Some teachers choose peer observations to enhance their development during the academic year. Working on observations helps teachers improve their awareness of their teaching, as well as broaden their repertoire of teaching techniques. The various possible perspectives that come with diversified tasks (e.g.  in Wajnryb, 1992) may all add different aspects to the teaching and multiple opportunities of looking at our own lessons.

However, lack of time is often a constraint as most teachers are in the classroom when they can observe their peers or they have too many groups and spend long hours preparing for those. In such case, inviting a superior to observe a lesson helps, but the observation may become less teacher-focused, through the perspective of a manager or a trainer – there is room for those types of observations, but they do not replace peer observation. In order to develop awareness and accountability and add variety to the perspectives of how your lessons are observed, peers could bring a different view on teaching. With the lack of time, conversations about lessons so that your peers ‘see’ the lesson through your eyes may be an alternative – after all, there is always a window of opportunity for teachers who wish to develop.

In this case, the efforts to design a project, choose the focus and engage in your own development should be your responsibility. You can choose and arrange the time for a meeting and invite a peer to talk about the lesson of your choice. Start by decribing your lesson to your peers in a non-judgemental way, avoiding self-criticism and bias (organising comments under what went right or wrong, for instance, should be avoided for this practice). Choose to state factual information as much as possible, talking about the activities and learners’ reactions in the order they happened. Try to remember what you and students actually said and use direct quotes when reporting conversations. Think of questions you would like to ask your peers to help you with – e.g. varying patterns of interaction; maximising speaking opportunities, reorganising instructions, setting up activities.

In the beginning, it might be interesting to use videoed lessons to support your talk through the lesson. However, this is a different perspective and observation (your effort to remember and consciously talk about your lesson will be reduced) and does not necessarily help you improve your awareness of what goes on in the classroom. Little by little create a routine to frequently have conversations about lessons with a group of peers willing to develop with you.. The frequency agreed will depend on your availability and motivation to discuss the lessons – it may be once a week or a month – actually a plan and consistency will catapult your development.

The process may be helpful for teachers who are mature enough to look at their own lessons, talk about them objectively through sharing with others and willing to improve – we all have areas we would like to or need to change. The discussions imply that teachers will step out of their comfort zones to learn how to talk about their lessons avoiding the passion and defensiveness that often permeates our talks about the classroom. That is the real challenge: to keep it factual during the reporting moment and not directing our colleagues towards confirming our assumptions and opinions. Being open to other perspectives and suggestions affects the collaborative atmosphere among teachers positively, which may maximise the  development of the group.

Let me know how it goes if you try it with your peers!

 

Wajnryb, R. (1992) Classroom observation tasks. Cambridge: CUP.

Marcela Cintra
Marcela Cintra is a manager at Cultura Inglesa São Paulo. She has taught English for over 20 years, been involved in teacher training and development programmes and presented in Disal, ABCI, LABCI, Braz-TESOL and IATEFL conferences. A DELTA holder, CELTA and ICELT tutor, she is currently taking an MA course in TESOL.