It is a sad fact that for many primary teachers their educational world seldom extends beyond the four walls of their classroom. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the day to day pressures in the high stakes arena and the opportunity to get out, to observe, to share, to collaborate and to reflect is often sacrificed for the potential short term gains of being permanently in the class. The problem with this is that long term development is hindered. One of the simplest, most effective ways to improve practice is to enable staff to get out of their own classroom and into those of their peers. This is easily managed in one school and only slightly more difficult to organise amongst several. We often overlook this most valuable resource in favour of more expensive professional development in the form of courses, conferences and training but class to class and school to school links can be hugely beneficial.
While visiting one of our partner schools in Beijing I witnessed such a refreshing approach. I asked our colleagues what the additional teachers in the lesson were doing – Were they trainee teachers? Was a peer observation in progress? Apparently it is routine in the school for a teacher to ask in the staffroom if a colleague wouldn’t mind watching them teach – perhaps they are trying something new and want feedback, it may be that they have concerns overs something else in the lesson and they want a second opinion. The process was one of complete openness and support and something I was keen to emulate on my return to school.
Staff meeting are often run from classrooms now as this is another opportunity to staff to get into their peers’ learning environment, to ask them questions, offer ideas and advice, compare and contrast. Our next round of peer observations has been an opportunity to match up the strengths of one member of staff with areas of development for another. This isn’t a perfect match as you can imagine but gives peer observations a stronger focus and a strategic edge. This pattern of getting staff into the classrooms of their peers with complimentary strengths is being extended to our partner schools after half term giving teachers the opportunity to see others wrestle with similar issues in their own school and beyond. It also provides staff with the chance to see someone who has strengths in an area they might be developing. Seeing someone ‘walk the talk’ is so much more powerful than hearing someone talk about what they do on a course, it has credibility with staff and enables them to build a strong professional partnership with fellow practitioners. Allowing staff to get out of the classroom to build such partnerships can only help what goes on in the classroom