Inquiry in the classroom: Peer observation as a form of job-embedded professional learning
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Professional development has been recognized as one of the most promising and powerful routes to teachers’ professional growth and job satisfaction, yet current research challenges many of the traditional approaches widely used today. As an alternative, research has advocated for contextually anchored and collaborative models of professional development. Before any judgments on the relative power and usefulness of these approaches can be made, descriptions of how and where these models might work are necessary. In this thesis I describe a study that examines the viability of peer observation as a form of job-embedded professional learning for secondary teachers. A qualitative design was employed to capture and communicate the experiences of five teachers as they participated in peer observation of teaching. Data collection techniques included: (a) individual interviews before and after participation in the study, (b) group interviews during the peer observation cycles (pre- and post-observation meetings and debriefing sessions), and (c) written artifacts in the form of participant observation records and a researcher log. Most of the previous research investigating the effectiveness of peer observation as a form of professional development has been conducted at the post-secondary level. The experiences of the teachers in this study support those findings and extend them to the secondary level. Although the approach taken by the two groups were significantly different, peer observation was found to promote professional growth by promoting: (a) pedagogical knowledge; (b) professional dialogue; (c) skill development, specifically inquiry skills and reflective practice; (d) contextualized learning; and (e) collegiality and collaboration. This study contributes to our understanding of the potential for professional growth resulting from participation in peer observation. It also contributes to the body of Canadian educational research on professional development while providing empirical research relating to the effectiveness of peer observation at the secondary level. Finally, this study makes recommendations for future research addressing the role of the facilitator and some of the challenges and barriers teachers may experience during the peer observation process.