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Peer Observation and Coaching

Education Corner-Peer Observation and Coaching by Susan Wall

Marc Baker (cohort 1), headmaster of Gann Academy, spoke at a luncheon during our summer curriculum workshop. He shared with the group the five core characteristics of a Gann educator. While all five were important, I want to focus, for this month’s column, on the first trait: an educator committed to reflection, collaboration and growth.


The term “reflective practitioner” has entered the shared vocabulary of serious educators. We all speak of the importance of examining our work and thinking how we could make it better. My teacher, Dr. Seymour Fox, often compared teaching to medicine in that he saw them both as a combination of art and science. There is definitely a practice to teaching that can be taught; the art is in the application. Medicine, however, comes with an extended apprenticeship. New teachers should also view themselves as interns/residents, who need an attendant to help them learn, grow and reflect. (That is why having a designated mentor to observe and reflect with new teachers is critical.) Barbara Rosenblit (a master teacher who mentors all new teachers at the Weber School in Atlanta and who has worked will all eleven cohorts of Pardes Educators), claims that she learned to teach by watching great teachers. In fact, no matter how long we are in the field, we can learn by watching others and having others watch us.


Unfortunately, we, as teachers spend much of our time in isolation from other adults. Few schools provide ample opportunity for teachers to collaborate. That runs counter to the Rabbinic maxim from Avot 1:6.

עשה לך רב, וקנה לך חבר           Provide yourself a teacher and acquire a colleague.


The rabbis understood the importance of finding others to mentor us and to give us honest feedback.

Why might you hesitate to do this? For one, it can be intimidating to allow someone else to observe you teach. [Note that watching another teacher does not entail any exposure on your part. If you are uncomfortable, start by observing others or by jointly discussing your unit goals, assessments, or lesson plans with colleagues.] If you are ready to invite a colleague to watch you - and I hope you will be able to do that from the start - seek out someone insightful from whom you are comfortable learning.  Preferably you should articulate what kind of help you are looking for in advance, and ask your colleague to script /record what is happening in the class, so you will have a record to examine together.


Secondly, there is the issue of time. Teachers feel that they never have a “free period” to simply go observe others or meet with colleagues to dissect a lesson. There always seems to be a more pressing need. Therefore, you must schedule the observation in advance, and leave it as sacrosanct time - not to be cancelled - just as though you had an obligation to teach during that period.


I urge all of you - whether you are in year one or year eleven - to set aside time to visit other teachers and invite colleagues in to your classrooms. I would love to hear from you as to what difference you feel it made in your teaching.