Schools, for many years, have had this silo effect where a teacher goes to a class and teaches their class, and any practices or
any innovations, or anything that happens within that classroom kind of stays there.
So an observation program broadens the ability for other teachers to see what practice is
in various subjects and different teachers, different modes of delivery. We looked at
this huge pool of talent that we’ve got in the school and went, “Why are we never
looking at what we do? Why are we never observing our peers? Why aren’t we capitalising on
the strengths that we’ve got?” And so we decided that we should look into peer observation.
So we launched our peer-to-peer program. People volunteered to be involved, and then they
would approach people to: “Can I come and visit you in your classroom?” When we launched
our peer-to-peer program, we were really conscious of the fact that teachers had not had other
teachers in their rooms for most of their careers, except when they were being formally
evaluated. So we were really conscious that we wanted to go slowly, slowly, slowly. We
wanted to build the culture so that our observations wouldn’t be threatening – that the process
of reflection would be something that people were really on board with. So we definitely
kept the brakes on in terms of … initially we just said, “No feedback. No feedback
at all. This is about your reflection.” And some people sort of want to jump in; it’s
like, “No, please, at the start we’re going to take this slowly. Let’s just get
used to the thing of having other people coming into our classrooms.” I think in terms of
the effects of a peer-to-peer or classroom observation program, the first thing I’d
say is that it’s made teaching and learning more collegial. We have a very flat structure
at this school, and we have a strong culture of support. And one of the things that I think
has come out of that is that teachers have taken on board the observations or being observed
as a teacher, as a professional responsibility, rather than somebody checking up on them.
And that, I think has been, from the beginning, a very clear message that we’ve tried to
give everyone. Our next step for observation at this school is just expanding it to make
sure that we do have all staff involved in it. At the moment it’s been on a voluntary
basis, and we’ve taken over – 80% of the staff have been involved in that. Teachers
make the biggest difference in the students’ learning; that’s pretty obvious. And if
we can improve every single teacher by observation which is the main thing, and by research which
is the secondary thing, and by further study which is the third thing, then I think we’ll
have a very powerful teaching program, I suppose, teaching and learning program, and a very
powerful group of teachers.