Author: Dawn Mitchell
Over the last twenty years in this profession, I have benefited from many different professional development experiences. I have learned from workshops to webinars, articles and assignments, and everything in between, but hands down the one experience that I have grown from the most is observing my colleagues in action in their classrooms.
Listening or reading about an effective instructional practice is one thing; actually seeing it applied in action with students is another. In her article for Teach Hub, Jordan Catapano agrees. She writes, “We often become caught in our own routines when we aren’t regularly exposed to other ways of doing something. One of the best and most easily accessible ways we can witness other approaches to teaching comes from the colleagues at our schools. We share our teacher-to-teacher relationships with these colleagues in the offices, copy machine rooms, and cafeterias. But these fellow teachers are often rich resources of perspectives, experiences, techniques, and materials that we fail to take advantage of.”
In her article, Observing Other Teachers, Jordan provides these top five reasons we should definitely take the time every school year to watch other teachers in our building to learn different approaches to teaching.
Interactions: Every teacher interacts with students in unique ways. Which teachers are inspiring, encouraging, positive and fun? Which teachers have that special way of working with kids that can truly make a difference? You don’t have to witness what these teachers teach; you only need to study how they teach.
Standards: You set your own standards for academics and behavior with your students, but what do other teachers do? Observing others gives you a chance to see if your standards may be too high or too low, and what other teachers do to set those standards with their students.
Lessons and Materials: Why reinvent the wheel? No matter what you’re teaching, someone else has already taught it. Snag a few good ideas, activities, and materials from others who might have just the approach you needed for your next unit.
Inspiration: It’s important to have someone around you whose behaviors are reminders to you that such a way of life and achievement can in fact happen. Hang out around those colleagues who inspire you to become a better version of yourself.
New Perspective: Sometimes experience and routines can work against us when we’re so entrenched into doing things “our way.” It is refreshing to see that learning can be just as effective from a different approach, and it ultimately makes us more versatile as educators.”
Jordan also provides these five steps to ensure you get the most out of your observations of other teachers.
Identify the specific areas you’d like to see how others do things. These areas can be related to teaching specific material, prepping students for exams, organizing a classroom activity, or even just generally interacting with the students.
Identify the colleagues who have some of these attributes that you would like to witness. These can be individuals from your same discipline, but consider what observing teachers outside your discipline will yield. Talk to them in advance and set up a time that would be mutually convenient for you to be a guest in their classroom.
Come prepared to their classroom ready to take notes and watch for specific attributes you’d like as your “takeaway ideas.”
Have a follow-up discussion with the other teacher where you can ask questions and receive insights regarding their philosophy on what you witnessed them doing in the classroom.
Observe the same teacher multiple times, or watch a series of teachers.
Reflect on what you observed. What did you see that you would like to emulate? What were they doing that seems particularly effective? You want to make sure that you have a humble heart when you observe other teachers. You’re not going into their classrooms to critique them or to find out what you’re better than them at. You’re doing this to learn!
While I know our planning time is precious to all of us, I want to encourage you to reflect on what area of your practice you want to improve, and intentionally consider who in your building would be the best person to observe and learn from.
South Carolina ASCD President