Aside from observing a couple of teachers during a short induction that I had for my first teaching job, my experience of peer observations has been whilst doing my TESOL and then at the school I am teaching at now. Considering I have been working at the school for almost two years, I have only observed 2 lessons and been observed by 1 peer (aside from the observations from my DOS). I hadn’t really thought about this until now, but that doesn’t seem all that many if the advantages of peer observations are correct in terms of the benefits to individual teachers, the learners, and therefore the school as a whole.
I look forward to and enjoy watching peers. However, I think in my current teaching context I’ve seen it more in terms of developing my own practice rather than supporting my peers to develop theirs. I feel during my TESOL I had a different approach. I saw it as having a second set of eyes on what was happening in the classroom and seeing what it was like to be a learner for that lesson. It’s interesting that this is not how I have felt in my current teaching role. Maybe this is because I felt on a ‘level playing field’ during my TESOL. We were all just starting out and all feeling very nervous. We’d had so many classes together as learners ourselves and then trying things out on each other in a teaching role, I felt that I could not only offer support and encouragement, but be honest about what I thought worked well and areas that I felt hadn’t gone so well. We’d spend time discussing this. The school I am at now has some very supportive teachers, but I am aware that they have so much more experience than I do. My peer observations were set up to give me an opportunity to watch teachers who are experienced in teaching Swedes, especially in a Folk high school. So when I observed them I saw it as a learning opportunity for me, but also because I don’t think I was quite sure what to feed back on.
I get extremely nervous about being watched. I feel nauseas and panicked and want the whole experience to end as soon as possible. I plan the lesson in far more detail than I normally would but feel this distracts from a more free flowing lesson. The reason I plan it in more detail is probably to feel more in control, which then has a more negative impact on my teaching.
I think that if peer observations are carried out using certain models or structures, they can be hugely beneficial. For example, the diagram adapted from ‘Classroom Observation’ by Matt O’Leary (2014) shows a model of how peer observations can work.
This is what has been missing so far in the peer observations I have been involved in. Having an agreed focus would make it easier to know what to look out for during a lesson and feedback would be far more meaningful and beneficial for the person being observed. Actions should be made from this and applied to the observed persons teaching so that things move forward.
There are benefits for both the observee and the observer. The teacher being observed has an opportunity to try out new strategies, develop different approaches to managing a problem they are having, to boost confidence and to encourage reflection on teaching and learning. The observer has the opportunity to view the lesson from a learners perspective and may pick up some helpful tips or strategies that can help with their own teaching. This in turn feeds into benefits for the school as a whole. According to John Hattie (Hatti, Masters and Birch, 2015; cited in Cambridge Assessment international education) a shared approach to professional development improves teacher effectiveness. Therefore, having the opportunity to learn from each other can stimulate new ideas and improve teaching practice. This doesn’t mean that teachers copy other teachers’ styles, what it does is open up opportunities for a teacher to reflect on their own practice and adapt another teachers techniques to suit their own style of teaching. As stated by William, 2016; cited in Cambridge Assessment International Education, “….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”. This is an area that I feel I have had the opportunity to do with the peer observations I have been involved in, and one that I have used.
In the current context, video recording seems the best way to engage in peer observations. It is going to be interesting using a video to record a lesson, or part of a lesson and then have my course peers watch it back. I’m not sure if I will feel less pressured by not having an observer in the classroom or if the process of watching the video back whilst with my peers will cause me more anxiety. Time will tell