Classroom observations are an essential component in an instructor’s toolkit. They provide an opportunity for growth, understanding and the refining of skills that lie outside of the instructor’s subject material expertise.
“An observation is a snapshot of real-time teaching that starts a conversation about all kinds of things,” says Colleen Lowe, a Teaching and Learning Specialist. Lowe is a strong advocate of classroom observations and believes they promote conversations about a variety of topics whether that is engaging students, practicing active learning strategies or using educational technology. Research suggests that classroom observations are most successful when they are embedded in the context of supportive relationships between instructors and those making observations and providing feedback (Stuhlman, Hamre, Downer, & Pianta, n.d.).
Once the focus of the observation is set and the instructor is open to constructive feedback, the interaction between observer and instructor can become a shared learning experience. The observer’s unique perspective allows for an inside look at student engagement, active participation and the learning environment. “It’s an opportunity to receive detailed and extensive feedback about the sequencing [of the lesson] and to track student learning,” says Hilary Schmidt, an instructor in the Medical Transcription Program. Both Randy Drouin and Julie Watton of the Electrical Engineering Program concur that classroom observations are an essential part of an instructor’s professional development. Working with Lowe to improve their effectiveness in the classroom resulted in positive feedback from the students.
“The experience shows that instructors are doing a lot more correct that wrong,” says Drouin.
“It was a chance for unbiased, valuable feedback from a different side of things,” Watton says.
All agree that the intent of classroom observations at NAIT is to build a culture of teaching excellence through a community of practice.
(Source: Stuhlman, M.W., Hamre, B.K., Downer, J.T., and Pianta, R.C. (n.d.). How classroom observations can support improvement in teacher effectiveness. Charlottesville, VA: Curry School of Education, Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL), University of Virginia. Retrieved from http://curry.virginia.edu/uploads/resourceLibrary/CASTL_practioner_Part5_single.pdf)