Open classroom sessions
An open classroom session is a non-threatening way to open doors across a school and foster a culture of sharing and collaboration. Teachers observe multiple classroom environments and practitioners in a series of short 'fly-on-the-wall' observations.
An open classroom session is coordinated and led by a facilitator. Sessions usually run for 60 to 90 minutes, during which time teachers move through one classroom every 5 to 10 minutes and engage in discussion between classrooms. During this time, the facilitator leads the discussion to promote teacher reflection on the strategies observed in the classroom.
Open classroom sessions help teachers, especially in a secondary school context, understand the learning experience for students across different subjects. Observing examples of other teachers' practice enables colleagues to share strategies, learn new ideas and become more attuned to the impact of their own practices on student learning.
Open classroom sessions also increase the transparency of teaching practice within a school context and are able to be implemented with parents, community members and students. They are also an effective strategy to implement preceding more focused lesson observations such as magnifying classroom practice or instructional coaching.
- Driven by teachers from within the school to observe practice within a non-threatening approach.
- Deliberately short visits, followed by an immediate debrief.
- Use of group-established agreements.
- Teachers gain insights into their own professional practice through observing others.
How do I facilitate an open classroom session?
Open classroom sessions foster the development of a common understanding of what good teaching practice looks like. The session may have a specific focus, for example, focus on what engaged learning looks like, the use of collaborative learning, the use of flexible spaces. It can also be open-ended and provide a chance to initiate discussion.
Stage 1 – Planning
- The facilitator selects a date and time for the 60 to 90 minute open classroom session.
- The facilitator seeks a range of teachers willing to open their classroom at this time and share their practice during a series of short lesson observations (5 to 10 minutes each). The facilitator gathers an overview of the lesson contexts, practices and strategies which will be seen in these lessons.
- The facilitator gathers a team of teachers who are interested in observing practice within their school. The facilitator will consider the professional learning needs of the observing teachers and may wish to arrange a focus group or survey to assess this, in order to arrange a valuable open classroom session.
- The facilitator discusses with the classroom teachers the details of the lesson to be observed, providing background and context for the participants. The facilitator seeks permission from the teachers for observers to discuss the learning with students when they conduct their observation.
- The facilitator prepares sample probing questions to be asked between each classroom observation which focus on the teaching practices expected to be seen. This is based on the lesson context provided. However, the facilitator will need to be flexible and knowledgeable to adapt questioning in order to probe understanding of strategies seen and alert teachers to important practices observed. Some examples of probing questions:
- How is the space being used?
- What sort of questions is the teacher using to engage students?
- What strategies are being used to differentiate the lesson?
- How is technology integrated into the learning experience?
Stage 2 – Lesson observation
Each open classroom session should involve 5 to 8 classrooms, depending on the time allocated to the session.
The facilitator meets with the observing teachers somewhere other than the classrooms to provide background information. This briefing is 10 to 15 minutes in duration. Facilitators may like to use the Open classroom session template (.DOCX 45KB) to assist. The facilitator then explains to participating teachers what they can expect to see in the lessons, sharing the background information with specific reference to the pedagogies or practices being utilised. It may be useful to have a short summary of each lesson, context and focus practices for the observation session to help observers as they move through each classroom.
The facilitator also asks participants to be respectful of the learning process as they enter the room and to ensure that what they observe is not discussed outside of the open classroom session process unless agreed by the observed teacher.
Led by the facilitator, teachers observe the lessons and are guided through the 'in-between' classroom visit discussion to gain perspectives on the practices seen. These 'in-between' discussions typically only last 3 to 5 minutes after each classroom visit and aim to surface key observations for the group. Questions may include 'What strategies to create an inclusive learning environment did you notice in that lesson?' or 'What did you notice about the teacher's use of body language to direct classroom management?'. The facilitator may provide additional information for further investigation if relevant. For example, if part of the observation was about a specific collaborative learning strategy, the facilitator may provide samples, strategies or link to resources.
Stage 3 – Scaling practice (extension)
The teachers who observed the lesson trial a strategy based on their observation and reflect on their experiences and outcomes/impact following the trial. Facilitators may wish to arrange subsequent open classroom sessions, link this to a lesson observation process already in place in the school context or revisit this in a follow-up reflection discussion with teachers.
Things to consider
Open classrooms could be perceived as non-threatening and should not be used as summary judgement of individuals. Facilitators should initially provide opportunities for teachers to 'opt-in' to having their classroom open to observers.
Facilitators need to establish structures for participants to follow up and implement learning as part of an ongoing mentoring or coaching program or through the implementation of professional development plans.