Subject Leader Reviews – Thoughts on Peer Observation
Peer observations and reviews are used to make informed decisions about the quality of education in a school or subject. Can there be any more sensitive area of a teacher’s work than that of observations? It has been the bane of teachers’ lives instilling fear and anxiety for the weeks prior.
Do we need to observe at all? Yes, middle leaders and SLT need to know what is going on in classes.
Should it still be like this? No, observations should be an opportunity to improve and develop, a supportive/positive forum for dialogue between educational professionals. In 2017 the EEF found that Peer observations were highly effective in improving standards.
In his Speech to the Association of School and College Leaders Conference 2015 HMI Sean Harford rightly states Ofsted will ask the question “Does the leadership know what is going on in their school or college and have a sound grasp of relative strengths and weaknesses? “
Subject Leaders and Peer Observations
When I was Assistant Headteacher I brought up the topic of subject leaders conducting the next round of peer observations. Not grading but working together with teachers to get an idea of how their subject is taught. All our subject leaders are also full-time class teachers
During the staff meeting, it was emphasised that peer observation is not about:
- Judgement of the professional expertise of the teacher.
- Finding fault.
- Commenting on behaviour/classroom management.
Please see the presentation outlines below. These were used to gain buy-in from the teaching staff.
Peer Observations for Subject Leads
Peer observations in schools are a great way for teachers to learn from each other and improve their practice. However, it’s important to make sure that these observations are supportive and constructive, rather than judgmental or critical. Subject leaders can help to ensure that peer observations are supportive by:
- Setting clear expectations for what teachers should expect from the observation.
- Providing teachers with training on how to conduct peer observations.
- Creating a supportive environment in which teachers feel comfortable sharing their practice with each other.
- Providing feedback to teachers in a constructive and supportive way.
There are a number of things that subject leaders can do to create a supportive environment for teachers to share their practice. These include:
- Creating a culture of trust and respect in which teachers feel comfortable sharing their ideas and concerns.
- Modelling openness and willingness to share their own practice.
- Providing opportunities for teachers to collaborate and learn from each other.
- Supporting teachers in their efforts to improve their practice.
- Recognising and celebrating the successes of teachers.
There are many ways that subject leaders can recognise and celebrate the successes of teachers. Some ideas include:
- Sending thank-you notes or emails to teachers who have gone above and beyond.
- Publicly acknowledging teachers who have made a difference in the lives of their students.
- Celebrating teachers’ successes at staff meetings or other school events.
- Providing teachers with opportunities to share their work with others.
- Supporting teachers in their professional development and growth.
By recognizing and celebrating the successes of teachers, subject leaders can help to create a positive and supportive work environment. This can lead to increased job satisfaction and motivation, which can in turn lead to improved teaching and learning.
In a discussion between two teachers the following points about peer observations were made. While peer observations can be a useful way for teachers to learn from one another, there was an acknowledgement that they must be implemented carefully in order to be truly constructive. Both Tom and Jane agreed that subject leaders play a key role in setting expectations and providing training to ensure feedback is given respectfully without hurting feelings. Tom cautioned that merely telling teachers to be “supportive” is insufficient and specific strategies need to be taught around giving observable-based comments respectfully. However, Jane pointed out that with clear goals of improvement rather than judgement, teachers need not feel evaluated if expectations are clear upfront. They found common ground that subject leaders checking in individually after observations could help address any issues early and show teachers their perspectives matter. Overall, the discussion reflected that peer observations have the potential to foster collaboration, but subject leaders must provide robust support and guidance to make the process a positive experience for all teachers involved.
Guidelines for Conducting Supportive Peer Observations
Before the Observation:
- Arrange times convenient for both teachers well in advance
- Discuss the focus or aspect of practice to observe (e.g. student engagement, questioning techniques)
- Remind that the goal is professional learning, not evaluation
During the Observation:
- Remain quietly at the back of the room to minimise distraction
- If talking to students do not talk over the teacher
- Take objective descriptive notes on teaching strategies and student behaviours
- Refrain from judgment or making assumptions
After the Observation:
- Thank the teacher for the opportunity
- Exchange observations in a constructive setting within 24 hours
- Ask the teacher to comment on something they thought went well
- Focus feedback on observable behaviours using specific examples
- Note at least one strength you observed
- Suggest possibilities for further development respectfully
- Be available informally to discuss techniques or answer questions
- Check in after a month to discuss any impact on practice
- Maintain confidentiality and discretion at all times
- Remember you are colleagues with a shared goal of student learning
- Establish an environment of trust, honesty and improvement
- Maintain a thoughtful, solution-focused mindset throughout