Art of Teaching part II: Manageable Peer Observations

Photo illustrating the news item

I love leaving the dentist’s office. The drilling is over, my mouth can relax, and my teeth are clean. Going to the dentist is important; it is not enjoyable, but the result is therapeutic for my teeth.

Peer teaching observations are like going to the dentist. Teachers may feel afraid or defensive before the lesson. It can be painful to know that your professional work will be exposed. In my last post, I wrote about teachers’ reluctance to participate in peer observations. Teachers don’t want other teachers to watch them teaching.

In this post, I would advocate that teachers can learn a great deal from peer observations. Simply watching and reflecting with other teachers can be helpful.

What can a visit to the dentist teach us about making peer observation less painful?

Pre -observation questions: When we visit the dentist, they ask a few simple questions. Do your gums bleed? Have you noticed any sharp edges? Before a peer observation, we can ask the teacher 2 questions. “What would you like me to watch for?” “Have you noticed any challenges in your classroom recently?”

Non-evaluative: Dentists don’t just give your mouth a grade and send you home. Their goal is to improve your overall oral hygiene. Peer teachers don’t grade lessons; they offer support and encouragement and often share ideas.

Not perfect. Honestly, do you floss regularly? Your dentist knows you are human. They don’t expect perfection. Peer teachers who observe lessons know that the kid in the back row can throw off a great lesson. What is more important is how the teacher manages the unexpected.

Multiple variables. Your family health history and your food preferences are just two of the many variables that impact your oral health. Teachers know that each lesson is affected by multiple variables including the emotions of the students, the type of activities, or the furniture in the room. Teachers know that these multiple variables impact lessons; they completely understand!

Honest feedback. I want my dentist to be honest if I have a cavity. Teacher-peers can use simple observation guidelines for honest feedback, indicating positive aspects of the lesson and where improvements might be made.

Reflection: After spending 40 minutes with her hands in my mouth, my dentist tells me about my oral health. After a lesson observation, I like to ask the teacher two simple questions. “Was the lesson a typical lesson even though I was in the room?” I want to acknowledge the observers’ effect. Secondly, I ask “What would you do differently?” Over the years, I have found that teachers instinctively know what they would change; their self-evaluation senses are keen and often they are more critical of themselves than any observer would be.

Rewards. When I leave the dentist’s office, I need a reward. Ice cream or a milkshake will do! After observation, teachers deserve a small reward for being brave enough to be observed. Coffee with a friend or a visit to the cinema are great options for post-observation rewards.

I advocate for making peer observation of lessons less arduous, more manageable, and more straightforward.

Author: Robin Gingerich, Ph.D., MA TESOL Program Director at LCC International University.

9 Jun 2023