Teaching Hub

Would You Please Peer In?

by Nathan Loewen, Department of Religious Studies

I appreciate peer mentoring of my teaching. A member of my department sits in on my class at least once per term. We have a follow-up conversation about the session. And then, usually a week later, a memo appears in my mailbox that evaluates my teaching. I keep these on record alongside my other teaching materials in order to create a sense of progress in my teaching capabilities.

One reason why peer teaching observation works for me, whether my department designed it that way or not, may be because it follows Jim Knight’s principles for good partnerships. I walk away from these mentoring experiences not only with a memo. I gain a reflective conversation whose dialogue worked through ideas and choices for me to make about what goals I might set for my teaching.

Does something similar happen in your department? Is it a regular thing?

If done well, having someone peer in on your class is a great opportunity for professional development that has a long-lasting impact. One example of a peer-to-peer teaching observation program was outlined by Dr. Jaya Goswami at the Teaching Professor Technology Conference. Dr. Goswami facilitates an instructional coaching program at a Texas A&M campus where faculty collaborate to improve each other’s teaching effectiveness. She described a program that is

  • Mutually supportive.
  • Cross-disciplinary.
  • Non-evaluative.
  • Confidential.
  • Goal and action-oriented.
  • Without compulsory outcomes.

Each of the above is, in my opinion, essential for a large-scale program. Over 100 faculty have already participated in the one conducted by Dr. Goswami!

Participants in the program are first trained in peer mentoring so that the above criteria are respected. The program has clearly stated purposes and its goals are set within a process that frames a specific duration of weeks in the course of a term.

What do you think? Would you want someone to peer in on your class?

Helping involves thinking, equal status, shared motivation, willingness to change and self-reflection for change