Peer observation involves teachers sitting in on each other’s lessons. This works particularly well if teachers share a class, as it allows them to see how learners respond to each other’s style. The level of observation formality can vary depending on need. The process can be managed by the DOS, who decides who goes where and when. To reduce teacher speculation it pays to be transparent about how choices are made. Alternatively, the DOS can encourage teachers to organize it, and to decide for themselves who they would like to work with. On the positive side peer observations can be less stressful than DOS observations and they can often be arranged quite quickly. However, it’s worth noting that if the organization of observations is left to the teachers, there is a risk they drag along or won’t happen. This is because people tend not to want to ‘put upon’ another teacher, or have to give possible negative feedback to a peer. Moreover, if there are interpersonal tensions in the staffroom, it may be wiser for the DOS to manage the process.
Whoever organizes the observations, it is important for the DOS to advertise the ‘rules’ of observation: the observer should be quiet, keep a low profile and not disturb or engage the learners or the teacher. If teachers will be giving each other feedback, the DOS should highlight the ‘sandwich’ principle: ‘first mention something good, then propose something to work on, and finally close with another positive point’. Finally, the observing teacher must understand the importance of being discreet about what they have seen.
TIPS FOR THE DOS
Before setting up peer observations, consider the following questions:
- Does the other teacher’s class need cover?
- Is there a cost/budget for the class cover?
- Is the observer expected to report their observation, or elements of it, to the DOS or the other teacher (or both), and if so, in what form: oral or written?
- It is necessary to allow time for the observer to give feedback to the teacher after the lesson?
- Is the observer watching the teacher who best suits their particular needs?
- Is one teacher being observed more or less than the others?
- Will the teacher being observed be expected to produce a plan for the session?
- Does the DOS have a mechanism for closing down the peer observations? For example, asking the observing teacher to summarize what they have learnt from the experience, or putting up a big note board where teachers can write compliments for each other.