Intra-school peer lesson observation, that is, teachers in the same school observing each other’s lessons, is potentially a useful professional development activity. But in practice, it is difficult to implement effectively. No matter how much we de-emphasise evaluation, it is still natural for teachers to compare their colleagues with each other, and with themselves, with regard to teaching competence. We don’t know how our colleagues’ impressions of our own teaching will be played out in the fabric of our school work, not to mention workplace politics. As a result, we could feel vulnerable about exposing our teaching to our colleagues.
This is why the Learning Circle which I mentioned in the last entry is worth promoting. This particular Learning Circle was initiated by the Tuen Mun District Education Office. Earlier in this academic year, an invitation was sent out by the district education office to the primary schools in the area, and participation was voluntary. The Learning Circle, which is still going on at the moment, is administered by the district education office, which handles all the logistics, and I am involved as facilitator to provide professional input. The principal activity of the Learning Circle is peer lesson observation, with the participating teachers visiting each other’s schools for the activity. Since the teachers come from the same district, this greatly reduces travelling time. Before the first on-site lesson observation, two plenary meetings were held, at which I conducted workshop activities that focused on (1) classroom language, in particular questioning techniques, and (2) lesson observation. After the two meetings, a schedule was drawn up for each participating school to prepare and teach one lesson to be observed by visiting teachers from the other schools.
The on-site lesson observation cycle has just finished. I have taken part in two of the on-site observations, and conducted the post-lesson discussions. Each post-lesson discussion would involve the visiting teachers, and the teacher whose lesson was being observed. The post-lesson discussion is of paramount importance in all kinds of lesson observation, and before the whole observation cycle, I was somewhat worried that as the teachers were not accustomed to this kind of lesson observation context, they would have difficulty handling the post-observation discussion professionally. (My work as a teacher educator involves observing preservice and inservice teachers. I am an accredited external school reviewer. I have previously worked as an inspector (English language) for the former Education Department. Hence I am more experienced in handling post-lesson discussion in a variety of contexts.) I was worried that the teachers might be unduly critical, or overly restrained in expressing views and ideas. But the two post-lesson discussions that I had taken part in showed that my worries were unwarranted. The teachers were able to engage in the discussion in the most professional manner. They showed support for the teacher being observed, and at the same time they were open and sincere in sharing observations and comments. Their comments indicated that they were well aware of the teacher’s rationale behind her lesson design and implementation, and the context in which the teaching had taken place. They also suggested alternative approaches and activities which could also be considered. In other words, the discussion was not simply a pat on the back for the teacher observed, but a meaningful professional exchange of ideas.
It is this kind of professional culture that we should actively promote in Hong Kong, and the Learning Circle has shown that this mode of professional development is viable.