I’ve just come from giving a presentation with a wonderful group of teachers at the TESL Ontario Conference in Toronto. My presentation was on reflective practice and we were all sharing ideas on various ways teachers can reflect on their teaching.
One teacher suggested doing peer observations. I immediately saw looks of uneasiness on a few faces. I don’t blame them as I too have had some bad experiences with peer observations, but I have also had many great ones. So, here are some suggestions on how you can, hopefully, have a positive experience with peer observations.
Come On, You Can Trust Me
For me, the single biggest factor for having an enjoyable experience with peer observations is trust. When I think back to all the negative experiences I’ve had with observations in general, I think trust was the main element that was missing. You have to trust the person that you are inviting into your classroom. You have to know that your guest will be devoid of the judgments and opinions that result in the emotional distress often associated with class observations. It’s vital to know that your peer is there to support you and help you, rather than pick apart your lesson and look for “issues.”
Along with trust, I think it’s important to set clear expectations of what the role of the observer will be. Does the observer need to take notes? What kind of comments should the observer make? What should the observer look for? Is the observer going to give feedback afterwards? If you take the time to answer these kind of questions, it will help to narrow the parameters for the observer so that the teacher can get exactly what they need and want out of the observation.
Two Ends of the Spectrum
I think there is a lot of value in just observing someone else teach without providing any feedback. Watching other teachers can be a great way to learn different ideas as well as help you become more aware of your own teaching style or even why you make certain decisions in your classes. Another benefit is that it’s a good way to get your feet wet, giving both you and your peer time to become more comfortable with the idea of watching and being watched.
On the flip side, you can do observations while taking notes about everything the teacher and students say and do. Then after the observation you can give detailed feedback to your peer about what you thought went well and what the challenging moments were. I think this approach takes a lot more dedication and skill in terms of how the observer gives feedback to the teacher. However, if the teacher being observed agrees to this kind of detail before the observation, then go ahead and observe your heart out.
Of course, there can be a happy medium between the approaches mentioned above. Perhaps you are curious about a specific aspect of your teaching practice (e.g. teacher talk, student grouping, activity instructions, etc.). You can ask your peer to focus and give feedback on that one aspect only. Again, this goes back to setting clear expectations of what you want your peer to do during the observation.
Friends with Professional Development Benefits
Still afraid to ask a peer? I hope not. I hope the ideas I shared will help you build up the courage to ask a friend to come observe one of your classes. If done correctly, I think peer observations can be a great source of growth for both teachers involved.
Do you have any personal stories about peer observations? I am very interested to hear about them, so please do share.