Watch and learn

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Seeing your colleagues at work can speed up professional development and bring people together

Observing how your colleagues perform their duties at work is key to anyone’s professional development. But teachers rarely get the opportunity to see each other in front of a class and the chance to learn from their peers can be lost.

At Marlborough College, we realized staff were missing out on the benefits of sharing their classroom experiences and decided to implement a programme of professional development based on cross-curricular mutual observation. By sharing expertise as professionals, teachers could better support each other in the school’s new academic life, and so reinforce the impact on the learning of the students.

The initiative was formally called Mutual Observation Groups (MOGs), and over time it has become familiarly known as mogging. It is based on the apparently simple premise that a regular opportunity to step into a colleague’s classroom or laboratory, and equally to have a colleague in your teaching space, becomes a vital opportunity to converse about the craft and the scope of teaching and discuss the challenges facing the student.

I say apparently simple, since these are topics that in teaching can all too easily remain untouched, or even be avoided through fear of criticism.

To set up each MOG, the teaching body is divided into cross-curricular groups of approximately 11, each containing a range of ages and teaching experience. Each group is guided by a Professional Development Assistant (PDA) who has been appointed to the role after lesson observations and interviews. The PDAs form a group dedicated to leading areas of development such as observations, pedagogical theory, teaching and classroom management issues.

Each MOG meets at the start of a term to review the observations of the previous term and to look ahead. They may establish, for example, a particular aspect of teaching and learning that the group will concentrate on, such as independent learning strategies, beginnings of lessons or plenaries. They will also draw up pairings or groups for mutual observation for the term ahead. The PDAs who will observe each member of their group at least once a year as part of continuing peer coaching within their group formulate their own timetable of mutual observation.

The benefits of the system have become steadily more evident over the past three years, not only for us as a body of teachers that you might find in any school, but specifically as an IB World School running a dual Sixth Form curriculum.

A survey after the first year of mogging showed that 70% of teachers found it of average or above usefulness, higher than I had expected given the challenges of opening classrooms up to teachers from outside your own department. Moreover, out of our 110 teachers, by the end of the first year, 25 had made changes to their classroom practice as a direct result of mogging, including seating plans and grouping of the class, use of voice, learner outcomes, integration of ICT, differentiation and evaluation of learning.

We are seeing benefits for teachers’ wider awareness of the IB, even if they are not actually teaching it. Other activities particular to the IB have become familiar outside the confines of the classrooms, either to non-IB teachers or IB teachers from other groups science teachers preparing for the Group 4 project have observed foreign language interactive orals, languages teachers have observed Group 1 presentations, theory of knowledge (TOK) teachers have observed mathematics problem-solving. In this way, the benefits of the programmes are spread far and wide and teachers might just learn something too.

By Andrew Brown, Director of Professional Development, Marlborough College, UK.