Effective peer observation and feedback in a school

Giving and getting effective feedback from other teachers in your school is one of the best ways of improving your teaching. It can also be a complex and stressful process, so today we are going to talk through how to run peer observation in a school.

Making time

It’s obvious, but very important. Set aside a clear timeline for peer observation and feedback. Having an agreed timeline is important because it allows everyone involved to prepare themselves.

Provide teachers with choices

It is important for teachers to have an opportunity to pick some focal points for their peer assessment. I recommend picking no more than three focal points for a peer assessment. As a school you may like to highlight one or two compulsory aspects of classroom practice that should be addressed but I also recommend allowing teachers to pick some of their own.

Collaborative planning

Giving feedback on the relevance of a lesson and how it fits into the broader curriculum can be difficult and may cause anxiety. Whenever a school introduces this feedback process I recommend that teachers use the same agreed lesson plan for their observed lesson. This way, it will be the skills of the teacher that will be assessed, not the quality of the curriculum.

Any feedback about the quality of the curriculum and the lesson structure can then be used as a conversation starter when discussing curriculum at the next team.

At least three observers for each teacher

I recommend having more than one teacher observe at the same time. Not only does this provide the teacher who is teaching with a wider range of views and suggestions for improvements but it also means that the feedback is shared. Don’t underestimate how much is learned when watching another person teach.

Warm and cool feedback

Be specific about what kinds of feedback you are after. Provide the observers with examples of warm (positive) feedback and (cool) constructive feedback.

Structured and anonymous feedback

Some teachers can be nervous about giving critical feedback to colleagues. They may be worried about retribution or hurting a friend’s feelings. Depending on the makeup of the individuals that are participating in this process you may like to consider a couple of different ways for the feedback to be given.

  1. It can be delivered face to face as long as everyone understands the protocols around providing appropriate feedback that is geared towards improving teacher and ultimately student outcomes.

  2. It can be anonymous feedback with the teachers providing the feedback by typing up the cool feedback on one template and the warm feedback on another. That way the teacher receiving the feedback can easily revisit the ideas presented. It may also reduce the anxiety levels of all concerned.

Professional learning

As with formative student assessment, there is no point giving feedback if you don’t have an opportunity to develop your skills. After receiving feedback each teacher can nominate aspects of their teaching they will focus on. They can then identify any professional learning that they feel will help.

Observing colleagues deliver lessons can be one of the best forms of professional learning. You see some great examples of teaching and new ways of solving problems in a classroom. You can also see what not to do in a classroom and how you may have done it better.

Lifelong learning

After this round of professional learning we start another cycle of identifying what you want to work on and getting peer feedback on your teaching. Being a great teacher takes a lifetime.

So here is my check-list for peer feedback in a school.

  1. Make time in your school.

  2. Identify aspects of teaching that can be observed and will lead to improved student outcomes. Give teachers the opportunity to decide which areas they would most like to be the focus of the feedback they receive.

  3. Constructive warm and cool feedback. Provide examples so that teachers understand the difference.

  4. Provide teachers with professional learning opportunities.

  5. Repeat peer observation.

Karen Green Curriculum Specialist

PedagogyKaren Green