Will you be doing live online peer observations for CPD and reflection?
Are you thinking about how to make them effective?
How will you help staff and learners to be comfortable?
Many peer observations will be happening in live online classrooms in the coming months. Managers and practitioners are thinking about how to approach observations in a non-threatening way.
If you want to design and run peer observations, this blog post will give you some practical ideas and considerations to get you started.
The purpose of the observation needs to be clear to the practitioner and the observer. It will be about professional development, reflection and feedback. It’s an opportunity for the practitioner to think about their practice, review their delivery and reflect on their experience with the support of another person.
It is not an appraisal or performance management, however the structure that is used to inform the observation may include elements of professional standards, staff digital standards, and Estyn or Ofsted’s inspection frameworks in Wales and England.
There is some discussion about whether it’s appropriate for the observer to talk to learners during an observation. In a live online session it would be very difficult to talk to learners and still maintain a non-invasive, non-threatening presence. Learner feedback can be gathered in other ways – using forms, surveys, focus groups and social media.
Whether online or in person, an observation can be divided into four stages: attending a preparation meeting between the observer and practitioner; delivering the lesson or session; attending a reflection meeting; and taking action following the observation.
Observations themselves can be ‘seen’ and ‘unseen’ meaning that the same stages are followed but the observer does not need to attend the session. They can choose to attend live, watch a recording, or hear about the session afterwards from the practitioner.
The practical arrangements should be made in advance including locations, links, dates and times for the pre-meeting, the lesson, and the reflection meeting. The platform and resources should be accessible to the observer.
Observation forms can give structure to your observation and may help to focus the discussions in the pre and post-meetings. The form may make reference to the online environment and take into account any differences or considerations when using digital platforms, tools and resources.
The confidentiality of the lesson or session might be an issue as learners may be using webcams in their homes, or using the chat pane to talk about personal details or circumstances. Have an agreement in place about how to handle sensitive conversations, or choose to observe a session that doesn’t involve confidentiality issues. If the session is going to be recorded for observation purposes, make sure you have permission from the practitioner and the learners.
In the preparation meeting the practitioner should lead the conversation by talking about the focus of the session, elements of the plan, and the intended outcomes. They can share the structure of the lesson and the learning activities that are planned.
The observer will be looking at how the practitioner has planned for engagement, learning, wellbeing, accessibility and inclusion. All of these will need to be appropriate and effective in the online environment.
When the seen observation starts, it’s helpful for the observer to let the learners know who they are and what they will be doing during the session, just as they would in person.
While the lesson is in progress, they should take a non- intrusive stance, with the camera and mic off, focusing on the practitioner and not on the learners. They shouldn’t distract anyone with their presence.
At the end, the observer should say their thanks and farewells, and leave promptly.
The observer will be looking for a range of components in the approach and delivery of the online lesson. These can be identified in the preparation meeting and in the lesson.
- Content – do learners know where to access the content outside the session?
- Delivery – is this engaging and inclusive?
- Digital skills – does the lesson embed support for a range of learner digital skills and take into account wellbeing and e-safety?
- Active learning – What are the learners doing? Are they researching, discussing, reflecting, sharing, or taking part in games and activities?
- Communication – how is the practitioner listening, asking questions and giving instructions?
- Collaboration – do the learners have opportunities to use breakout rooms or other online spaces to work together?
- Differentiation – are all learners stretched and challenged?
- Digital learning resources – are they accessible and of suitable quality?
- Assessment and progress – are digital tools and techniques used to evaluate learner progress?
- Feedback to learners – are appropriate and accessible tools and approaches in place?
You can find more inspiration about how to use digital tools and skills in this post about digital active learning and this one about engaging teaching techniques in live online classrooms. This post might help if you use Teams for live delivery. Jisc’s pedagogy toolkit gives a wider view of teaching and learning.
The observer and the practitioner will meet to reflect on the session, whether it was seen or unseen. Observers can take a coaching approach and use a variety of models to help. This Powerful Learning Conversations toolkit is a good place to start. A set of actions will be agreed with the practitioner to help improve their practice. The continuous improvement cycle can start again!
Dr Esther Barrett
For more ideas have a look at the following webinars from Mesma Limited. They are from February 2021 and are Ofsted approved.
Select the link to view one of the three sessions.
- Impactful observations (what’s your purpose?)
- Models of observations suitable for online delivery
- What to look for in effective online delivery