good effect in the ITT world where student teachers observe a lesson with their mentor narrating and pointing out elements of practice seen.
Using the experience of narrated observations and gallery lessons, I purchased a set of tour guide receivers. This allowed me to provide a group of teachers with a receiver to hear a narrated lesson visit. The benefit of this system is that I could now take a number of teachers into a lesson at the same time and in so doing, allow the teachers to have a shared experience.
Making a gallery lesson work in the UK
My first gallery lesson was with my senior team at Warden House Primary School. We recognised that as a team, a strong knowledge of the early years foundation stage framework was essential for both the role a team leaders and subject leaders. The headteacher, deputy, SENCo and four team leaders joined me for a visit to the early years. The purpose of the gallery lesson was to help the senior leaders understand the structure and purpose of child-initiated play. We donned our radio receivers and entered the early years.
On entering the early years classroom, the school leaders saw sixty Reception children busy learning. My initial request to the seven leaders was to focus on one pupil and watch every interaction, choice, conversation with peers, engagement with adults over the next 15 minutes. The leaders now had a focus to their observations; they could see the learning through the lens of the child rather than darting between sixty children and several activities.
After a couple of minutes, I then started to direct further focus questions to the leaders. Is your child playing with or alongside others? Are they responding to questions or leading questions? Is your child selecting activities that linked to their prior learning, if so, how are they developing their knowledge, skills, and understanding? How are they applying phonic knowledge to their play? These questions helped the leaders to see with greater clarity how the curriculum intent was being embedded through the implementation of the activities.
I then started to read out statements from Development Matters to ask the leaders to consider where their child sat in their development. This helped the leaders to define whether their child was likely to be at the appropriate stage of development.
Seeing subjects through the lens of the early years is something that primary subject leaders without early years experience find a challenge. I asked our leaders to consider a wider picture of where they could see their subject being explored through play. I read out statements from development matters that related to knowledge and understanding of the world and asked the geography, history and science subject leaders to consider this lens in their observation of the children.
After our time in class, we then re-grouped for a professional debrief. This involved the leaders discussing their observations with one another. We considered key learning relating to our roles as senior leaders and as subject-specific leaders. We unpacked systemic issues that leaders picked up on that exemplified practice that needed sharing with the wider group of subject leaders.
The school leaders affirmed that this gallery lesson was deeply helpful in them understanding learning in the early years. The combination of narrated observation and professional discussion helped the leaders understand early years practice and apply this new learning to their roles and responsibilities. It also acted to bind the school leaders together and the early years lead to be seen as a professional with strong disciplinary and pedagogical knowledge.
Our next step is to now trial gallery learning as a deep dive, sharing the journey of gathering evidence on the quality of education for subjects. Using the gallery lesson approach to support leaders at every level, including governors, to strengthen their understanding of the deep dive methodology and knowledge of the quality of provision in our schools.