Chair and Peer Classroom Observations - Guidelines for the Process
By Dr. Ann Singleton
Associate Dean and Professor of Special Education, School of Education
It has been proposed that student perception is the reality that educator must address. Often, it is that very perception that is difficult to identify. Effective teachers know their subject matter, use strategies to best facilitate student learning, and evaluate how well students understand the information. So what could possibly be the problem? Unfortunately, a teacher's perception of the learning environment and the students' perception of that same learning environment can be completely different.
Even perceptive teachers who connect well with their students are sometimes puzzled at course evaluations from students. Students' comments and suggestion for course improvement seem redundant or irrelevant from the teacher's perspective. A classroom observation by a trusted educator can offer clarifying information to facilitate the chasm between student and teacher perceptions. The following are guidelines that might be helpful as you observe your colleagues.
Only visit classes that both the instructor and the teaching facilitator have agreed upon. Also pre-arrange the debriefing time. This way when the teaching facilitator leaves the classroom, valuable student time is not interrupted.
The classroom instructor should have a place prepared with a syllabus, handouts for the day, textbook, and/or any other materials that would help the teaching facilitator. (I prefer to sit in the back of the room so that they can better observe classroom dynamics.) The teaching facilitator can be introduced to the students as a colleague/chair who is interested in the process of teaching, if the faculty member desires.
I try to stay the entire class period. If you have to leave before the class is over, I try to find a moment that does not interrupt the flow of the lesson. I always shake the professor's hand, thank them for allowing me in their classroom, and make one positive comment. For example, "Thanks, Dr. Atkins, for allowing me to visit with you today. Your ability to ask probing questions is especially effective." or, "Thanks, Dr. Hedspeth, for allowing me to visit in this class. It's always impressive!"
Debriefing occurs at the pre-arranged time. I always let the instructor begin with their impressions of the class, both positives and negatives. Then I try to build on their impressions with my observations and suggestions. My suggestions are always that, just suggestions. I try to approach them as questions that came to mind while observing. For example, "I also noticed that the groups seemed slow in getting started on the case study. I wondered if giving each group a different part of the case study to discuss would have helped them focus earlier. Maybe giving them a time limit would keep everyone focused." If the instructor responds that they have already tried that, or gives another excuse for not implementing the suggestion, that is okay. The goal of the teaching facilitator is to help the instructor process his/her teaching effectiveness. Inspiration may have to come from another source!
For Chair Evaluations: Have a written observation typed and ready for each person to sign. The instructor receives a copy. I write a summary of the debriefing session with the instructor's responses for my files.
For Mentor/Peer Evaluations: During the debriefing, allow the instructor time to ask questions, discuss, depend, complain, etc. Say as little as possible, except to offer encouragement or specific suggestions. Later, it would be helpful to refer them to the Center for Faculty Development webpage, to the Center for Faculty Development section of the library that has books to help with specific problems, or other resources. It is important as their mentor to not let their frustrations just go - but to follow-up with helpful suggestions.
Observing other classrooms is also the best way for you to become a better teacher. Just think of how more effective you would be, if you could implement other professors best teaching ideas.