Questions to consider when setting up a peer observation system

1. Should peer observation be developmental or judgmental?

The literature on peer observation suggests that judgmental systems tend not to work well, as colleagues do not feel comfortable with the process. The most successful systems have an explicit developmental ethos.

2. Should it be compulsory or voluntary?

Ideally a voluntary system would fit well with a developmental approach and some Schools may wish to proceed this way, at least initially. However, as staff are extremely busy, experience has shown that a voluntary system may be ignored or carried only by a handful of enthusiasts. It may be a fairer decision to require staff to undertake peer observation, if the School decides to implement a system.

3. Which staff should be involved in peer observation?

Peer observation can be used by all staff with a teaching role, including part-time tutors and teaching assistants. However, Schools may encounter some financial issues in including hourly paid staff in a POT scheme. Schools might also consider whether to set up an integrated system for both staff and teaching assistants or two separate systems.

4. How to ensure confidentiality?

POT needs to be conducted in such a way that confidentiality is maintained according to agreed School guidelines. Clearly breeches of confidentiality could be embarrassing or potentially distressing for the staff concerned. Schools thus might want to consider whether there will be strict confidentiality between observer and observed, or whether anyone else will have access to peer observation documentation, e.g. Directors of Education, etc. USR reviewers do not automatically have access to the documentation.

5. How is the process to be monitored?

Schools will need to keep some records of who has been involved with peer observation and when. These administrative records will be useful for USR.

6. How can good practice be disseminated?

While peer observation is generally a highly confidential process, there are opportunities for enhancement of teaching in a School if examples of good practice are identified through the process. Schools are thus encouraged to think explicitly about ways to disseminate good practice, with the consent of the staff member concerned. Possible ways include examples of good practice being written up, possibly anonymously, and forwarded to the Director of Education for further dissemination. Staff members could also be asked if they would be willing to share good practice by putting on a short seminar on, for example, an innovative method of teaching.

7. How are observers and observed to be selected?

Experience has shown that staff can be understandably wary of the process and thus feel more comfortable if they can choose their own observer, rather than having one imposed on them. Clearly however, there does need to be a mechanism for rotating peer observation partners from year to year, if the process is going to grow and be genuinely useful. Sometimes triads can also be an effective method of organizing POT. Schools may also wish to consider whether it would be useful to encourage peer observation across the range of staff. Sometimes pairings of experienced and less experienced staff members are mutually beneficial.

8. What kind of documentation will be required?

Peer observation feedback is often structured round a proforma.