I really like the #ObserveMe movement (see Robert Kaplinsky’s post here or the hashtag). However, I’m going to have to tweak things to make it work.
Gone are the days of LTC Eastbourne. My two years at that school were highly collaborative and peer observation was commonplace. It wasn’t an open doors policy, but a fair few teachers were happy for me to drop in and observe at short notice, some extending the open invitation (like Sketch who blogs here). There was a time at LTC (admittedly when I had more time myself) when I’d observe another teacher at least once, often twice a week. Teachers welcomed feedback but, unlike much of the #ObserveMe tweets I’ve seen, I was rarely directed to focus on a specific feature or skill – ‘i.e. how do I vary interaction patterns?/How can I do a better job of keeping learners engaged?’ etc.
The ‘free-for-all’ approach had its perks for me – I could focus on whatever I wanted. I often focused on how teachers gave instructions and also on the correction techniques they used – that’s really interesting to observe in a language classroom. Whiteboard work was also a favourite! For the teachers I observed, I guess the feedback topic was a lottery. It’s not the most effective/focused way of doing things but hey, I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity of observing experienced teachers. Post-observation feedback still led to some interesting discussions – it was sometimes just good to download about issues that emerged during the lesson!
Fast-forward three years and my experience of observations has changed a lot. My two observed lessons per year (one developmental, one evaluative) are thorough and quite stressful. They are fairly by the book (i.e. this book!) and my performance is now linked to my pay, so giving the observer what they want is the priority, rather than giving the learners what the need. Sniff. I’ve frequently been the observed teacher in my current job rather than the observer. In my first year I was observed either formally or through drop ins about 12 times (!) by line managers, trainers and sometimes sales staff getting to know the products. Most observations were top down, which is sad. The only teacher who asked to observe me (rather than a manager who told me they were observing) has moved on, and I’m really lacking someone to bounce ideas off and who I trust to offer objective and informative feedback.
I want to change this, and to do so I think I need to change our teachers’ perception of observations. Given the formality and rigidity of our current observations, my approach here is the opposite. Complete freedom – no guidance, no specific focus (which I would have liked for my own benefit), nothing but allowing other teachers to come in, observe and comment. Breaking the invisible barrier between colleagues and just getting the dialogue going. It doesn’t matter what about to begin with, just… tell me what you think of my teaching and we can take the discussion from there!
Here’s the poster I’ve put up on my door. I hope someone pops in. *Anyone but the boss, ANYONE BUT THE BOSS!*
Categories: General, reflections, teacher development
Your tweak is great. Observers often focus of who and what they observe, due to positive or negative elements . It’s always nice to get a good observee-selected-aspect for observation. Makes it a little more challenging for the the observer too. 🙂
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I love peer observations and it’s something I want to do more of. I think what you’re suggesting is a great antidote to the rigidity of formal observations. I got so much out of watching my colleagues at my last school. Not having a set agenda and focusing on ticking boxes gave us the opportunity to talk about the things we noticed and interested us. I found I learned a lot as a result. I think it’s the focus on dialogue that you suggest, rather than feeling that your teaching is being evaluated and assessed that makes this type of activity so beneficial.
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