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Focus on peer observation

Q I have been given the role this year of implementing peer lesson observation as a way of improving teaching standards. I would be grateful for any ideas on introducing this among staff and ensuring it works effectively. While most staff are on board, some will be naturally good at it whereas others will need training, although they don't think they do!

A The observation of Alessons is part of the daily life of all schools either for monitoring purposes, as part of the ongoing self-evaluation work, or for performance management. These processes have undoubtedly led to improvements in teaching but are still perceived by many as judgmental and even threatening.

The school can encourage and support peer observation by setting aside professional development time to focus on improving classroom practice; by ensuring that time is available for cycles of peer observations and discussions; and given the renewed emphasis on classroom observation in the 2009 Ofsted framework, setting aside time for all staff to consider the criteria to be used for judging lessons.

With the introduction of 'rarely cover' this September colleagues cannot now be asked to cover lessons for those involved in peer observation. However, since teachers are no longer covering they are likely to have additional time on their timetables, apart from their sacrosanct PPA time, which could be used for professional development activities. You may even wish to use cover supervisors to cover lessons occasionally to allow peer observation to take place.

Encouraging peer to peer observation is best done using willing volunteers to begin with. Why not set up a Learning and Teaching Group, meeting regularly, which includes all those who are keen to get involved in peer observation but also at least one member from each department. In this way you can get a reasonable cross section of staff to get started. Other more reluctant colleagues can then be persuaded, or invited, to join in later, and departments asked to send a different representative in the next phase.

Allowing colleagues to pair up with someone they know well initially will help get things under way. But you may want to engineer it so that people you know have good observational and coaching skills are paired up with those who are less skilled. Depending on the skill levels of the participants, you may also wish to spend an early meeting or two practising coaching skills and observation of previously videoed lessons.

Ground rules for the group should include an agreement that outcomes will be used only to share good practice, within the group initially, with departments and for the most confident among them, with the whole staff in CPD sessions, and not for any other purpose.

The focus for each cycle of observations could be determined by the pairs themselves or already identified as areas for improvement through the school's monitoring and evaluation activities. After each cycle the group should share their findings and identify good practice to communicate to all members of their departments at the next departmental meeting. Ideas can also be collected in a regular newsletter from the group which other staff can retain for use at any time.

Sharing good practice in this non-judgemental way can be a powerful driver for improving learning in the classroom. Even your most reluctant learners will pick up good ideas.

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