Continuing our series on peer observation, this week we spoke to Dr Noemi Sadowska, Programme Director, Branding and Design Innovation at London College of Communication about her experiences
When and with whom did you do your last peer observation?
I was last observed as part of my probation when I joined UAL. I’ve been teaching in some form since 2001 and my observer had a similar level of experience. I spoke to colleagues to find out who they suggested I approach to do my observation. My observer agreed and (luckily) we were able to arrange it at relatively short notice.
In the team I manage, people pair themselves up, but I do say that it is best to have someone outside your immediate Course team.
What was it like to be observed/to observe?
The form beforehand is on the one hand an administrative hassle, but on the other it is really beneficial to take a step back and reflect on what you are trying to achieve. To have to explain your session, how it is supposed to flow and how you think you will measure if you’ve been successful. Also taking time to consider what you’d like to get from the observation as well: what will make the exercise most useful for you?
I introduced my colleague in the session and he was there for about an hour. After the teaching was over we spent about as long debriefing too. I found having that immediate, fresh feedback really valuable so (time permitting) I’d always now want to have that discussion as soon after the observation as possible.
What did you gain from the process of observing/being observed?
It was such thoughtful feedback, and far more like a discussion with a mentor than any box-ticking exercise. It wasn’t about criticism of my teaching but rather what I can build on. We had a really interesting discussion about how learning was happening in the room and the overlapping relationship between the students, the environment and myself as teacher. I was reminded of my own agency and felt re-empowered to do some simple things which can make a real difference – for example rearranging furniture in an awkward shaped room.
What surprised you most about the observation?
The care and attention with which my observer treated the process.
What advice would you give to colleagues who are about to do/have their own observations?
Find a colleague who will understand that they’re observing how you are facilitating learning, rather than measuring how much you know about your subject in the first place. That links to the requirements of becoming Fellow of the HEA (FHEA) too, and the UKPSF. It’s all about delivery!
When I am observer I always have in mind that it’s inevitably a point of stress for colleagues and that they are vulnerable in that moment. The process is meant to build people up, it’s not a licence to criticise. I note down what I have learned from the observee, and tell them that first. I do always gain something from the process too.
Find out more about Advance HE Fellowship at UAL.