The purpose of this post is to share my enthusiasm for the Three-Minute Observation Club as a structure to support peer-to-peer teacher observations. I also want to share best practices and resources from my own experience implementing a club should you want to start your own Three-Minute Observation Club.
What Is It?
The Three-Minute Observation Club is a structure that teachers can use to facilitate peer-to-peer observations. There are lots of permutations but here is the basic idea:
- At the beginning of the school year, I take about 5 minutes during a full staff meeting to present the idea of the Three-Minute Observation Club to the stuff.
- Based on my presentation, teachers decided a join the club. I choose to invite teachers from any department in my school, however, I know other teachers that have organized a Three-Minute Observation Club with only teachers in their department.
- The lead of the club sets up a schedule for the observations. My club does observations roughly once a month (we skip December and February). Other teachers have used different time frames. This is the Observation Cycle.
- For a particular Observation Cycle, the club selects an 'Observed Teacher'. The observed teacher picks an observation focus from a bank of options I give them. This observation focus is what teachers will be collecting observation data about during their visit.
- At some point during the Observation Cycle, the other teachers in the club drop in to observe the Observed Teacher. We use a Google Doc to share relevant information regarding the observed teacher (schedule, test dates, room location, etc). At my school, there are seven periods in the day and teachers have two 'prep periods' off to grade, lesson plan, etc. So, teachers use part of one of their prep period to drop in and observe. An observation is typically 3-10 minutes but is completely up to the teacher that is observing (I know teachers in my club that have stayed for most of the period). Sometimes prep periods don't align--see Roadblocks to Implementation below.
- In my club, after a teacher has done their observation, they fill out a Google Form to summarize their observations. This way, I have a record of everyone's observation notes and I share those at the debrief meeting.
- At the end of the Observation Cycle, all the teachers in the club get together to debrief their observations. In my club, we use a lunch period to do this. I really think this is the most important step. Observations are great, but the learning is one way unless there is a debrief. We use a protocol to guide our debrief conversation.
Here is a link to a Google Drive folder with all the supporting documents for my club.
Why Do I Love the Three-Minute Observation Club?
My best teachers moves were not learned in my teacher prep program; rather, my best teacher moves have come from observing other teachers in my school via the Three-Minute Observation Club. I've come to believe that the work we do in the Three-Minute Observation Club at my school is the most relevant professional development I participate in. I'm observing teachers in my local context; a teacher with the same bell schedule, the same district/school guidelines, and the same population of students--often I'll see students from my own class when I am observing. Even if the students aren't in my own class, the general profile of the students I see during my observation is representative of my school. This isn't always the case when I go to state or national level professional developments.
Moreover, the Three-Minute Observation Club at my school creates a sense of community. I get to observe teachers and classes (art, band, AP classes) I would never otherwise see. And I get to see them in action! And we get to meet at the end of the month to eat together and talk in a positive and productive way about teaching! As the year progresses, the community we build supports our willingness to take professional risks as it relates to our work with the club. Maybe a new teacher takes a risk and volunteers to be the Observed Teacher even though it is only their 2nd year. Or a veteran teacher chooses an area of focus that is a professional risk--something they know they aren't great at and want feedback on. And those professional risks, however big or small, create opportunities for us to improve our individual teaching practices through our collective work in the club.
At some schools, a Three-Minute Observation Club might not be necessary because teachers naturally drop in to observe each other. Or, perhaps peer observations are built into the work teachers do as part of their job. Neither of those things was true at my school--a large, comprehensive, public high school. Thus, I started the club.
How Did I Start My Club?
I actually started mid-year (in January) four years ago. Rather than announcing the club to the whole staff, I shoulder-tapped a few teachers that I knew would be interested and that I thought would follow through (they did). We were a small group of 5 teachers (including myself). However, starting small was good. I got to experience the bumps and roadblocks of the club with a small group that was committed to the work. It was an excellent learning experience. I would suggest starting small.
At the start of the next school year, I presented to the entire staff as I mentioned above. And we've been going strong ever since! At the start of each year, I give the Three-Minute Observation Club presentation to the whole staff. Some teachers continue on each year; some do it for only one year and then drop; others alternate years.
Tips For Successful Implementation
Like I said, don't be afraid to start with a small group of teachers. I'm glad I started with a small group. Each year, a few more teachers would join and the group has slowly grown over the years.
During an observation cycle, I send email reminders twice a week to the members of the club. The email is a reminder to observe the Observed Teacher for that month and submit their feedback. I keep the email short and bold the important info. Teachers in the club have expressed that they appreciate the twice weekly email reminders.
When I intro the Three-Minute Observation Club to the staff at the beginning of each school year, I am always very clear that teachers need to consider their schedule before joining the club. Of course, emergencies come up and life changes, but, for the most part, if a teacher joins the club, they are committing to the work for the year. Each year a few people drop for legitimate reasons--I understand that. But, for the most part, the teachers that join stick with the club.
The debrief meeting is so, so important. While I glean new teacher-moves or lesson ideas during observation, I don't really understand those things until I get the full context during the debrief lunch. At the lunch we hear the interesting things we noticed during our observations, we engage in discussion about the Observed Teacher's area of focus, and we deepen our learning about the things we observed and want to use in our own practice.
Roadblocks To Implementation
The first full year I did the club at my school, I let teachers drop in and out for each cycle. In other words, you didn't have to commit to the full year. This was a nightmare to implement and there was no sense of community. I strongly recommend you ask teachers to commit to a full year.
Sometimes, a teacher's prep will not align with the Observed Teacher's schedule. In this case, the teacher can't observe the Observed Teacher. If it works with everyone's schedule, I'll volunteer to cover for a few minutes for the teacher during one of my preps so they can observe. Other times, the teacher just doesn't observe that month. This only happens once in a while.
Club size matters. Based on my experience, I think 3 to 12 people is ideal. Those numbers are also based on the length of the lunch period at my school. Given the protocol we use, we need about 35 minutes to meet. If we have more than 12 people, there just aren't enough minutes to give everyone air time.
This year about 20 teachers wanted to join the club at my school. This is WAY too many! I split the group into two smaller clubs and asked a colleague to lead the other club. Problem solved!
If you give the club a try, let me know how it goes! And if you have questions about implementation, please reach out.