Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Observing Peers Develops Practice, Changes Culture: Skeptical Teachers Learn That Peer Observations with Feedback Can Provide Learning Opportunities for Both Parties and Shift School Cultures Too

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Observing Peers Develops Practice, Changes Culture: Skeptical Teachers Learn That Peer Observations with Feedback Can Provide Learning Opportunities for Both Parties and Shift School Cultures Too

Article excerpt

Thirty minutes into our first class, my students--all experienced educators enrolled in a master's level teacher leadership program--became very quiet, abandoning the cheerfulness of our initial greetings and introductions. The somber mood descended as I outlined the clinical practice requirement for our course. In the next week to 10 days, I explained, each of them would engage with a school colleague in an initial cycle of peer observation. The cycle would begin with a one-on-one meeting to talk about the colleague's pedagogical aims, followed by an observation of his or her classroom practice, and then a follow-up meeting to discuss the observation. A second cycle would focus on questions and ideas generated by the first cycle, as would a third. I assured them that we'd talk more about this process and that the syllabus contained a clear description of requirements as well as a qualitative rubric to guide their write-ups.

Their reactions surprised me, partly because of my former students' very positive experiences with the same assessment. Those previous students, though, had communicated with me only online, via papers and discussion boards; in the online environment, I wasn't privy to spontaneous, unfiltered signs of students' initial resistance. On that first night of the face-to-face class, these experienced and well-regarded educators patiently explained to me why this assessment wouldn't work. Primarily, they informed me, requests to observe colleagues would not be well-received: Teachers were busy preparing students for mandated standardized assessments; teachers' time was taken up with preparing for their own evaluations based on new student learning objectives; teachers would want and had a right to expect more notice before an observation. They told me that their own schedules simply don't include time to observe colleagues during the school day.

As our course progressed and we developed a mutual trust, I came to better understand the resistance I encountered that first night. These educators, who collectively taught a range of grade levels and hailed from different schools as well as the central office, were struggling to reconcile the expectations I was establishing for their clinical coursework with their prior experiences of supervision. While I was describing structured collegial discourse about goals and pedagogy, they were recalling one-sided critiques of their practice. I was asking them to establish microcontexts that could support their and their colleagues' inquiry into professional practice, but they were accustomed to a system of "inspection and control" (Glickman, Gordon, & Ross-Gordon, 2013, p. 8). Marie's final paper (all names are pseudonyms) described the disconnect this way:

   I have never thought of the process of observation as
   a collaborative process. My experience being evaluated
   has been one of examination and documentation.
   An evaluator would watch a lesson and then, within
   five days (the county requirement), hand me a typed
   document that included several paragraphs relating
   their observations. This document was read to me,
   and I was asked to sign at the bottom. There was no
   discussion, reflection, or collaboration.

My students were familiar with supervisory structures that positioned them as implementers, not generators, of curriculum and "best practices"--practices that have been created elsewhere by others. They had learned to see themselves as recipients of knowledge and conceptions of good practice, and they understood their role, at least through the eyes of their supervisors, as transmitters or conveyors of knowledge and skills. In their experience, judgments about their success were made by authoritative figures, and those judgments increasingly had come to them via high-stakes measures.

Sharing, critiquing, and rethinking practice is standard procedure in healthy professional cultures, but at the start of our course, my students evidently were uneasy with such processes. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.