The TESOL President’s Blog
In this blog, I’d like to share a new way of conducting teacher evaluation. In his book, Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher, Stephen Brookfield (2007) argued that conversations with faculty peers are essential to the development of teachers. However, he emphasized the need for creating a clearly defined reflective culture, so that faculty can shift away from faultfinding and defensiveness toward the possibility of transformation.
How to turn this “utopian” vision of colleagues’ discussion about teaching and learning into reality is a difficult task, but not an impossible one.
A few years ago, my institution established a peer observation program inspired by both Brookfield’s work and the peer observation for teaching assessment program at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. I was fortunate to be one of the three developers to design this faculty peer observation program (POP) for the entire college district (made up of four campuses) in 2008, and since then we have been using this program as part of the faculty self-/peer-assessment effort. I’d like to share this peer observation program and get your reactions as to whether this program could work for you and your institution.
The goal of the Peer Observation Program (POP) is to provide an open, trustful, and safe environment for faculty peers to hold reflective conversations about teaching. During the process, faculty must not feel judged, criticized, intimidated, or evaluated, but instead feel empowered to reflect and enhance the art of teaching and learning. To that end, we developed a POP protocol that establishes specific conditions and prescribed roles to ensure that conversations among colleagues occur in respectful, inclusive, and nonjudgmental ways.
The observation protocols consist of four phases, and an optional beginning phase:
Phase 0: Exchange Observation
Although not required, this protocol invites the teacher and the peer observer (PO) to visit each other’s classrooms. By doing so, both parties can gain a sense of the context and conditions in which the other practices. The goal of this phase is to create a warm collaboration based upon mutual understanding.
Phase 1: Identification
The teacher fills out a form to communicate the instructional goals for the course and the session, identifying the objectives and the strategies the teacher intends to use. The Phase 1 form provides essential background information for the PO. Filling out this form will benefit both the teacher and the PO.
Phase 2: Dialogue One
This can occur with Phase 1 and offers an opportunity for the teacher and PO to discuss what will happen during the observation and specify the focus; “what to look for” should be clear to both parties.
Phase 3: The Observation
This is the central activity of the POP. The PO may utilize an observation form to gather facts and may also take notes on other aspects of the session within the agreed focus established in Dialogue One.
Phase 4: Dialogue Two
Following the observation, the PO and teacher meet ASAP to discuss and reflect upon what happened; the forms and notes generated from Phase 1–3 are given to the teacher. The goal of this conversation is to discuss interpretations and alternative perspectives of the events and interactions that occurred in order to co-construct meaning. The creation of meaning is a central focus of the pedagogy and opens the possibility of improving teaching and learning. After Dialogue Two, both PO and teacher will sign a form indicating the POP has taken place. The form is stored in the teacher’s administrative office and both teacher and observer keep a copy. All the observation notes and discussions remain the property of the teacher.
Roles and Responsibilities
Unlike conventional observations that could be judgmental and evaluative, this POP established specific conditions and prescribed roles to ensure conversations occur in respectful and democratic ways so that both parties can benefit from the process.
- To be maximally participative and free to take risks, the teacher determines the conditions of the observation and the focus of the conversation in Phase 4. The teacher initiates the topics addressed and the teacher’s questions guide the inquiry.
- The PO is responsible for understanding the purposes of the teacher’s course and session, for communicating the specifics of the observation, and for reflectively listening to the teacher’s concerns by allowing the teacher to take the lead.
- The teacher must be assured that what happens in the classroom during Phase 3 and Phase 4 remains confidential. The PO may divulge the content of those two phases only with the teacher’s permission.
- The PO is to stay within the present context and limit their observation to the data that is conveyed within the physical observation site. The PO would ask questions that prompt the teacher to self-reflect and avoid offering advice or suggestions unless asked by the teacher.
Our institution has been using this peer observation program for several years now, and faculty members really like it. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this approach and also learn how your institution utilizes innovative ways to evaluate teacher performance, as the ultimate goal is to improve teaching and student learning.
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