In my experience, peer observations can be nerve-wracking or enjoyable, collegial or competitive, a learning opportunity or an opportunity to criticize. I hope that if your school uses peer observations they are all of the first things and none of the second!
If you work at a school that is thinking about setting-up peer observations or would like to modify existing peer observations, or if you yourself would like to promote them, I encourage you to consider the following questions.
Who is the learner? Is it the person being observed or is it the observer?
What are the observations going to be used for? Are they going into a formal file?
Who will have access to the observation notes?
How many times will they be done?
I think that peer observations can be an extremely useful and beneficial tool, but I firmly believe that the answer to the first question should be the observer. The observe should be observing to learn a new technique, strategy, classroom management idea, a new way to present material, or looking for a way that more cross-curricular studies can be done. As long as the observer is the learner, most teachers welcome peer observations.
Peer observations should never be formal or evaluative. This should be left to the administrators and department heads. If department heads typically observe to evaluate, then they should observe each other.
No one but the observer and the observed teacher need to have these notes. The best way for a department head to gather information about peer observations is simply to ask during a meeting what was learned from the peer observations. What strategies are being incorporated due to peer observations.
How many times peer observations are done is really dependent on teacher availability and time. I would say no more than three formal peer observations should be done at least in the first year of a peer observation set-up.
Does your school do peer observations? What are the pros/cons? and how do your experiences align or differ from mine?