Louis Mattar Peer Observation Story

Louis Mattar, Sport, Health and Physical Education

The thought of peer observation was never a scary proposition for me. I have spent the better part of a decade preparing myself to be a university teacher, and part of that preparation included peer observation, albeit in a different form. For me, inviting someone into my classroom was a welcomed opportunity to develop my teaching practice in a very real way.

When we began the peer observation process there was a real sense that this process would be evaluative, but that was quickly dispelled, and the true nature of the practice became clear, that the observations were a means of personal reflection.

Ihave reflected on my teaching practice in the past, but looking back it was a hollow gesture. Simply thinking about what I was doing well, and what I could do better was not an effective way to become a better teacher.

By having someone come into my classroom, it forced me to clearly think about what I was going to do, and what I wanted them to look at.

This type of reflection on my practice BEFORE I even taught was a transformative experience. The tasks I gave my observer were geared towards my delivery of material, and interactions with the new technology in the classroom.

My observer was able to confirm that my teaching style, and use of technology were very effective. While the confirmation of my own beliefs does not seem very revolutionary, it gave me the freedom to explore new and different aspects of my teaching practice.

For example, on one of my subsequent observations, I tasked my observer to examine the alignment of the content that was being delivered to my class, rather than how it was being delivered.

I provided my observer with a set of class notes, and slides, and asked them to determine if what I was saying to my students (the verbal part of my lecture) matched up with the written and visual part of my lecture.

Following the observation, the conversation with my observer highlighted that there were some discrepancies between my verbal information and written material. It has since spurred me to go through all of my lecture notes, looking for ways to better align my content, so that students are receiving a consistent message.

Probably the most rewarding part of the peer observation experience is simply being able to sit and talk with a colleague about my teaching practice in a non-threatening, safe way.

Discussing our teaching practice with colleagues might seem to be occurring regularly, but in my experience, these conversations are often focused on a specific situation (usually dealing with a problem student).

These discussions do not provide a reflection on our practices, they simply try to deal with a problem. This kind of peer observation is a clear way from anyone to reflect on what they are actually doing, and that gives me a great sense of ownership over the process.

Because each member of the team “owns their own” experience, the conversations that emerge are rich, honest, and productive. Peer observation has been an excellent addition to my teaching practice, and is something that I plan on continuing in the future.