This was originally published on November 21, 2011 at

Why observe your fellow teachers? – A case for peer observation

I can’t say how many times, visiting schools as a consultant, I’ve had people – especially administrative staff, supervisors, directors etc. – suggest I observed a certain teacher’s lesson on the grounds that s/he was “very experienced”. Penny Ur (brilliantly) says that there is a big difference between twenty years’ experience and one year’s experience repeated twenty times, and this just couldn’t be any more spot on.

But what does this have to do with peer observation?

Well, first of all, my point here is that “experience” can be a very misleading term. If teacher A, for example, has been working for the same school for twenty years, teaching the same courses the exact same way following the very same lesson plans day in day out, while teacher B has been a year on the job, working for two different schools plus private students, using a range of course books and is naturally curious (frequently visiting websites like for ideas, participating in Twitter chats such as #brELTchat and #ELTchat etc.) then I’d suggest you observe teacher B over teacher A every time.

The second point I’m trying to make is that it doesn’t really matter who among your teaching peers you’re going to observe: There’s something to be learned from every single one of them, even if it is how not to do something (which is learning too!).

Now… how to go about peer observation?

1)   Similarly to regular lesson observation: sit together with your colleague to discuss the group and the plan prior to the lesson; observe the entire class; give feedback. Finally, invite your colleague to observe you;

2)   Pop-in observation: you have a free couple of hours and a fellow teacher is teaching. Ask him/her whether s/he would mind having you in class, and in case there is no problem, observe the entire lesson. Give feedback, even if short and informal. In the end, invite him/her to observe you as well.

Bear in mind these are suggestions in case your school doesn’t already foster a peer observation program. Ideally, schools should try and implement programs which factor peer observation in for, for example, career advancement (pay increase, promotions etc.) Since that might not be the case for most (all?) schools, you can at least bask in the certainty that you’re investing your time in one of the most effective learning opportunities available for teachers, a veritable practical teacher training course.

A few tips on how to make the most of your peer observations:

1)   Focus on a few aspects of your peer’s class instead of on “everything”, i.e. choose to look at time management, or error correction, or pairing and grouping students, or giving instructions and the like;

2)   Make notes of interesting things you’d like to use in your own lesson and of points to include in your feedback later on. Keep a journal of your many observations;

3)   Never participate in/make comments during the lessons unless the teacher asks you to. In that case, participate willingly. Remember you’re a guest and should behave as such;

4)   Observe teachers who teach similar levels to the ones you teach, regardless of how experienced they are. Similarly, observe teachers who are teaching levels you would like to teach.

That’s it for now. In my January column, I’ll look at courses available for teachers, which ones are worth taking and in which order.

To wrap up, I sincerely hope you all have wonderful holidays. May 2012 be the best year ever for us all in our careers and in our personal lives, filled with great achievements, joy, health and lots of love.

Thanks for the company these past few months, and see you all in 2012!

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