Professional Development through Peer Observations

What are best practices for evaluating the impact of professional learning in a way that is aligned with student outcomes, and sustained professional growth, while meeting the needs of adult professional learners?

In an effort to improve teacher professional development many schools are personalizing teacher learning. In the article from Cult of Pedagogy, OMG Becky. PD is getting so much better!! (2018), Jennifer Gonzalez presents nine alternative models for professional development that are being implemented by different schools. These are: Unconferences, Intentional PLC’s, Choice Boards, Personal Action Plans, Voluntary Piloting, Peer Observation, Micro-credentials, Blended Learning, and Lab Classrooms.

Teachers are diverse, and they benefit by having choice over the kind of PD in which they engage. The more PD options a school or district offers, the more success it will render. Amongst the many models presented, the Peer Observation is one model that aligns well with what the literature tells us about educators as adult learners. In the article Teachers as Adult Learners: A New Perspective (2003), Lawler explains that “adults are interested in immediately applying their learning and making connections between their educational experiences and their lives.” When teachers observe other teachers, they learn strategies in action which they can immediately use with their classes. Furthermore, the collaborative nature of peer observation allows the observing teacher to ask clarifying questions before and after the implementation of newly acquired strategies.

Edutopia’s article 10 simple strategies for creating a better PD program focuses on building a successful program that is based on peer observation. According to the article, peer observation is an effective, inexpensive, ongoing professional development that also promotes a culture of collaboration. Teachers observing other teachers allows the observing teacher to see strategies in action, and students’ interactions. Moreover, the observing teacher can witness student outcomes. Another benefit to the peer observation model is that it fosters ongoing collaboration. The adult learning model for faculty development recommended by Lawler includes four stages: pre-planning, planning, delivery and follow up. These steps can be implemented in the peer observation PD model. The teacher who is being observed can strategically invite colleagues to observe a lesson that is aligned with school, department or teacher goals.  First, the observed teacher can implement a needs assessment to determine what kind of teaching or other strategies are needed, or requested by their colleagues. Second, the observed teacher will select a lesson (or lessons) that align with the needs of the school, and invite others to observe the lesson. Third, for the delivery phase, the observed teacher can have a handout for the observers with notes, information and space for note taking. Fourth, the observed teacher can meet with the observing teachers for discussion and reflection on the lesson. At this point, the observing teachers can express the biggest take aways, and strategies that they can use right away.

As the literature tells us, Professional Development is best when it is an ongoing process, rather than a single event. Engaging in peer observation PD facilitates this cycle, as teachers can collaborate multiple times within a school year.

PD cycle: Plan, Learn, Do, Assess

Regardless of the professional development model, teachers should be encouraged to track student growth by gathering samples of student work, rather than grades. In the book, Grading from the Inside Out (2016) Schimmer explains that “the accuracy of grades depends on the quality of assessments (Moss, 2013) and the teacher’s ability to accurately interpret results (Bonner, 2013). Grades do not really show what students know. Therefore, looking at comparable students’ work samples will more accurately show the improvement of student learning.


Fenton, D. (2016). 10 Simple Strategies for Creating a Better PD Program. Edutopia

Gonzalez, J. OMG Becky. PD is getting so much better!! (2018). Cult of Pedagogy.

Grant, K. (2018). 5 ways to drive professional learning the UDL way. ISTE

Guskey, T.R. (2002) Does it make a difference? Evaluating Professional Development. Published in Educational Leadership, v. 59, issue 6, p.45-51.

Lawler, P. A., (2003). Teachers as adult learners: A new perspective. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 98, 15-21. Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Shimmer, T. (2016). Grading from the Inside Out. Solution Tree Press.


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