Editor’s Note: We have been doing class observations at our school, and I recently posted The Best Resources For Doing Classroom Observations. I asked Antoine Germany, the Chair of our English Department, to write a guest post sharing the guidelines he has discussed with us. You can download the observation sheet we use here.

Antoine Germany is a veteran teacher at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento and is Chair of the English Department.

Peer observations are a great way for teachers to reflect on their instructional practices as well as build a culture of collaboration among staff members. Here are a few guidelines to consider before embarking on classroom observations.

  • Have a clear lens of focus before entering the classroom. Before entering classrooms have a specific area you are looking to observe. Whether it’s student engagement, classroom setup, or opening or closing procedures, have an idea of what you are looking for beforehand so that you can focus and not grow distracted by all the moving parts in a classroom.
  • Ensure that observations are constructive and not destructive or overly critical. Peer observations are mainly for teachers to reflect and look for ways to improve. Observations are not evaluations and should be focused on the good things they observe and not on what they do not see or areas they might find unpalatable.
  • When observing, focus on students more than the teacher. When observing a classroom notice what the students are doing as they will reveal a great deal about how a lesson is being received. You can learn a lot about a lesson and a class culture by looking at student body language. Questions like: “Are students engaged,” and “How do I know students are critically thinking,” are great ways to observe what is actually happening in the class. Remember, students being quiet doesn’t necessarily mean that they are engaged or are even listening. Student engagement is the ultimate goal of any lesson or ‘teacher move’ so try to observe how students are consuming the information given by the teacher.
  • Lastly, give time to reflect and discuss on what you observe. Give yourself an opportunity to think about what you saw and how it compares to your classroom. Often reflection reaffirms why you do what you already do in your classroom. Other times observations gives you great ideas of how to improve your instructional practices or the culture of your own classroom. Giving yourself time to think, ponder, and share with other instructors at your school improves the school culture and makes professional growth possible.