Teacher Driven, Teacher Led, “Personalized” Professional Development: Peer Observation

By Miskee Blatner

Making the Case for Peer Observation:

In the recently re-released, What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do, one of the 5 Core Propositions embraces the notion that accomplished teachers SHOULD and DO reflect on their practice. “Teachers use feedback and research to improve their practice and positively impact student learning[1]”. Whether through formal evaluations and observations conducted by school level administration, teacher and department professional learning communities, or casual discussions during lunch, accomplished teachers always seek to reflect on the work done within and outside of their classrooms to improve their practice and extend their professional network.

“Teacher professional development and learning should be “job embedded” in the school, rather than through “pull-out” training, such as workshops. That is one of the greatest benefits of teachers observing other teachers[2]” states Dennis Sparks, former executive director of National Staff Development Council (now Learning Forward). District sponsored professional development tends to offer a one size fits all approach. Just as every learner in our classroom is different, so too are teachers. Teacher learning styles, needs and experiences also vary. Compounding those differences is the fact that our students change from year to year. Allowing teachers to have individualized learning opportunities based on what they need at the time, may provide a better platform for professional growth. Peer observation can be one way teachers can individualize their own professional learning.

Opening our classroom doors to our colleagues to watch each other teach and engage our classes can provide some of the best pedagogic learning.  Teaching can be a very isolating profession, but when schools embrace a culture that encourages and supports teachers in moving between classes and exchanging ideas and feedback within the classroom walls as a means to develop and improve practice, it makes teaching “a public vs. a private act[3]”.

Peer observation can lead to improved teaching practices and professional growth both of which impact student performance. This is done by using one another for PD and pushing each other professionally. Teachers tend to value PD that reflects what they may need at the time (which is different for every teacher). Peer observation allows teachers to seek out feedback based on goals they have set themselves, or to seek support and ideas from other teachers within their building. The best way to learn how to improve your practice and learn to teach is to watch others do it!

 “Most important to effective teacher observation is that it be student-focused. The emphasis needs to be on how things can be done differently in the classroom to ensure that students succeed academically[4]”, states Sparks. Unlike the formal observation and evaluation systems employed by schools and districts, peer evaluation should be a safe alternative that is low risk and allows for teachers to drive what they are looking for, looking at, or need assistance with based on what they need at any given time.

Critical Elements of Teacher Observation as Professional Development[5]

  • Ensuring school leaders advocate and support teacher observation as a valid form of professional development
  • Building a community of trust among faculty
  • Establishing a school-wide commitment to the approach
  • Separating observation from the teacher evaluation process
  • Declaring the purpose for teacher observation and a commitment to its outcomes
  • Inviting teachers to first participate in the process as volunteers
  • Allowing time for teachers to observe other teachers
  • Organizing scheduled meetings, coaching sessions, and follow-up conversations
  • Creating teams that share students
  • Selecting specific strategies and skills on which to focus during an observation session
  • Instituting a way to measure the impact of observation

2 Models:

Pineapple Charts vs. Learning Walk / #observeme

The concept of Pineapple Charts or  “pineappling” and a similar  “#observeme” both are personalized forms of professional development that rethink how teachers seek meaningful feedback about their practice. While both include inviting colleagues into your classroom, each has different end goals and requires different methods for execution.

Overview:

A Pineapple Chart is a system that allows teachers to invite one another into their classrooms for voluntary, informal, non-evaluative, peer observation of “open door” lessons (the pineapple is a sign of welcome and hospitality, and in the classroom is the symbol used for inviting others in). Teachers post their name and/or lesson they believe to be of interest on a public calendar that is typically set up in a general location (digital, lounge,copy room, mail room, etc.) sharing what and when they are teaching something worth observing (a new strategy, teaching or technology tool). Teachers post a picture of a pineapple on their door indicating their willingness to be observed .[6] Check out this brief video on implementing Pineapple Charts!

Learning walks, or #observeme (developed by Robert Kaplinsky) are similar systems that include having teachers who seek feedback post a sign that invites others in and asks for meaningful feedback on very specific questions or “feedback goals” set by the teachers (check out this brief video on implementing #observeme). The sign is developed by the teacher based on the specific goals they have decided on.  The #observeme technique includes using social media (Twitter or Instagram) as a platform for sharing your experiences with a larger professional community of teachers by taking a picture of your poster and (if you are brave enough) requesting feedback. Learning walks function in the same way, but do not include a social media element. Teachers that are observed collect data from the questions answers/feedback provided by their peers to reflect on their practice.

Benefits & Drawbacks of Pineapple Charts & Learning Walks / #observeme

Pineapple Chart

Learning Walk / #observeme

Benefits:

  • Teachers get to decide WHAT and WHEN they observe. PD that is teacher driven!
  • Easy way to engage in collaborative learning with colleagues through demonstration in a classroom setting.
  • Teachers are more inclined to try new strategies/tools more quickly after seeing it in action with students.
  • Pineappling can be a “safe” and low risk way for teachers to voluntarily seek feedback or observe others to learn a new or different skill, strategy or technique for the classroom.
  • Observing teachers choose the lens they need to use (behavior management, instructional strategy, technology integration, routines, procedures)[7]
  • Observing teaching may use their observation experiences as a springboard to reflect on their own practice.[8]
  • Doesn’t have to be an entire lesson – 15-20 minutes is plenty of time to “observe”.
  • Peer observation doesn’t have to require written feedback & can focus on learning ideas and strategies.
  • Less structured and less formal than learning walks / #observeme strategies.
  • Can follow up with your observer via email should you choose to seek feedback from a class that was observed.

Benefits:

  • Teachers decide what they want others to observe them for (teacher driven).
  • Some teachers will use technology in the form of QR codes or Google Forms to solicit feedback on their feedback goals. Others may provide copies of forms next to their door with the feedback goals provided and areas where observing teachers can write their feedback.
  • Feedback goals might include a teachers PDP goals for the year.
  • Doesn’t have to be an entire lesson – 15-20 minutes is plenty of time to “observe”.

Challenges:

  • Lack of time (again, 10-15 minutes can be all you need – encourage shorter visits as a starting point)
  • Having a sign on your door alone won’t yield a high rate of visitors & doesn’t communicate what is being taught (the chart can be a way to communicate WHAT is happening in the classroom).
  • Can be difficult to sell to staff (encouraging teachers to make their teaching public & open for others to see must be a low risk, high trust activity).
  • Some teachers may feel like they do not have anything to contribute and maybe be fearful of being “judged” (give these teachers time to see others try it out! They may see the advantages once they try observing someone else).
  • Can be hard if a lesson is being taught that you want to observe during a time you are also teaching (some schools provide floating subs to allow for peer observation, otherwise start by observing during prep or PLC).
  • The chart can lose momentum if teachers don’t actively sign up & communicate what they are doing on any given week.
  • Teachers must be willing to both observe and be observed.
  • Can be more difficult to gain feedback in the absence of a peer write up or documentation. Having a mechanism for evaluating and reflecting on what you observed is key!
  • Some teachers may only choose to visit their friends classrooms.

Challenges:

  • Lack of time (again, 10-15 minutes can be all you need – encourage shorter visits as a starting point)
  • It can be difficult to get truly meaningful feedback from peers (overly positive, too vague[9]).
  • The classroom teachers intentions may be  unclear. You must be able to write specific and clear feedback goals (this will help get the meaningful feedback listed above!)[10].
  • Teachers must be willing to both observe & give meaningful feedback, and be observed.
  • Having a sign on your door alone won’t yield a high rate of visitors.
  • Can be difficult to sell to staff (start with volunteers first)
  • Some teachers may feel like they do not have anything to contribute and maybe be fearful of being “judged” (give these teachers time to see others try it out! They may see the advantages once they try observing someone else)
  • Some teachers may only choose to visit their friends classrooms.

Getting Started…….

Suggestions for Implementation:

  1. Identify your teachers. Seek out a small group of volunteers who are willing to give it a try (create a calendar to document your observation schedule, put their name on the chart/calendar to be observed, and who will also go and observe lessons for short periods of time) to get things started.
  1. To begin building a community of trust, keep observations optional, but encourage ALL teachers to participate.
  2. Make sure teachers are clear that this is a INFORMAL, not formal, observation (keep the idea of this separate from teacher evaluation).
  1. Declare a purpose. Will these observations include feedback and reflection (consider learning walks or #observeme)? Are they just to learn something new – a skill, strategy, technique, lesson idea (consider a Pineapple Chart / sign)? Ask yourself, what is YOUR purpose for allowing other in to observe you? How can it help THEM?
  1. You may garner more participation initially if teachers don’t feel like they have to give or receive feedback on a lesson. Just observe & learn!
  2. Decide on a purpose as a team or staff before you begin.
  1. Reflection & feedback. Consider deciding on a focus if you do want feedback. Will it be written? Face to face? Be sure that the emphasis and focus of the observation is on how things in your classroom can be done differently in the classroom to ensure that students succeed academically – how will these observations serve my students? Improve my practice? Build community in my school?
  1. Consider using reflection ½ sheets, QR codes, and Google Forms to obtain the written feedback you may be looking for.
  1. Roll out the welcome mat. Consider hanging a sign on your classroom door (this could be a simple as a pineapple  or use the #observeme and post simple questions you would like observers to answer or choose 1-2 goals you want to reach and ask for feedback on them). Added bonus: These signs model a culture of lifelong learning that we are also trying to cultivate in our students.
  1. You may consider a special chair or area in your classroom designated for these observations.
  2. Consider guidelines for observations: is it ok for teachers to eat? Drink? Grade papers while they informally observe?
  1. Make the time. Keep the first few observations short and sweet. Giving up 10-20 minutes is easier to commit to. You may have to get creative in order to find the time.
  1. Be willing to both allow others into your classroom, and observe others.
  2. Use PLC time if your school/district has it, or your prep time to observe.
  3. Be prepared for the fact that you may offer your classroom, but have no one observe.
  1. Reflect . How can you use what you learned as an observer and observee to improve your teaching practices and professional growth, both of which in turn impact student performance? How can you use what you learned to do something differently in your classroom to ensure that your students succeed academically?

What are the possible outcomes?

Teachers Observing Teachers: Everybody Benefits[11]

Administrators benefit from:

  • the opportunity for reflective dialogue with and among teachers.
  • an increased sense of shared responsibility.
  • an increased focus on student achievement.
  • an increased trust and collegiality among staff.
  • participation in a professional and collaborative learning community.
  • a cadre of self-reliant, confident teachers who love teaching.
  • enriched teacher efficacy
  • participation in a professional and collaborative learning community.

Teachers benefit from:

  • an opportunity to engage in reflective dialogue about their work.
  • the focused classroom support.
  • improvement of classroom practices.
  • support from an “expert” (peer) who understands the daily demands of the classroom.
  • satisfaction with one’s work.
  • reduced job stress, especially for the new teacher.
  • a welcoming atmosphere for new teachers.
  • the comfort of knowing that someone is available to help, explain, and assist.

The school benefits from:

  • increased collaboration among teachers.
  • the establishment of a professional learning community.
  • an increased focus on student achievement.
  • enthusiasm for the teaching profession.
  • Fellows learning from Fellows: The Golden PineAPPLE Peer Observation Model DRAFT

Do you seek to connect with other fellows? Are you interested in exchanging ideas and strategies to improve your practice?

DRAFT: The Golden Apple Academy is comprised of  the 153 teachers recognized as recipients of the Golden Apple Excellence in Teaching Award since 1994. These fellows represent every corner of the state, and every type of school and classroom [12]. Using the peer observation models described earlier, the Golden PineAPPLE allows fellows to invite one another into their classrooms for informal observation and to exchange ideas, strategies and encouragement in the pursuit of improving outcomes for students.

DRAFT: Guidelines for Local Fellow Observation visits….

  1. Review the profiles of Golden Apple Fellows. Identify a current teacher
  2. Secure permission from both administrators to observe.
  3. Arrive to the school and classroom on time.

Using Skype to Peer Observe:[a][b]
1. Install Skype on your computer.
2. You’ll need a webcam[c][d], speakers, and microphone also.
3. Be sure you and your person both add each other as Skype PineAPPLE peer contact.
4. Run a test call to ensure everything is working properly.
5. Outline a plan and discuss logistics with your Skype contact. What are you looking for? What    areas are of interest to you?
6. Walk through expectations/procedures with your Fellow beforehand. *Remember, time is of the essence when working with little ones.  Make sure all kinks are worked out prior to the chat to maximize engagement.

WHAT WE ARE DOING @ EHS THIS FALL![e]

Purpose:

To reflect, learn about and improve on your own professional practice by participating in interdisciplinary, peer classroom observations.

Non-Negotiable Norms:

  1. Participation is voluntary and non-evaluative.
  2. You are reflecting on your OWN practice by watching someone else.
  3. When necessary, you agree to read articles and resources before assigned meetings.
  1. You will participate in 6 observations per semester (2 in september, 2 in october, 1 in november, 1 in december) done during PLC/prep.
  1. Semester 1 focus on Pineapple Charts – observer driven
  2. Semester 2 focus on Learning Walk / #observeme – observee driven
  1. There is NO formal debriefing (semester 1), if any comments are shared, they should be done in confidence/on the side with the observed teacher initiating the conversation.
  2. You will keep a self- reflective journal (composition notebook) with observations and ideas learned during each classroom observation ie. “note to self”, these reflections are not to be evaluative and are not shared with teacher being observed or administration.
  3. You MUST choose 6 different teachers to observe with a focus on interdisciplinary observations.
  4. You may NOT necessarily be observed 6 times (there may be weeks that you are not observed at all).
  5. You will attend twice monthly after school/lunch meetings = discussion & feedback of peer observation / observational inquiry methods.
  1. Each teacher will be responsible for hosting a meeting in their classroom and leading discussion with guiding questions (leadership).
  1. You are willing to participate in peer observation during prep, PLC, and/or a willingness to cover another teachers prep or PLC.
  2. If you want to observe a participating teacher’s class that is NOT during your PLC/prep, you need to identify a sub 1 week in advance.
  3. You will post your availability for being observed during the observation week in the online calendar.
  4. Each participating teacher will identify an area within their classroom where the observer can sit, no more than 2 observers per class period.
  5. Observations are planned and short,  a minimum of 15-20 minutes.
  6. You agree to the understanding that what may have been written on the calendar may not necessarily be what occurs in the classroom that day. The observed teacher reserves the right to a “thumbs down” indicating that it is no longer a good day to be observed.
  7. These norms should be agreed upon by all parties involved.  More norms may be added by the person being observed.

Priority:

  • 2-3 department representatives by Friday, August 10th
  • Present at DC
  • Email DC
  • Get names by 8/10
  • Level 1, new teachers in first 3 years
  • NBPTS certified teachers
  • Those able and willing to follow non-negotiable norms

[1] “Teachers Observing Teachers: A Professional … – Education World.” http://www.educationworld.com/a_admin/admin/admin297.shtml. Accessed 9 Jul. 2018.

[2] “Teachers Observing Teachers: A Professional … – Education World.” http://www.educationworld.com/a_admin/admin/admin297.shtml. Accessed 9 Jul. 2018.

[3] “Teachers Observing Teachers: A Professional … – Education World.” http://www.educationworld.com/a_admin/admin/admin297.shtml. Accessed 9 Jul. 2018.

[4] “Teachers Observing Teachers: A Professional … – Education World.” http://www.educationworld.com/a_admin/admin/admin297.shtml. Accessed 9 Jul. 2018.

[5] “Teachers Observing Teachers: A Professional … – Education World.” http://www.educationworld.com/a_admin/admin/admin297.shtml. Accessed 9 Jul. 2018.

[6] “How Pineapple Charts Revolutionize Professional … – Cult of Pedagogy.” 25 Sep. 2016, https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/pineapple-charts/. Accessed 10 Jul. 2018.

[7] “Responsive Literacy: Hacking Education: The Pineapple Chart.” 8 Mar. 2016, http://responsiveliteracy.blogspot.com/2016/03/hacking-education-pineapple-chart.html. Accessed 10 Jul. 2018.

[8] “The Pineapple Chart – Responsive Literacy – Blogger.” 8 Mar. 2016, http://responsiveliteracy.blogspot.com/2016/03/hacking-education-pineapple-chart.html. Accessed 15 Jul. 2018.

[9] “Troubleshooting #ObserveMe – Robert Kaplinsky.” https://robertkaplinsky.com/troubleshooting-observeme/. Accessed 10 Jul. 2018.

[10] “Troubleshooting #ObserveMe – Robert Kaplinsky.” https://robertkaplinsky.com/troubleshooting-observeme/. Accessed 15 Jul. 2018.

[11] “Teachers Observing Teachers: A Professional … – Education World.” http://www.educationworld.com/a_admin/admin/admin297.shtml. Accessed 9 Jul. 2018.

[12] “Fellows – Golden Apple Foundation of New Mexico.” https://www.goldenapplenm.org/fellows.aspx. Accessed 18 Jul. 2018.

[a]Could we also list something about posting video footage of classes and receiving feedback that way?  It wouldn’t be “live” but it might still have similar impact.  

This is really great Miskee–good work.  I can’t wait to share it!

[b]I like that idea…maybe I can leave this section open ended and we can discuss as you mentioned, with other  Fellows – how could we support each other virtually, which may be good for our newest teachers or the ECTI group!

[c]We could add a swivl to this process- I think it may be useful.  They are getting better since the one I showed a couple of years ago…

[e]just FYI…what we are piloting

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