Teachers observe teachers to improve education

Megan Pavlik

With plans to expand to next year, the program Teachers Observing Teachers has commenced at Benilde-St. Margaret’s. Begun at the start of the 2010-2011 school year, the program has 10 teachers observing their fellow teachers in order to gain expertise from each other.

The observing is organized into cycles, which includes a pre-conversation, an observation session, and ends with a conversation about what happened in the classroom. “[The teachers will] talk about what the person being observed wants to get out of it, so if there is something in particular that the teacher wants the observer to watch for, then they say, I’m really focusing on this technique or I’m really trying to get a handle on this idea or concept,” said Mr. Pohlen, who organized the program and used to be a teacher.

The 10 teachers who observe were selected at the beginning of the year, and the other teachers get the chance to pick four they would be most comfortable with having observe their classroom. The program is not designed for the teachers to rate each other, but for the teachers to gain knowledge and new techniques in order to improve their teaching skills. “I found it very simple talking to Mr. Hoemke [my observer]. He came in to observe, and we had a nice talk after, and he gave me some suggestions. In some ways it’s less intimidating having another teacher, because they know what other students are like ,” said Sister Jeanne, who has been observed.

The program allows other teachers to gain a different perspective into different teaching styles. “One of the biggest things is it’s an opportunity for teachers to communicate and gain expertise from each other. It’s not a system where one teacher is better than the other, or one teacher somehow knows more than another––it’s a chance to share expertise. The people observing are getting just as much out of it as the people being observed, and in some cases more,” said Mr. Pohlen.

To gain more knowledge, the teachers would not only observe other teachers in their subject, but they also observe teachers in opposite departments. “It’s amazing what you can learn from departments other than your own, because you’ve always kind of known what goes on in [your subject], but when you start to see how other people manage their classroom or approach a topic, you sometimes learn something that’s applicable and useful in your own field,” said Mr. Pohlen.

Not only is the program crossing departments, but they are also crossing the senior and junior high. “Were cutting across Senior High and Junior High too which is kind of nice, I like it. So the [mentor teachers] are looking at high school teachers as well as junior high teachers. A lot of it is teachers looking at how teachers teach, looking at the style rather than if I know my stuff,” said Sister Jeanne.

Next year the plan is to extend the program to become a daily occurrence with the newly allotted time due to schedule changes. “Next year we’re trying to carve out time in the teachers’ day where not only someone would come and watch them, but that everybody would have a chance to go and watch lots of other teachers too [in order to] to create [more] opportunities for sharing expertise,” said Mr. Pohlen.