Enhancing teaching practices: highlights from the Educate Together inter school peer observation project

Donal Evoy, Principal, Blackrock Educate Together Secondary School  

Teachers and principals gathered at the Glenview Hotel on March 21st to reflect on the Educate Together Inter School Post-primary Peer Observation of Teaching Project 2023/24. The meeting, attended by Susana Nunez from Educate Together and Rosie Leonard Kane from UCD’s Innovation Academy, aimed to review teachers’ experiences and insights gained throughout the project.

The project commenced with a virtual meeting in autumn, where principals and teachers from ten participating schools convened over Zoom. Pairings were finalised in November, aligning teachers from various disciplines across schools for peer observation sessions. January marked the beginning of the peer observation phase, where teachers visited their partners’ classrooms, observed lessons, and engaged in feedback sessions using provided templates.

Feedback from these sessions was collated and analysed by the organising committee to inform discussions at the March meeting. Donal Evoy, principal of Blackrock ETSS, outlined the project’s timeline, followed by an interactive session led by Rosie Leonard Kane demonstrating the benefits of peer observation. Conor Berry, principal of Gorey ETSS, provided insights into the project’s impact from a principal’s perspective.

Key themes emerged from the feedback data, leading to presentations by participating teachers on tech-enabled learning, student engagement, and lesson structure. The unanimous agreement among attendees was to continue the project next year, extending invitations to all schools in the Educate Together Second level network.

The collective view at the meeting was that a major strength of the project was the fact its exclusive focus is on teaching, learning, and assessment.  Moreover, teachers enjoyed gaining insights and ideas around teaching methodology and assessment practices that they could potentially bring back to their own classroom, which will benefit both their professional development and their students’ learning experiences.

Another strength that those in attendance agreed on was the fact that the project provides teachers within the Educate Together network an opportunity to meet other teachers and principals from sister schools.  The opportunity to strengthen the bonds between our schools was regarded as very welcome and positive by all involved.

All ten schools that participated in the 2023/24 project were represented at the meeting on March 21st. Thank you to all of the teachers, deputy principals, principals, patron colleagues, and colleagues from academia who took the time to attend the meeting. Special thanks to the organising committee: Miriam Barragry and Donal Evoy, Blackrock ETSS; Conor Berry, Gorey ETSS; Padraig Conaty, Harold’s Cross ETSS; Grace Ferrick, ETSS Wicklow; and Aoife Fleming and Lara Hunt, Sandymount Park ETSS.

Representatives from all ten participating schools attended the March meeting, expressing gratitude to the organising committee and all attendees. The final phase of the project involves participating teachers sharing their learnings with colleagues during staff meetings, aiming to inspire pedagogical innovation across schools.

As the project concludes for the 2023/24 cycle, plans are underway to expand its scope in the upcoming year, welcoming the participation of all ETSS schools. The enthusiasm and collaboration demonstrated throughout the project underscore its significance in advancing teaching practices and fostering a culture of continuous improvement within the Educate Together community.

Participating schools: Harold’s Cross Educate Together Secondary School, Stepaside Educate Together Secondary School, North Wicklow Educate Together Secondary School, Goatstown Educate Together Secondary School, Gorey Educate Together Secondary School, Educate Together Secondary School Wicklow, Clogher Road Community College, Sandymount Park Educate Together Secondary School. Blackrock Educate Together Secondary School and Firhouse Educate Together Secondary School.

Participating teachers: Dan Clarke, Jennifer McGrath, Martina Hanlon, Máire Toomey , Julie Browne, Grace Ferrick, Paul Rickard, Lara Hunt , Katie Burrowes and Niall Halpenny.