Peer Teaching Observation
What is it?
Peer teaching observation is when a colleague observes your teaching efforts. This colleague may be in your discipline area or it may be someone outside your expertise area. The observation should be conducted with the mindset of identifying both areas of teaching prowess and areas of improvement.
Why have peer observations?
In some departments and colleges, teaching observations are required on a consistent basis. In others, peer teaching evaluations are part of the dossier for 3rd-year reviews (OP 32.38) and/or promotion and tenure (OP 32.01). OP 32.32 (Performance Evaluation of Faculty) includes information about peer evaluation of teaching.
Observation is not the same as evaluation. For many people, this process is an opportunity to seek nonjudgmental feedback about a classroom instructional strategy. This process often serves as a catalyst for change and an opportunity to discuss teaching.
Peer teaching observations are best when completed from a viewpoint of peer mentoring or peer coaching.
How can it be used? Why is it beneficial?
The motivation for peer teaching observations may stem from the required component of the dossier for tenure and promotion (OP 32.01), but perhaps more importantly, having a colleague observe your teaching will provide several benefits:
- You will gain a new perspective on your teaching approach and style.
- This observation should be part of your professional development plan.
- You can use the insights gained to improve instructional strategies.
How can it be done?
Peer teaching observations can take many forms, but the most effective ones are derived from a place of mutual respect. Both the teacher and the colleague observing should make this a positive experience.
The following figure provides the steps for an ideal peer teaching observation.
The teacher and person conducting the peer observation should meet to discuss goals for the observation. Is there something in particular that the teacher is struggling with in class? Or something that seems to be going particularly well? (Sometimes emphasizing strengths is just as important as identifying areas of improvement.) Does the teacher want feedback regarding classroom management, leading discussions, describing assignment expectations, or something else? Identifying this ahead of time allows the observer to consider solutions and not simply be a passive participant in the classroom. The preparation stage should also include sharing educational resources such as the syllabus, assignment details, list of readings, and other materials provided to students.
This is the most obvious aspect of the peer observation process, but even this step has some questions to consider. Will the teacher know what day he/she is being observed? Should the observer come to a class the teacher is struggling with or should it be the best class they teach? It is best if these questions have been answered during the Prepare stage, which leaves the observer to focus on actually observing during the class time. The observer should resist interrupting the teacher or interacting during the class. Having a list of items to consider or look for during the class will also keep the observer focused on the task at hand.
After the class observation is complete, the observer should take some time to reflect on the classroom experience and any instructional materials that were provided in advance of the class session. Providing a summary of positive aspects and areas of potential improvement will help document the observation process and give the teacher being observed better feedback. Questions to consider at this stage are: What did the teacher do well? Is there a small change that if made, would make a big difference? Are there additional resources on campus that would benefit the teacher?
While it is tempting to simply hit “send” on an email response to the teaching observation, it is best for the pair to meet and discuss the experience. This “thinking out loud” will benefit both parties and even lesson the sting of noted areas of improvement. Feedback should always be given from a standpoint of authentic interest in helping the teacher excel, and the teacher should remain open-minded regarding that feedback.
For the observer, this means providing a summary of the observation. Departments have different expectations for this documentation. It is helpful to ask the teacher what type of report would be most useful. Is it a standard form with a short paragraph or do they need a more formal letter describing the observation? For the teacher, he or she should dedicate some time to consider what they learned from the observer. Was it what they expected? What was surprising? How might they best implement any suggestions for improvement?
Who should conduct my peer teaching observation?
Each department may have different guidelines regarding who should complete the peer teaching observation, but here are some general suggestions for who you could ask:
- A member of the Texas Tech Teaching Academy. You can find a list of members online and even search for those in your college and/or department.
- Someone who has been recognized for his/her teaching skills such as recent President's Excellence in Teaching Award or Chancellor's Council Teaching Award winners
- Someone in your discipline who can give you content-specific suggestions
- Someone outside your discipline who will focus more on the pedagogy and less on the specific content
What else can I do improve my peer teaching observation skills?
The Texas Tech Teaching, Learning, and Professional Development Center has two excellent programs to provide additional training in this area.
- The Teaching Mentoring through Peer Observation (TeMPO) Program is co-sponsored by the Texas Tech Teaching Academy and the TLPDC. The purpose of the TeMPO Program is to facilitate interdisciplinary relationships among faculty to discuss teaching and create a culture that will help foster the participation of all departments in more consistent and high-quality peer observation and review. Click here to learn more.
- The STEM Teaching, Engagement and Pedagogy (STEP) Program is designed to encourage research-focused STEM faculty to become more knowledgeable about Evidence-Based Instructional Practices (EBIPs) and to support the implementation of targeted strategies borne out of this type of research. Click here to learn more.