A constructive approach to peer observation at Dandenong North

​​Peer observation, including feedback and reflection, is a core component of creating a professional community and building collective efficacy.

Many schools already use peer observation and feedback, including Dandenong North Primary School, which has seen stronger outcomes for teachers and students as a result.

A way to move forward and develop together

Principal Kevin MacKay and his leadership team have built a truly whole-school model that is applied to peer observation in order to effectively target improvement in teaching practice across the school. They use data to drive their approach.

'The school has 850 students; 89% from non-English speaking background; and among those we have many children who don't speak any English at all when they start school,' said Kevin.

'We [the teachers, leaders and I] have to get ​​them to be able to speak English, then we have ​to get them up to our goal for them, which is getting them to be at or above state averages.

'Our teachers work really, really hard; but a big part of how we got there is this constant coaching and mentoring and observation and feedback, and turning our teachers into the best teachers they can be.​​

'I was at the Krongold Clinic, at Monash University, doing a Bachelor of Special Education, and a big part of my training there was the observation rooms,' said Kevin.

 'So I was always keen to bring an observation focus to Dandenong North Primary School.

'My theory was that if you can watch really good teachers teaching you could always pick up something, and any of us who walk into a classroom will find that.'

'We also designed a behaviouralised performance and development pro forma so that people could look at the descriptions of behaviours that we thought were part of good teaching and effective teaching.'

'Everything we do here is based on continuously improving our performance – both of the children and the staff, and myself too. So everything is about development and performance the whole way through.

'If we want to get all of our teachers being like the best, they have to know what the best looks like.

Peer observation in action at Dandenong North Primary School

A consistent ​​model for observation, feedback and development

Assistant Principal Paul Hilton is one of the three senior leaders at the school responsible for implementing peer observation and feedback practices at the school. He explains the steps each teacher will take as part of this whole school model.

'Data and observation drive our development and performance culture,' said Paul.

'Teachers first of all self-assess where they believe they are at. That's important because teachers need to realise where they want to go and w​​​hat they want to learn.'

'From there is observation by going in to their teaching spaces and looking for what they wanted to find out about. Discussions are held with team leaders about how they're going and how to go forward.

'In those discussions we look at data, on-demand testing, ACR testing, teacher judgments about how children are going, if children are moving forward, and if the right strategies are being put in place.'

'Once the teachers have been observed and feedback has occurred, feedback will then go to the Principal Kevin Mackay, the other assistant principal Jenny Mackay, and myself. Formal feedback will occur and then the plan will be discussed.'

This whole-of-school implementation of peer observation and feedback supports the school to meet the needs of staff and further the school's priorities laid out in the strategic plan.

A non-threatening enviro​​​​nment for honest feedback and reflection

Coaching and observation are essential parts of Dandenong North Primary School. As members of the school identify an area of teaching practice that they would like to focus on, senior teachers are able to analyse this practice specifically and use this analysis to inform the feedback provided following an observation.

Leading Teacher Karen Rouda was one of the senior teachers observing then-graduate teacher Dominie Whittle, using in part the IMOCAD model for – Induction, Mentoring, Observation, Coaching, Appraisal and Development.

As Karen led the staged approach to peer observation and feedback, it gave Dominie the time to draw her own conclusions about her practice, what needed to evolve, and what needed to change.

'The reason why observation works at Dandenong North is because we have a very non-threatening way of approaching obs​ervation in the classroom,' said Karen.

'In a writing session that I worked on with [Dominie], we looked at differentiating her writing technique, and she asked me to look at the ways that she was varying her lesson [for students of different abilities].'

'The good thing about the feedback was that after the lesson was observed and because of the notes that I've taken, [Dominie] was able to actually make her own conclusion.

'So she could actually see: "you know for that group, I probably didn't give enough instruction" "That group was struggling a little bit so I needed to actually go back and look at again".'

​​Employing effective Peer observation practices in your school

Professional Practice Note 4: ​Peer Observation, Feedback and Reflection

The Department has developed a Professional Practice Note to provide guidance to teachers on implementing peer observation, including feedback and reflection, to improve your own practice.

As many schools already use peer observation and feedback, this note can be a useful reference point for future planning and improvement, and support schools at all stages of implementing peer observation.

To take advantage of these strategies for your school, see:

Supporting FISO Priorities: Excellen​ce in teaching and learning

Effective teaching is the single biggest determinant of student improvement in the school. At the core of this Framework for Improving Student Outcomes (FISO) priority is the culture of collaboration and collective responsibility modelled by Dandenong North Primary School, which develops effective and consistent teaching practices to improve student and teacher achievement.

To learn more about this priority and its supporting dimensions, see: Excellence in teaching and learning