Guest Blog: Steve Barkley, Education Consultant "Teachers' Peer Observations: Reflecting & Learning"


I am so excited to have the opportunity to share a beautifully written blog post from my new friend and fellow educator, Steve Barkley. For the past 40 years, Steve has served as an educational consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. A prolific published author, his weekly blog, Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud, has evolved into a go-to resource for teachers and administrators all over the world. I was honored to have recently joined Steve for a podcast for parents called, "Podcast for Parents: Motivating Compliance Deeper Engagement." Please check it out and Steve's other podcasts, blog posts, and books!

"Teachers' Peer Observations: Reflecting & Learning"

by Steve Barkley

In 2017, I received a request from a building principal that caused me to revisit my experiences with teachers learning from walk-throughs and learning walks in each other’s classrooms. I believe these experiences create great opportunities for educator learning.

Here’s the request:

We will be conducting some learning walks in the next couple of weeks. This will be our first round of peer observation work this year. The teachers going into the other teachers’ classrooms (observers) will be the ones getting most of the feedback around a specific portion of the Workshop model; not providing specific feedback to the observed like we have done in the past. Any help would be appreciated!”

This school’s design matches what I think is a valuable learning option. Learning is gained when the observers focus on student learning production behaviors and then reflect on their own classrooms.

When I facilitate these walk-throughs, I focus the observers in each case on identifying student actions.

”What are the students doing and experiencing?” …both collectively and individually. We observe about six-ten minutes at a time and look to see where we would place students’ observable behaviors on a continuum that ranges from bored to comfortable to attention to high anxiety (fear). (Additional explanation can be found in my podcast: Reading Student Engagement.)

I encourage observers to first look at the class as a whole, then groups of students, and then individual student engagement. How often are students at the sweet spot? A high focused learning state.

Just before leaving the classrooms, observers considered the teacher’s design and facilit-ation of the learning activity. How did design and facilitation impact student engagement?

This focused observation of students’ learning production behaviors is extremely valuable as teachers rarely can observe and analyze at a similar depth in their own classrooms while they are facilitating learning.

Having observed students in a few classrooms, teachers can share their “wonderings” and insights with each other and reflect on “what is happening with my students?”

Here are some reflections/insights that have arisen during debriefing sessions I’ve facilitated following peer observations: