Having every action, movement and word assessed while teaching may easily throw you out of your comfort zone, especially when observed by a senior staff member. Peer observations do somewhat ‘soften the blow’, however, participants still conduct formal pre- and post-observations meetings and complete forms, sign them and file them, and the apprehensive countdown to the next observation starts again.
The Peer Observations Project (POP) was trialed as a case study at SIBT (Sydney Institute of Business and Technology) earlier this year to encourage the collaboration and involvement of more experienced teachers in observations amongst each other and with new teaching staff members. The main goals of POP were to build relationships, promote collegiality and learn from others without adding the extra pressure of being observed by a manager.
Method and participants
As part of POP, a group of eight teachers from the same discipline were encouraged to observe each other’s classes – no forms to complete, no partners set up, and no specific day or time restrictions allocated. They were advised to find a ‘buddy’, to follow-up with after the peer observations took place, and then asked to inform their Program Convenor when this process was completed, ideally within a six-month time-frame.
Teachers invited to POP were given information on the value of peer observations through face-to-face chats and updates via email, including articles and links to additional readings for optional further exploration of the topic. It was highlighted that while this was not a compulsory process, it would really be a valuable experience for all involved. While the benefits for novice teachers were obvious, more experienced staff would also benefit from it by learning more about their peers’ teaching style and approaches in the classroom and perhaps add some new tasks to their teaching repertoire.
Setting up POP was also rather an informal process:
- Interested teachers approached someone they wanted to observe and together organised a day and time that suited them best.
- Although there were no forms to complete, some guidelines were sent to teachers to help them reflect on the observations conducted.
- Verbal reminders and email prompts were sent to the team to encourage participation throughout the six months of the project.
- After a pair observed each other, teachers caught up to provide each other feedback, and a verbal review of the experience was collected by the Program Convenor, mostly focusing on what was learned and enjoyed throughout POP.
Out of the eight teachers approached, four teachers took this opportunity to observe a peer. Two of these teachers were fairly new to teaching and the team, while two others were senior teachers, with over ten years teaching experience. The newest member of the team took the opportunity to observe two senior teachers during this period. The other four chose not to participate in this round of observations, mainly due to their limited availability, but expressed interest in considering it in future sessions.
Main take-aways and feedback
Qualitative feedback was gathered through one-on-one meetings with the participants. All four participants appreciated being part of POP. A common response was that observations are a necessary step for new teachers to help them gain confidence and they are also beneficial for senior teachers to gather new ideas to apply in their own teaching. The feedback received from POP participants was very positive and main take-aways are summarised below:
|Observing and taking note of different ways to tackle difficult students||
|First-hand experience of teacher’s different personas, styles and approaches in the classroom||
|Observing teaching techniques ‘in action’ in different situations||
The two senior teachers appreciated the fact that they were not “made to” participate and they did not feel forced to organise peer observations. They also enjoyed the opportunity to get to know new staff, because due to the casualised nature of the job, they rarely cross paths in the staff room. Having the names and contact details of senior teachers to be approached by novice teachers helped them take initial steps to start a conversation and organise observation dates. Knowing that they were being observed by a fellow colleague and not a manager, all four participants felt less stressed and anxious about the observations. Some POP participants’ comments included:
“It was really good to have the flexibility to organise observations with teachers without having specific time restrictions.”
“It was good to just sit and take in what is happening in class, without having to take too many notes, or spend time writing a report or fill in a form on the observation afterwards.”
“It was great to have the opportunity to observe more than one teacher and compare different styles.”
While other more structured types of observations are still extremely valuable, POP participants felt that this was a very useful exercise, as:
- the flexibility allowed them to organise suitable time slots around their availability without too much pressure;
- it was good to connect with other teachers and build relationships (perhaps otherwise never developed);
- the informal nature of the approach helped them feel more comfortable during the observations and did not fear or dread the event.
Further research is being conducted on POP, and if you would like to be involved through discussions, surveys or trialling POP, contact Karen McRae.