“I observed a 2nd grade classroom. I was surprised about how similar 2nd grade and middle school was.”
“I learned a new style of student reflection.”
“Getting students up and moving, using music as a timer, and using current events as a segue into the learning.”
“I really enjoyed the way she taught hooks for stories. It may have been an elementary-level classroom, but it was something I could most definitely apply in middle school (or even high school)!”
These are a few of the take-aways of the observing teacher during peer to peer observations in the district I serve. Teachers in our district have been participating in peer observations for the past several years, 88% of teachers surveyed last spring responded that they felt observing and giving their peers feedback was a valuable learning experience.
As a result of participating in peer to peer observations, teachers are able to learn from each other, to recognize and build on their strengths, and collaborate with their peers to discuss challenges. Peer observations are a great way to follow up on a professional learning experience by providing an opportunity for teachers to apply what they have learned while at the same time receiving nonjudgement feedback to move forward. By giving teachers choice in who they might observe, peer observations with feedback also allow for a more personalized professional learning experience. For example, a teacher might choose to observe a teacher who is effectively using a strategy they may be interested in trying, or they might observe someone working on a specific professional goal to give feedback. Peer observations allow for real-time professional learning that builds teacher confidence and opens the door for teachers to reflect on their own practice.
Cambridge Assessment International Education Teaching and Learning Team cites research to support peer to peer observation. They state, “So, by observing one of their peers teaching a lesson, the observer builds on their current knowledge and ideas for teaching. But peer observation doesn’t just increase knowledge of teaching and learning; it can also increase confidence. In their research on peer observation in higher education and schools, both Rhodes & Beneicke (2002) and Hendry & Oliver (2012) link peer observation to increasing a teacher’s self-belief (also known as self-efficacy). The observer may be inspired to try something new in their own classroom or come away from an observation feeling that what they are currently doing is in line with good-quality teaching and learning.”
There are many different approaches to peer to peer observations. Schools might engage in Instructional Rounds, for more information on Instructional Rounds you might read the Instructional Rounds Blog on the Nebraska Learning Forward site by Todd Tripple Ed. D. Our district has found this process to be very effective in not only allowing groups of teachers to observe highly effective teaching practices, but even more importantly, allowing those groups of teachers to have a conversation about effective teaching and learning practices. Then reflect on their own practice, thinking about how what they observed fits with what they are already doing or what they observed might spark an interest in something they want to add to their toolkit or learn more about. Debriefing and self-reflection are key components of Instructional Rounds.
Many teachers in our district participate in the Academic Literacy Project (ALP) though ESU 10 in Kearney. One element of this project is Learning Walks, where teams of teachers observe each other and provide feedback on the ALP strategies. A specific observation form based on the ALP strategies is used to assist teachers in identifying instructional strategies and routines they observe in the classroom. Sometimes video of the classroom instruction is given to teachers who were observed. Paired with peer feedback, this allows teachers to self-reflect on their teaching. Learning Walks have been valuable for our teachers because it validates the observed teacher by identifying effective practices they are using. This format also opens communication by encouraging the observing teachers to ask questions about something they may have wondered, or to give a suggestion of something that might have made a significant difference in the lesson. As a participant in Learning Walks, I have had the opportunity to witness teachers giving each other specific suggestions during the feedback sessions that could make a significant impact on student learning if implemented.
Another approach is to have teachers invite each other into their classrooms to give and receive feedback on a professional goal they are working towards. On the Teacher2Teacher blog, 12 #ObserveMe Tips for Getting Feedback From Your Colleagues, gives some great examples on how to encourage this practice in your school.
In his book ‘Leadership for Teacher Learning’, Dylan Wiliam (2016) says teachers should adapt and modify techniques they see to make sure they work best for them. Even if these are small changes, they can have a big effect on students’ learning. Don’t be afraid of adapting approaches for your own classroom and your learners!
“…the ability of teachers to modify the techniques to make them work in their own classrooms is an important feature of any effective model of teacher development.”
I highly recommend the practice of peer to peer observation as an opportunity to personalize professional learning. Yes, the planning involved and time it takes to allow teachers the opportunity to debrief and discuss feedback might be a challenge. However, the instructional and professional benefits are well worth the time and effort it takes to organize and sustain these opportunities. The Learning Forward publication, The Tools for Learning, Summer 2018, Vol. 21, No. 3 The Expert Next Door is a great resource to get you started.