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CBS Academic Development Peer consultation This is a short guide to peer consultation developed by CBS’ academic development team. It provides an introduction to the concept of peer consultation, as we recommend it practiced at CBS as well as a list of attention points, which can help you to get started. We have chosen to use the term peer consultation to emphasize that in contrast to supervision, consultation does not require a more qualified expert supervisor to be part of the process. Instead peer consultation is a reciprocal arrangement between peers that work together for the mutual benefit, and where self-directed learning and developmental feed-back is in focus. Although peer consultation can be done in many different ways and you might have tried it before, we recommend that you start off by following the guidelines in this document in order to make it a structured process. The benefit of a structured method is to create confidence and trust as roles and forms of communication are clearly defined which ensures that personal thresholds are not violated. It is particularly useful in cases where something that we take for granted and engage in without thinking - like conversation – must take a slightly different form to fulfill its purpose. In the case of peer consultation, conversation takes an agreement-based form where participants, regardless of status and experience, help each other on an equal level to develop competences. The figure provides a short guide to the 3 step process, which will be presented in more detail below.

Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

Before the peer consultation session

During the peer consultation session

In the feedback conversation

- Make a contract with regards to confidentiality, duration and form - Let the focus for the peer consultation be defined by the teacher - Make sure that there is a clear agreement among the participants of the focus for the consultation

- The consultant takes notes during the observation of the teacher preferably with detailed examples - Keeps his / her observations on the focus of the consultation

- Let the teacher start by telling about his / her experiences with the teaching - Pose questions based on the observation and focus of the consultation - Provide detailed observations from the consultation session but refrain from interpretations - Avoid to share judgments, good advice and critiques and hold back on appraisals. - Focus on exploring the reflections of the teacher

Figure 1: Overview of the 3 steps in peer consultation


What is the purpose of peer consultation? Peer consultation is development of teaching competences and a culture for teaching based on equal collaboration. The purpose of peer consultation is to facilitate individual teachers’ development to create more competent teachers – not to develop a specific culture or practice. This means that peer consultation is a bottom-up teaching culture initiative where individual peer consultation sessions feed into the department’s / the study line’s discussion of relevant themes, issues and challenges which again feeds into management’s framing of teaching culture and teaching development initiatives. However peer consultation can also stand-alone as a competence development tool in its own right. The point of departure for the consultation is the individual teacher’s identification of his / her own foci and development requirements. Development is in focus rather than evaluation, instruction or judgment and the teacher is the one who defines what he or she would like to be the focus of the consultation. It is a practice-based approach that takes its point of departure in the practice of teaching. The assumption is that reflection of one’s own practice opens up new opportunities for development and that all teachers can benefit from focusing on and paying attention to their practice. Peer consultation thereby creates a room for reflection which facilitates competence development.

What distinguishes peer consultation from normal conversation about practice? Ordinary conversation is often unstructured. It is dominated by sharing of perceptions, meanings and experiences and includes discussions and arguments. The participants engage in processes of analyzing, judging and suggest solutions, provide critique and good advice. A peer consultation conversation is structured, time restricted and the teacher is prioritized in the conversation. Instead of an exchange of ideas and points of view, it is the teacher who reflects openly on the teaching session. The consultant is an active, interested listener who refrains from coming up with stories of his / her own experiences or good advice but instead focuses on posing questions that help the teacher to elaborate and be more focused in his or her reflections.

The method – or how to We suggest that peer consultation is organized in groups of three and follows a three step approach: Organization and roles Three colleagues who know of each other’s experiences, practices and dilemmas team up in a peer consultation group and in turn take on the roles of respectively teacher, consultant and facilitator. The teacher: • • •

Is the focus person whose practice the consultation is about S/he defines what the focus of the consultation is S/he teaches and performs the practice


The consultant: • • •

Observes and listens actively, making detailed notes Makes the experiences of the teacher explicit by posing open and focused questions Works as a mirror (tells what s/he observed)

The facilitator: • • • •

Focuses on the conversation Keeps time and ensures that the conversation stays on the decided topic Provides feedback about the process Poses questions to the consultant

The process A round of consultation takes place in three phases: before (planning), during (observation) and after (conversation) the consultation session. Planning: • • •

Discuss the purpose of the peer consultation that you are about to participate in and distribute the three roles. Make agreements about confidentiality including destruction of notes taken during the meetings or the consultation session. Arrange the time frame and decide on the process including the opportunity for having time-outs and whether the facilitator can help the consultant in asking questions or can pose questions him / herself. Let the teacher chose the focus for the consultation and agree on points of observation.

Observation: • •

Take detailed notes related to the observation points agreed upon. Take notes of what happens during the session e.g. the length of the different activities in order to give the teacher a detailed and objective picture of the activities and the situation observed.

Conversation and feedback: • • •

• •

Let the teacher start the conversation and provide his or her first experiences and reflections Pose questions which help the teacher to reflect upon as many aspects of the session as possible related to the decided focus of the consultation. Describe what you (the consultant) experienced during the session in an objective, value-free description. Be as detailed in your description of the observation points as possible. Use phrases like “I heard you explain about”, “the students spent half of the group work talking about their weekend”, “you spoke out loudly during the first 10 minutes of the lecture and then lowered your voice”, “there was a lot of energy in the room during the group work”. Do not use evaluative or judgmental statements or provide interpretations or explanations of what you experienced as consultant but stick to the role as enabler of the teacher’s reflections Let the teacher make decisions on possible areas of development or new initiatives.


We recommend that the conversation takes place right after the observation (a coffee break is not a problem of course) in order for the observations and experiences of the teacher and consultant to be as fresh in mind as possible.

Themes for consultation It is not possible to make a fixed scheme of observation points as the teacher exclusively chooses what s/he wants to the consultation to be on. For inspiration points of observation could be:     

physical space including how the room is used the behavior of the students, how well-prepared they appear to be and the relations between students the teachers’ verbal, bodily or mental appearance, the teacher’s management of the class room including greetings of the class, managing late comers, breaks and time in general the flow of the teaching, how questions are answered, the use of IT or other technologies or how group work functions the atmosphere in the room, degree of trust, engagement and collaboration

The points of observation should be discussed and decided in the planning phase before the consultation session.

More information Can be found in: Andersen & Bager (2011): Kollegial Supervision. Aarhus Universitetsforlag (in Danish)


Peer consultation