Are we really doing this?
I recently walked through the halls of my high school and felt a sense of excitement as I noticed the brightly colored sticky notes hanging above several classroom doors. I stopped and read a few before I continued my journey to my corner of the world: “Green Acres”. During our September 2017 faculty meeting, the Associate Principal at my school proposed a peer observation initiative. The minute the words passed his lips there were lamentations by some about “how we were expected to do this on top of everything else going on?” One senior teacher gathered up her belonging and walked out of the room. I felt a quick pang of anxiety and my first thought was, “do I want other teachers who I don’t know that well judging me?” I was not very excited about this prospect at the onset but within the first week, I had a huge reversal of attitude as I began to understand to immense benefits to be gained from such an endeavor.
According to the BBC, “Peer observation is the observation of teachers by teachers, usually, though not always, on a reciprocal basis. Pairings may be mentor/novice or experienced teacher/experienced teacher where the objective is to provide opportunities for teachers to reflect on their teaching in a calm and safe environment.” (British Council Teaching English. 2017)
Benefits of Peer Observation:
- Positive Culture Shift: teacher burn-out is a common phrase around most school campuses, as teachers often feel alone in addressing their professional struggles. The practice of peer observations fosters a collegial and open environment based on trust and collaboration and honest dialogue. Having this built-in support system can lead to reduced job stress, a renewed sense of purpose and commitment as well as friendly competition, as teachers push each other to be their very best on a daily basis. Being in such a positive culture can transform the experience of everyone in this environment and can lead to immense successes for both students and teachers.
- Creating a staff of Reflective Teachers: successful peer observation practice encourages teachers to become “students of teaching, with a strong, sustained interest in learning about the art and science of teaching and about themselves as teachers. (Cruickshank, 1987, 1991). Constant reflection should be a trademark of any professional and this practice creates a culture where teachers consistently evaluate their own performance and actively work towards sustained professional growth.
- Self Initiated Professional Growth: peer observation affords teachers the opportunity to tailor their professional growth to fit their unique needs. They can seek out colleagues who complement their own weaknesses and benefit from new ideas and strategies to strengthen their own practice. The voluntary nature of this practice often yields greater teacher buy-in as they are given ownership of their professional growth and is not simply fulfilling a mandated “top down” directive.
- Reduces Isolation: teaching, unlike many other professions, can be an incredibly isolating field. Dr. Drew Baker, teacher at Glen Allen High School recently spoke to our EDUC 603 class and phrased it best when he said, “professional chefs cook for and are critiqued by other professional chefs, surgeons perform surgeries before other surgeons but as teachers, we go into our classroom, shut our doors and perform our practice in isolation, never really getting the chance to learn from each other.” Peer observation, forces teachers to step out of their comfort zone, encouraging them to seek out and create new professional relationships with colleagues with whom they may otherwise never interact.
- Access to Resources: teachers are incredibly resourceful and one might be amazed at the plethora of resources that can be obtained from others in the profession. Teachers constantly come across new strategies and activities but many are reticent to employ them for fear of failure. When teachers observe and learn from building colleagues, they are more likely experiment with the new resources that they gain because they’ve seen it in action and they know that there are others they can go to for assistance if needed.
Reflecting on my own school and our own peer observation initiative, we are only four weeks in and already seeing the positive impacts. At lunch, conversations are now centered around the number of observations that have been done, the cool things people are seeing, the number of times teachers have been observed or strategies that they have learned from colleagues. I have conducted eight peer observations and I’ve had at least one takeaway from each that I plan to implement in my own classroom. There is an increasing level of camaraderie and positive rivalry amongst departments as each department seeks to become the leader in peer observations. This is a huge change from just last year and inter-department friendships and communications are now much more common.
Cruickshank, D. (1987). Reflective Teaching: The Preparation of students of Teaching. Reston, VA: Association of Teacher Education.
Teachers Observing Teachers: A Professional Development Tool for Every School. Retrieved from: