Teaching Profession Opinion

Schools Must Encourage Sharing of Best Practices Among Teachers

By Cheryl A. Redfield — November 20, 2014 3 min read
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Cheryl Redfield

In the sanctum of an empty classroom, a teacher may use the Standards Continuum Guide for Reflective Teaching Practice to assess areas of strength and needed growth.

But in the United States, the knowledge of how your practice aligns with the current teaching standards is both powerful and problematic. One teacher learning alone without support is not an ideal condition for professional learning.

This problem is further compounded in teaching environments that do not foster trust or allow teachers to readily share their expertise without the fear of professional reprisal. Rampant throughout the U.S.—and brought about by current evaluation tools that tie test scores to teacher salaries and status—teachers often feel like competitors rather than collaborators.

Instead, our first approach toward developing effective teachers must be to shift from perfunctory evaluations to meaningful feedback and support.

I recently attended an international teacher summit in Washington where teachers from high-performing countries shared their approaches for non-evaluative peer observation. These approaches focused on providing feedback and subsequent professional learning from teachers’ own colleagues, not outside sources.

Imagine how student performances might improve, if teachers learned systemically by observing, and by being observed by, expert peers who provided helpful feedback?

Earlier this year, the MET Observation Blueprint clearly identified the five components of trustworthy observations: consistent, unbiased, authentic, reasonable, and beneficial. The model further suggests that observations should be conducted on a regular basis, providing teachers with feedback they can use to make timely adjustments in their practice. Instead of teachers struggling alone without support, teachers can turn to peers for support to receive input that can guide their professional learning.

In this context, peer observation takes on a new level of purpose and impact for professional development and increases the feasibility of ongoing feedback.

Furthermore, peers from the same content area can provide valuable feedback using shared lessons, analysis of student work, and common goals. That shared knowledge and understanding then becomes a foundation for authentic, reasonable, beneficial, and consistent observations.

Classroom observation is one of several measures of effective teaching. I believe ongoing peer observation should be as much a part of these measures as administrative observation (maybe even more). A peer’s regular observation provides immediate feedback I can use to impact students’ learning. Observations then serve as a record of my professional growth. In contrast, an administrator’s observation, by its infrequency, provides feedback that is limited in its ability to impact professional learning.

However, one issue remains unclear with regards to peer observation: how to support peers in providing unbiased feedback, which is a significant component of trustworthy observations. As tied as we are to one another in professional learning communities, teachers may be influenced by outside forces as well as the personal connections we may have with teachers we observe.

Thanks to colleagues in high-performing countries, we now know about the quality professional learning that can be derived from trustworthy peer observations. We must therefore reestablish a climate of trust with systemic opportunities for teachers to learn from each other—beginning with teacher-to-teacher classroom observations and feedback loops.

Just imagine the transformation we could bring about in our country—in both student and teacher outcomes—if we commit ourselves to these changes.

Read more of this edition of Teaching Ahead: Are Schools Making the Most of Classroom Observations?

Cheryl A. Redfield (@caredfield) a National Board Certified Teacher, is a teacherpreneur with the Center for Teaching Quality and an English Language Arts high school teacher at Gilbert Public Schools in Arizona. She serves on the Teacher Advisory Council for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and blogs at Diary of a Divergent Teacher Leader.

Join CTQ Collaboratory for a Twitter chat (#CTQchat) on Thursday, Nov. 20 at 7 p.m. EST to discuss teacher-to-teacher feedback loops and peer observation.

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