Goldilocks and The Three Peers

As we move into the school year, with all the whoopdeedo of improving professional practice, we often hear about peer review or peer evaluation.  Sometimes, this is a preset program, such as PAR.

But I'm guessing that most of the time, due to lack of funding or time or energy or any combination of the three,having a peer review completed is much more informal. We're told "Do a peer review" or "Get a peer review".  However, do we take the time to determine the best representatives to call our peers, or do we just automatically figure that our friends in the faculty lounge will do just fine?

It's tough to find good peers, actually. It's a lot easier to find friends. We can shoot the breeze with friends, but if the same person we see shloshed at Friday Night Happy Hour is the one who's going to observe us Monday..ermm...awkward.

I also don't want my best friend (who happens to be a teacher) to evaluate my work. She's seen me through the depths of despair, emotionally and financially. She would take all of that into consideration when providing me with feedback. Not because she can't be objective, but because it's simply in our nature to be increasingly subjective with those whom we are increasingly familiar. She would either be too kind or too harsh.

Choose wisely.

You need peers that are...

                                  wait for it...

just right.
For a teacher, having a peer who shares the same educational setting as you do is probably preferable. He or she knows the foundational issues that exist. That's fair.

However, you may find it more conducive to have a peer review from someone outside of your department (for secondary), or from a different grade (for elementary). An English teacher might provide the most objective, productive review of a Math teacher's class, for example, and vice-versa. Math isn't my thing, so if someone explains it in a way that even I can understand, he/she is on the right track.

I also like the idea of an Art teacher reviewing a Science teacher. Can you see where some potential for STEAM collaboration may lie if only for that moment, they decided to take a risk with their peer-reviewer selections?

Likewise, having a first-grade teacher evaluate a second-grade teacher can work towards more authentic vertical alignment ( we see what's going on where). Would it also not be of some value for the second-grade teacher to see where her students were last year as a means to create more powerful transitions in curriculum? Thus, the observations may prove more fruitful.

Another point to consider when selecting a peer is his/her contribution and participation in required Professional Development seminars. Who does the complaining? Skip them. Who sits in the back? Skip. Who talks the whole time, whether to others or to the presenter, just to hear themselves talk? Skip.

You know that teacher who says maybe one thing in a meeting, but when he/she does it's a moving point or powerful suggestion? There's a peer who can provide you with an objective, thoughtful look into your practice. We had an educator who spoke out maybe three times a year in meetings, but when he did, huge things changed. He just had that knack of moving right to the core of an issue. That's a critic worth listening to.

We also had a teacher who would make extremely valid points, but she would do so with such snarkiness and nastiness, no one listened to her. Don't be a masochist. Find the person who can say what needs to be said professionally and clearly and without malice.  Ask him/her to review you. Explain that you selected them specifically, and for them to do it would mean a great deal to you. I doubt you'd find anyone that, when presented with the thought that they were chosen for something, would feel anything other than flattered and pleased to do it.

By using purposefully-chosen peers to review us, we will naturally improve our practice. Because we may, for the first time, be given a truly critical look at our practice.  

Mindy and some of her former students recently published Transparent Teaching of Adolescents, a discussion of effective teaching strategies for high school. Join the conversation! 

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