How to Conduct Effective Peer Observations and Consultations

NOTE: Depending on the individuals involved, peer consultation can be effective in either a “feedback” model or a “coaching” model.

  • In the “feedback” model, the teacher asks the observer to provide specific feedback about what s/he believes worked well and not so well during a class; observers following this model should be comfortable providing constructive criticism. (See the handout “Characteristics of Constructive Feedback.”)
  • In the “coaching” model, the teacher prefers that the observer help him/her figure out how to solve problems and/or improve the class. Teachers following this model need to be clear about concerns they would like to address; observers need to be adept at listening closely and carefully and at asking powerful questions. (See the handout “Coaching: Sample Powerful Questions.”)

Effective peer observation and consultation takes place in three stages:

1. Pre-observation discussion of concerns

  • Preferably done in person
  • May last only 15-30 minutes, or longer, as the teacher desires
  • The goal: Make clear to the observer the teacher’s concerns about his/her teaching and desired focal points for the observation
  • The teacher should ask the observer to look at a reasonable number of aspects of the class (typically three or four).
  • The teacher shares the syllabus and/or assignment for the day of the observation, and any other pertinent pedagogical materials.
  • The teacher and the observer may decide on a specific observation form, for example:
    • a checklist that might include evaluative judgments, or simply a list of possible activities
    • a narrative log of what happens in the class, perhaps accompanied by the observer’s reactions and or constructive criticism
    • a more specific format, such as a diagram of the classroom and/or a system to indicate teacher-student interactions
  • Observation date, time, place confirmed

2. Observation of the class

  • The teacher may or may not introduce the observer, and/or mention a reason for the observation, as desired. Students often appreciate knowing that the observer is there because the teacher wants to improve the course for them. over à
  • The observer tries to be as unobtrusive as possible.
  • The observer focuses on the points the teacher raised but also notes other positive aspects of the class, as well as ways in which the course might be improved.
  • The observer takes detailed, focused notes appropriate to the type of consultation chosen.

3, Post-observation discussion

  • Preferably occurs within 24 hours of the observation
  • The style of the conversation will depend upon the type of consultation chosen.
    • In a coaching consultation, the observer can hand the objective narrative log to the teacher, who looks for aspects of the class that can be improved. The teacher primarily directs the conversation.
    • In a feedback consultation, in which the teacher wants to hear what the observer thinks, the observer might work from a checklist or more evaluative set of personal notes to comment on effective elements of the class and make suggestions about how improvements might be made.
  • The meeting concludes with a decision made about the next step in the process, for example:
    • The teacher summarizes what is effective and should be kept and what changes would improve the course.
    • The colleagues make plans to switch roles.
    • They revise observation techniques, if necessary.

Average time commitment per observation for one 75-minute class:

For the teacher observed: 45-90 minutes beyond the time spent teaching the class

For the observer: 2 ¼-3 hours total:

  • 15-30 min. for the pre-observation conversation
  • 90 min. to go to, observe, leave class
  • 30-60 min. for the post-observation conversation


Adapted from Marva A. Barnett, “Peer Observation and Analysis: Improving Teaching and Training TAs.” ADFL Bulletin 15, 1 (Sept. 1983): 30-33.

Some ideas from Nancy Van Note Chism (1999). Peer Review of Teaching: A Sourcebook. Bolton, MA: Anker, pp. 76-78.