Observing lessons presented by other teachers is a simple and highly effective way for any educator to advance their skills. A rookie can learn a great deal about classroom management and questioning techniques by observing an experienced pro, while any battle-hardened teacher can find opportunities to reflect on their own skills and, perhaps, pick up some new ones by observing less experienced colleagues or those from another faculty.
Before the observation
Make sure that any observation is discussed beforehand with the presenting teacher. This is not just to ask their permission, but also to focus on what useful tips may be derived from the lesson. Think about why this particular teacher has been approached: is it because they have excellent management or presentation skills, or is it that they share a group of the same students? An observer is not the same as a spectator, and any observation should be seen as an opportunity for learning.
Asking well in advance also gives both teachers the chance to prepare something that will be of benefit. Perhaps the presenting colleague has a specific lesson planned for the near future which will serve the observer’s purposes better than the very next class, or perhaps an upcoming lesson will offer the chance for interaction (such as team-teaching) as well as observation.
During the observation
Teaching involves a very large skill-set, and although the observer may have a particular aspect of the job in mind, he or she should also take time to think about the whole presentation.
Examine the presenter’s body language, and the way they move around the classroom. Listen for voice control and modulation as well as to what is being said. If notes are being written on a whiteboard, how clear or detailed are they? How did the lesson begin and conclude?
The idea is to become more aware of what is involved in presenting an effective lesson. Rather than focussing too sharply on what the observed teacher did well – and not so well – think of the experience as a chance for personal development. What did the observing teacher learn which might improve their own pedagogy or presentation?
After the observation
Take a few minutes to debrief with the presenter. Was this lesson typical, or different in some way? Is an observed technique one which they commonly employ, or are even aware of? If any particular strength was identified, does the presenter have any advice on how this might best be incorporated into your own teaching?
Be aware, however, that every teacher has their own style, and what works well for one may not work so well for another. By all means, try out any tips which were picked up during the observation, but don’t be discouraged if they are not immediately successful.
The next step is for the observer to get an evaluation of their own effectiveness in the classroom. Perhaps the presenter could be offered a chance to switch roles, or perhaps a surreptitiously placed camera could record a lesson. If this latter option is chosen, make sure that it is within school rules, as some institutions don’t allow students to be recorded without their permission. Although students may react somewhat differently if they think a camera is on them, the teacher doesn’t need to unduly worry about their own behaviour, as it is the habits and techniques that they are not directly thinking about which are most worth observing at a later stage.
Observations can do wonders for a teacher’s development, and also provide invaluable feedback to the one being observed. They are also a terrific tool for building collegiate relationships. If observations are not yet part of your professional development, perhaps it’s time they should be.