6 Reasons to Go Observing
by Nicholas Todd
Peer observation, meaning observing a colleague who works in a similar classroom environment, is not just for administrators and teacher trainers. It can also be an important part of your professional development, the honing of your craft
Being observed can feel like a performance evaluation and sometimes serves this purpose. On the other hand, observing is a great opportunity for professional growth. I submit to you six reasons to go observing.
Safety! –Have you ever seen an activity or lesson on paper that you think just wouldn’t work? Observation can challenge or support that feeling in a safe environment. You have a wonderful chance to observe teacher behavior AND student response. You could witness something you would have never, not even once, tried in the classroom, but based on student response, you are now willing to attempt. Which brings me to…
Your colleague might have effective teaching strategies that you never tried. This can trigger some wonderful reflection on your own teaching. In a follow-up time after the observation, the sharing of ideas and discussion of concerns can sharpen the observer’s teaching. I love seeing how others present materials that I have taught myself – it opens a door to looking at various teaching practices. Speaking of practices…
Often it isn’t what to change that is the biggest challenge, but HOW to change it. Watching another teacher manage a classroom or present a lesson allows the observer to see HOW s/he works. You might complain of a lack of creativity or internally have a disdain for theoretical study, but watching someone else teach can inspire, and asking your peer about why s/he finished a task a certain way can stir positive feelings toward theory. Perhaps a wonderful conversation about a teaching resource, or a TESOL theory, will spark some renewal inside you. Renewal can…
Build some enthusiasm in your teaching as a profession. You are not alone in your frustrations. A peer-to-peer observation can not only improve you professionally but also normalize and help you to work through some of your agitation. Perhaps the solution is simple, but so much emotional angst has built up that you are missing it. We all have hurdles that are placed in front us by countries and systems, but we set up additional hurdles–for ourselves–when we don’t identify our emotional angst and work through it with the help of others. It will improve relationships with our colleagues as they possibly see a change in our approach and countenance. Students will see it as well. This is just one way students benefit from the fruit of your observations. Other ways could be…
Observing others improves our own craft, benefiting self, but also benefiting students. Observation of another teacher means I need to know my approach to the classroom and the theory behind it, especially when post observation conversation happens. If I don’t know why I do what I do, it forces me back to evaluating and reconsidering my own technique. One of the results of this? A more solid approach to the classroom that can potentially reap higher student achievement. It’s not all about intellect though…
Watching other teachers engage students intellectually is extremely important, but we must also engage students emotionally, through the habits and rituals that occur each class time. The moral dimension of our teaching is something we can always be developing. The moral dimension is intellectual, but without engagement of the emotional side we potentially ignore students’ experiences and their impact. The emotive response that sometimes results from drawing out students’ stories gives us not just a window to look into their souls but a door to walk through.
May your observing give you ears and eyes not only into your own development but also the development of those you have been assigned to serve.
What’s your perspective?
- How has observing another teacher challenged your own teaching?
- Have you ever had an observer in your classroom? What did you learn about your teaching from the observer?
Try it out
Identify some of your own difficulties and struggles in the classroom. Choose one or two, and decide how you could use them to structure an observation as a means of addressing them. Then, observe a peer, and try to identify how s/he avoids or has overcome the difficulties you face. Next step? Determine how you might integrate what you saw into your own teaching plans.
Nicholas Todd taught with his family in Northwest China for nine years before relocating to Lancaster County, PA. He grew up in a log cabin, no longer grows hair on the top of his head, has been an insulin junkie for more than two decades, and reads cookbooks like novels. Nicholas tweets and instagrams at @nickbobtodd.