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Breaking the Stigma of Peer Observations: Growing Together

This is a disclaimer: Before there was a substitute teacher shortage this was definitely easier to do, but with the help of administration and your fellow teachers it is definitely a possibility and a worthwhile venture! Now onto the post!


teachers and football


I used to play football back in the day and continue to enjoy a Sunday or Monday night matchup every once in a while. One of the most critical positions that often gets overlooked is a well balanced and talented offensive line. This guys dig in and take hit after hit to not get much of the credit, unless someone misses a block and the QB gets a reality check...then all fingers point at the open gap. The line is stronger together. They will work to build each other up because they know that they are better together. Vince Lombardi captured it well:


“Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”

In the dynamic landscape of education, much like the strategic plays of a football game, each educator plays a pivotal role in shaping the success of the whole team. Peer observations, much like the offensive line in football, can serve as an invaluable tool for professional development and collective achievement. Yet, educators often grapple with the fear of judgment and a lingering stigma surrounding these observations. It's time for a paradigm shift, one that acknowledges the power of collaborative learning, mirroring the synergy of a football team.


The Strength of Collaboration

In football, the offensive line exemplifies the essence of teamwork. Each player’s strength and skill contribute to the team’s overall performance. In a school building, teachers can similarly leverage the insights and experiences of their peers. By actively engaging in peer observations, educators can exchange successful strategies and teaching methodologies, fostering an environment of continual growth and shared learning.


I used to teach with a fantastic math department. We did everything together. We planned together. We ate together. We laughed together. We were a rockstar team, but what made us great wasn't just the time we spent together it was the truest form of collaboration I have had the privilege of being a part of during my time there. We would push each other to improve by co-planning lessons, sharing ideas, and listening to one another. We were vulnerable with one another and would never shy away from a tough conversation...even if it was to argue over the way to introduce exponential properties...yep that one turned into a pretty heated debate... Patrick Lencioni, a renowned author on all things teamwork, says that


"Great teams do not hold back with one another. They are unafraid to air their dirty laundry. They admit their mistakes, their weaknesses, and their concerns without fear of reprisal."

That is the value that we add when we are willing to have conversations and open ourselves up to critique and ideation.


Valuing Diverse Perspectives

The success of a football team's offensive line hinges on each player's unique abilities. Likewise, in education, every teacher brings a distinct set of experiences and expertise. Peer observations offer a valuable opportunity to view teaching practices through different prisms, enabling educators to broaden their understanding and embrace diverse teaching styles.


Often, exceptional teaching moments go unnoticed beyond the confines of the classroom. Peer observations provide a platform for recognizing and sharing these successes, fostering a culture of appreciation and collective inspiration. By highlighting effective practices, educators can boost morale and build a repository of impactful teaching strategies.


In football, 'coaching up' involves players supporting each other’s development. This approach is equally relevant in education. Teachers can adopt dual roles as coach and learner during peer observations, promoting a safe environment for constructive feedback and mutual growth.

"Teaching is not a solitary endeavor. We are all in this together, and we rise by lifting others." - Robert Ingersoll.

Overcoming Insecurities

A significant hurdle in professional growth, especially in education, is overcoming personal insecurities and the fear of being judged by peers. Letting others into your classroom can be daunting, but it's a crucial step towards collaborative improvement and personal development. Here are some strategies to help teachers move past these insecurities:


1. Cultivate a Growth Mindset:

  • Embrace the belief that abilities and understanding can be developed through dedication and hard work.

  • View feedback not as a criticism of your abilities, but as an opportunity to learn and grow.

2. Establish Trust and Respect:

  • Build a culture of trust and respect among colleagues where vulnerability is seen as a strength, not a weakness.

  • Engage in open and honest conversations about fears and apprehensions with your colleagues.

3. Normalize the Process:

  • Understand that every educator has areas for improvement, and everyone stands to benefit from collaborative learning.

  • Remember, everyone is in the same boat, striving to become better educators.

4. Focus on Students’ Benefits:

  • Shift the focus from personal insecurities to the benefits for students. Recognize that collaboration leads to improved teaching strategies, which in turn enhances student learning.

5. Start Small:

  • Begin with less intimidating forms of collaboration, such as co-planning or sharing lesson resources, before moving to in-classroom activities.

  • Pair up with a trusted colleague as a starting point for sharing and reflecting on teaching practices.

6. Reflect on Positive Experiences:

  • Reflect on past experiences where receiving feedback led to positive outcomes.

  • Acknowledge and celebrate improvements in your teaching, no matter how small.

7. Create a Supportive Environment:

  • Work with school leadership to create a supportive environment that values continuous improvement and risk-taking in teaching practices.

  • Encourage leadership to provide professional development on collaborative practices and building a positive school culture.

8. Engage in Self-Reflection:

  • Regular self-reflection can help identify areas of strength and areas for growth, making the process of receiving feedback less intimidating.

9. Focus on Constructive Feedback:

  • Emphasize the importance of constructive, specific, and actionable feedback, rather than vague or judgmental comments.

  • Practice giving and receiving feedback in a manner that is supportive and focused on professional growth.

10. Celebrate Collaboration:

  • Recognize and celebrate instances where collaboration and peer support have positively impacted teaching and learning.

  • Share success stories within the community to inspire others and reinforce the value of open classrooms.

By addressing these insecurities and fostering a culture of trust and collaboration, educators can create a more dynamic, supportive, and effective learning environment for both themselves and their students.


So now what? Let's get a plan to get peer observations off the ground!


Implementing a Peer Observation Plan

To effectively implement peer observations, schools can adopt a structured yet flexible approach:


1. Voluntary Participation: Encourage teachers to participate voluntarily, emphasizing the non-evaluative nature of the process.

2. Training Sessions: Conduct workshops to train teachers on effective observation techniques and constructive feedback methods.

3. Pairing System: Create pairs or small groups of teachers with diverse teaching styles and experiences.

4. Scheduled Observations: Establish a regular schedule for observations, ensuring minimal disruption to regular teaching duties.

5. Feedback Mechanism: Develop a supportive feedback system where teachers can share insights and suggestions in a non-threatening environment.

6. Reflection and Action: Encourage teachers to reflect on the feedback received and explore ways to integrate new ideas into their teaching practices.


Doubling down on the concept of peer observations is about harnessing the collective strength and wisdom of educators. Just as a football team relies on the cohesive force of its players, educators can achieve greater heights through collaboration and shared learning. By embracing peer observations, teachers not only enhance their individual skills but also contribute significantly to the overarching goal of educational excellence.


Final Thoughts

Peer coaching is pretty powerful...if possible. Being able to have a second pair of objective eyes in the room to observe and report what you may be missing, is an invaluable tool that can drastically change what you do and how you teach.


But...


What if you can't make peer observations happen?

What can you start doing now?


Teaching is a naturally reflective profession that can thrive if given the opportunity to professionally and personally grow as an individual. Peer observations are just one avenue that educators can explore to better their craft. Here are 10 other ideas to get you started! These methods can be just as impactful in enhancing skills, sharing knowledge, and building a supportive community:


  1. Professional Learning Communities (PLCs): Teachers can form or join PLCs where they meet regularly to discuss educational strategies, student learning, and curriculum development. These communities offer a platform for shared learning and problem-solving.

  2. Online Professional Development Workshops and Webinars: Teachers can participate in online workshops and webinars that focus on specific areas of teaching and learning. These sessions often provide new insights and approaches that can be applied in the classroom.

  3. Mentorship Programs: Establishing mentorship relationships, where more experienced teachers guide and support newer colleagues, can be a powerful way to share knowledge and provide support.

  4. Book Studies or Journal Clubs: Teachers can engage in book studies or form journal clubs where they read and discuss educational books or research articles. This practice encourages reflection and the application of new ideas in teaching.

  5. Lesson Study Groups: Teachers can work in groups to plan, observe, and critique lessons. While it differs from peer observation, it allows for collaborative planning and reflection.

  6. Sharing of Resources: Teachers can create a shared digital space (like a Google Drive folder) to upload and share lesson plans, activities, assessments, and other teaching resources.

  7. Participation in Online Forums and Communities: Joining online forums or social media groups dedicated to education provides an opportunity to connect with educators worldwide, exchange ideas, and gain diverse perspectives.

  8. Reflective Practice: Regularly encouraging teachers to reflect on their teaching practices through journals or blogs can lead to personal growth and insights that can be shared with colleagues.

  9. Peer Coaching (Informal): Even without formal observations, teachers can still engage in informal peer coaching sessions to discuss challenges, strategies, and classroom experiences in a supportive, non-evaluative setting.

  10. Interdisciplinary Projects: Collaborating on interdisciplinary projects or initiatives can help teachers integrate different subject areas, offering a rich, diverse learning experience for teachers and students.


By exploring these alternative approaches, teachers can continue to grow professionally, support each other, and enhance the educational experiences of their students, even without the option of peer observations.


If you are interested in finding out more or getting started with any of the above, please get in touch with info@youcanbethecause.com or bethecause@joshkorb.org and set up a coaching chat with me!

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