“Why Peer Review?” Advantages of bringing peer review into a school:
- Teachers get on board because it is teacher-led and it gives teachers a say
- It enables teachers to build professional relationships with one another and creates a positive environment for them to help one another to improve their practices by encouraging deeper conversations about pedagogy and by fostering Professional Learning Communities
- Peer Review creates a common language about what good instruction looks like and allows more honesty about teaching practices
- It ameliorates the sense of isolation classroom teachers often feel
- And gives administrators an in depth understanding of their teachers’ classrooms, thereby offering a powerful, teacher-driven complement to “data-driven” evaluation
Tips for successfully bringing peer review into a school:
- Seed the process: select a Peer Review chairperson who is trusted by the faculty, and ask a veteran teacher to be the first subject of the Peer Review process
- Create a memorandum of understanding between the teachers and the administration concerning both the process and the use of the output. Establish that the peer review is done by teachers and for teachers. If the output is to figure in the evaluation process, set out how this will happen in advance.
- Emphasize everyone’s expertise (vs. the sense that everyone is being scrutinized), by acknowledging how “reviewers” learn and incorporate techniques that other teachers are using into their classroom practice.
Types of self-reflection – and the bumps to negotiate
- Open-ended reflection: I found writing my self- reflection to be very difficult. Reading other self-reflections was helpful, but the more sample reflections I read, the more I felt less capable of reflecting my own experience authentically, so I set them aside. I wanted my reflection to reflect my voice and so I just started making concrete lists: of challenges, of accomplishments, of philosophies, of best practices, etc. The sample reflections provided a jumping off point that was helpful, but just starting some messy lists of my own ‘stuff’ really got me going.
- Rubrics for reflection: we were given a rubric with which teachers were to rate themselves in various categories . . . I felt constricted by the rubric. . . I wonder if it made the process feel more like an evaluation than a reflection
Observing peers and offering peer reflections:
- Positive feedback works best for our students, so I emphasize the positive with peers as well. This is done through careful observation from the moment I walk in the classroom, while at the same time remembering that I am walking into a new place of learning, one that has been cultivated by someone else.
- The most challenging aspect of writing a peer reflection is the tone and manner in which it is written. Words here are very powerful. Accentuate the positives.
- Hearing a colleague praise an idea or practice in my classroom, one that perhaps I had taken for granted, was a boon to my efficacy as a content teacher and classroom manager
- The process was to spread best pedagogical practices instead of finding fault in each other. That approach, I think, is key to getting staff on board.
- Trust the teacher to be reflective – understand that the teacher is a PARTNER in this process and not the OBJECT of the process.
- When you go into another teacher’s classroom, are you looking for something specific? If something specific, have you and the teacher discussed this beforehand to come to agreement on what to observe and comment on?
- At one point in my process of being reviewed, a reviewing teacher wanted to make a list of “areas for improvement” for me. Luckily, the faculty member coordinating it stepped in to remind the teacher that I would be reflective enough and it was not her role to hunt for errors.
- A few years ago I really botched a peer reflection and had to do a fair amount of damage control to regain my colleague’s trust. I saw so much potential in this person but failed to acknowledge it and instead laundry-listed everything that was not working. The experience still haunts me… I try to focus on the positive and limit my suggestions to just one area so as not to overwhelm my peer.
- In a situation of trust, the teacher might very well bring up the challenges and ask for feedback. However, if Peer Review is also being used as an evaluation process – a teacher might be reluctant to bring up any problems. I wonder if Peer Review can really be BOTH evaluation and support?
- Should a process of equals involve “Questions for Consideration” – as we do in Critical Friends Reviews? Raising questions allows a teacher to explain his/her thinking, and examine it as they explain.
- This year, as I am being reviewed, I have become more cognizant of the what’s, how’s, and why’s involved with teaching. In addition, the review process has inspired me to become more purposeful in planning outcomes, optimizing the best use of a student time.
- What can we do as educators to create a culture of constant reflective and constructive transformative opportunities? If we create a learning community where this is the expectation, then we change our attitudes toward the idea of being critical.
You can also access the full Jam transcript to read the detailed discussion.