Collegial observations provide a potent mutual-growth approach to improving classroom practices. The three powerful questions that best support the collegial observation all focus on what students:
What are you learning?
Why are you learning it?
How do you know if you aren't getting it?
When supported by a pre-planned organizational model and non-evaluative norms, and the professional time to plan, execute, reflect and return to continue the process, collegial observations are attainable and transformative.
Here are some steps to get started with collegial observations:
Approach a colleague and ask if you can do an informal observation. State a specific purpose for the requested observation. For example, "I'm hoping to see how other teachers implement this strategy in their classroom" or "I've been trying to figure out how to make group work more effective, is there a lesson where I could see students work in groups in your classroom?"
Select an observation protocol (see resources below). Even when using an informal process with a buddy teacher, having a protocol helps the observer and observed by giving focus to the observation.
Utilize a planning document, such as a collaborative log, to guide and note your observation. This log narrows the focus of the observation to one identifiable and measurable action, sustains the planning, implementation, and debrief elements of the observation cycle, and memorializes the next steps.
Set a time and date for the observation, and schedule some time with the teacher to debrief the observation if they would like.
Invite them to observe your classroom as well! This can be particularly helpful if you are looking for guidance or feedback on a strategy you are trying out.
Teachers can seek out and provide feedback to each other following this quick and simple #observeme protocol.
1. Create a sign and put it on your classroom door that indicates to your colleagues what you'd like feedback on. Put this sign on your door permanently or when you would like specific observational feedback.
2. Share with your colleagues or your PLC how and why you will be using #observeme and encourage them to create signs, too.
3. Observe your colleagues and welcome feedback from your colleagues who observe you.
4. Find time to seek and reflect on feedback.
Consult this 5 x 8 card that was generated by a SERP team working in collaboration with math leaders in the San Francisco and Oakland School Districts to focus observers' attention on what students are saying and doing so that their work (their thinking) can be at the center of educators' discussions.
Should you suggest to your colleague that they inform their class that you are visiting in order to minimize student response to your presence?
Is there a spot in the room that would be the best place for you to conduct the observation? Will you need to move around?
Stay focused on observing the "one thing" requested by your colleague. You may see other activities within their classroom that you’d really like to discuss, you should honor the focus area you agreed on before you observed.
Demonstrate an open learning stance when interacting with your colleague. You may have taught for years, but there is always more to learn. To support someone else who is willing to take a risk and ask for feedback requires that you also be vulnerable and willing to learn.
Focus first on the wins, even when/if these are small. No strategy is going to change everything and everyone in one implementation. Focusing on what did change, and thinking of how to grow the strategy from there.
Reflect on what you learned from the observation. What might you try in your classroom? Could your colleague support you with an observation?