Within my teaching career, I’ve been observed by multiple colleagues, and I often question whether it’s really necessary to be observed when you are doing a job for which you’re qualified. When I first started teaching, the main lecturer was in the room, so they were always watching what each teaching demonstrator was doing in terms of interacting with students. There was no formal observation, but everyone knew that the lecturer was there to ensure we were teaching the psychology content we were supposed to.
As my roles progressed to becoming more independent, so did the observations from colleagues. Most of my academic jobs have included a probationary year, requiring me to be observed by a more senior colleague. This has provided me with invaluable opportunities to discuss my own teaching methods and identify areas for improvement.
Being observed by a colleague has many benefits, and while it may initially seem intimidating, it can be a very positive experience to discuss your teaching techniques with someone else. The observer can be from within your discipline or, more commonly, from a different subject area. Each time I’ve been observed, I’ve gained something different from the experience. For example, in one instance when technology failed, I received feedback on alternative activities I could have used, something I now always have as a backup in my teaching.
Being observed also highlights the amount of work that goes into a teaching session. It’s standard practice to send your observer a teaching plan so they can see what you’ve thought about the content and activities.
For me, one of the biggest benefits of being observed has been a boost in confidence. Knowing that I’m doing a competent job and can deliver interesting and engaging sessions has encouraged me to experiment with new teaching techniques.
Recently, I’ve participated in a collaborative investigation where both staff and students observed a staff member. This approach, known as the Staff-Student Collaboration Process, positions staff and students as equals in the educational environment. I was initially nervous about having students observe me, but I’ve found the experience rewarding, as it has helped me consider my teaching from the students’ perspective.
My experiences of being observed by staff and students differ significantly. Observations by colleagues focus more on improving my own pedagogical practices, whereas student observations aim to build collaborative relationships, enabling students to feel comfortable providing feedback.
So yes, in answer to my question, observations are necessary within teaching settings. They offer support to those who may need it and serve as a useful tool to help any educator improve, regardless of their level of teaching experience.
Laura Jenkins, PhD is a teaching associate in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences at Loughborough University.