7 Days 7 Ways: Continued Professional Development 4) Peer Observation

Day #4 of my series of posts on CPD for ELT teachers! If you’ve missed the first three ‘Days and Ways’, you can find them by clicking these links:

  1. Blogs (1st March)

  2. Reflection Groups & Learning Networks (2 March)

  3. Magazines & Journals (3 March)

And now for number four:
  • Peer Observation

Don’t run away scared just yet!! 🙂 

 

I know that even just hearing (or reading) those puts the fear of god into some people, and conjures up nightmarish observations and evaluations that had to be endured on initial training courses!! But that was then. And this is now. And peer observation can be a very useful tool to use to enhance your development as a professional teacher. 

Peer observation can be ‘either way around’, so to speak. So either you can observe one/some of your peers teaching, or you can invite one/some of them to come along and observe one of your lessons. The main difference to observed lessons on training courses is, of course, that now you are PEERS, on a level, not judging each other and giving grades – so a non-threatening and (hopefully!!) far less scary set-up altogether! 🙂

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One key advantage of this kind of CPD activity is that it is local – you don’t need to travel anywhere but to your normal place of work, and it is free! Of course, it might take some careful planning to fit it in to your schedule, but where there is a will there is a way! And a boss or DoS who cares about their staff should be understanding of your endeavours and at least try to accommodate you, if you ask nicely!

Observing your peers…

gives you a clearer idea of what actually happens in colleagues’ classrooms and may serve as a more concrete basis on which to base your reflections and considerations surrounding your own teaching. This is probably much easier to work with than theoretical or abstract descriptions of teaching practices in textbooks and in other resources; and much more authentic than the ideal scenarios you might otherwise be led to imagine when thinking about other teachers’ lessons! I remember the first time I went and watched a colleague’s lesson, and being so relieved that some of her students were distracted, spent ages blankly staring at her when she asked a question, didn’t have their materials, etc. etc. Not because I would wish anything bad upon her!! But because this also happens with my students, and I’d previously thought I was doing something wrong as my lessons never seemed to work out as textbooks/online lesson plans/etc. said they should! I had my eyes open to the reality, and decided the best thing to do was to observe various colleagues and how they actually dealt with these situations, rather than thinking I had to magically try to avoid them! 

Likewise, being observed…

and getting feedback from a trusted colleague might give you a fresh perspective on your own teaching practice and help you identify more areas you would like to develop. The danger, of course, is that the colleague you ask might fall into the ‘expert’ role and try to get you to do everything their way! Try to stay constructive and reflective when they tell you their thoughts on your lesson; ask them to remain neutral, too. You could ask them just to describe what happened, hearing how someone else saw your lesson might already give you enough food for thought! Or if you’d like their slightly more evaluative opinion, make sure you always ask for justifications and don’t simply accept that ‘their way is best’!! It is YOUR CPD journey, so make sure you stay in control of it! (Yes, I’m talking from experience here. But I hope that your colleagues are all more supportive!)

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To make peer observation most effective…

you can make the whole thing as in/formal as you like – with forms to complete, or just noting down whatever occurs to the observer. But it is important to have something to base the post-observation discussion on – again, as formal/informal as suits you! However, I would suggest that you have some sort of focus before you start. Especially if you want to work with a colleague and observe each other’s lessons, it should be clear from the start what the focus and purpose of the observations will be. Some example aspects I’ve look at through peer observation include:

  •  instructions for tasks 
  •  response to / feedback on students’ oral contributions
  • explaining aims of activities
  • encouraging oral participation
  • how many times I say “OK” ((worringly often, and for about 500 different things!! Oops!!))

 To come back to the framework I introduced in post #1 (Blogs), structuring peer observation around

Reflect – Plan – Evaluate – Act

can make sure that it has an impact on your development. So reflect on your own teaching and an area you’d like to focus on developing, plan to observe/be observed, evaluate the findings of the observations, and try to act on them and implement what you have learnt. This process will obviously be cyclical – then reflecting again on how well you’ve applied what you learnt, and using observations to evaluate this again, until you’re happy and would like to move on to focusing on another area of your CPD. 

Ultimately, involving your peers in observations means opening up the communication about your teaching practices, and that is developmentally very important and beneficial for all of you!

If you’re still apprehensive or would like specific ideas for how to set up observations, please feel free to ask questions or comment below or tweet to @Clare2ELT! And after you’ve done an observation or two, please let me/other readers know how it went!! Look forward to hearing from you all! 🙂

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