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Teaching Profession Opinion

Follow-Up: The Power of Peer Evaluation

By Jessica Keigan — December 19, 2011 2 min read
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Jessica Keigan

Ryan Niman’s first post conjured a strong memory for me. During my student teaching, I was evaluated by a site professor who told me that my class was too loud and chaotic. He was right—by his definition of effective teaching.

My class was doing a collaborative project that required students to move from station to station for conversations about quotes from the novel we were reading. Yes, the students were loud and the classroom chaotic as the teenagers moved about. I’m sure that there were side conversations and a little bit of typical teenage behavior mixed into the clamor, but the majority of the noise was a direct result of the learning that was happening in my classroom.

My site professor was a science teacher who had retired from the classroom many years before. His definitions of classroom management and effective teaching were limited by his experience in a different field (and an earlier era), and were very different from my own.

In my first post, I spoke of the strong need for teacher and student voice in the ideal evaluation systems of the future. I would add that the ideal system would also ensure that those who are providing observational data are masters of the teaching craft and, even more ideally, the content that they are observing. Had my professor been this kind of evaluator, he would likely have recognized that the noise and chaos were indicative of an engaged and active group of learners.

Most systems today tend to rely heavily on administrative observation. Thankfully, I have a great deal of respect for my administrative team. They strive to support sound instructional practice through their observations and feedback, which strike me as honest and meaningful. However, they are limited to their administrative perspective.

To have a truly ideal system, administrative voices need to be coupled with the voices of peer observers/evaluators who can provide the specialized perspective of a master teacher who is firmly planted in classroom practice.

This calls for innovative hybrid roles: teacherpreneurs, for instance, spend half their time working with students and half their time on efforts to improve teaching and learning. What if schools tapped master teachers as teacherpreneurs who could remain grounded in classroom realities while spending half their workweeks as peer evaluators?

The ideal evaluation system should employ the expertise of our best teachers in roles like these to help all teachers improve.

A member of the Center for Teaching Quality’s Denver New Millennium Initiative team, Jessica Keigan divides her time evenly between teaching English at Horizon High School in Denver and supporting results-oriented efforts to improve Colorado’s schools.

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