Despite all of the dreary pronouncements of American schools failing too many kids, and the endless stories of “deadbeat” teachers who don’t care and won’t leave their comfort zone despite contractual inducements and the best data-driven reasons (like this one), I am not overly discouraged. Why not? Because in my own school, a colleague, all by herself, is working to make teaching better and succeeding, though it is nothing she is paid to do, nor anything that is winning her widespread glory (well–not counting the wikiness blessing herein).
My colleague, Becca McKinney, has designed and implemented a peer-observation program during school year 2009-10 that has already resulted in improved teaching, opportunities for learning, and teacher morale. She has done so not through “clout” (do this or else), nor through appeals to our kindness (do this so that I am not all alone), but through collegial persuasion, talking to us about the chance we have to become better teachers with the helpful observation of a peer who is also trying to improve his/her teaching. When the observation is from a trusted, friendly eye, one finds oneself more “relaxed” in the observed role, and one responds better to the criticism one receives.
I can cite my own case as evidence. Twice already, I have derived useful information about my teaching–both positives and negatives–that I would not have realized for myself, or trusted through the often politicized and “bad faith” efforts of administrators to evaluate my work. Were it not for Ms. McKinney’s program, I would not have been made aware of some of the good things I am doing (establishing a “safe” zone for discussion, using inclusive language, seizing the “teachable moment”) and the not so good (failing to make explicit my modeling, not altering the seating arrangements to maximal effect, and failing to write the specific objectives of the lesson on the board prior to the class beginning).
So when the general public poo-poos teachers as lazy employees not serious about improving their practice or professionalism, I can point out the voluntary, effective efforts of my colleague. Take that, teacher-haters!
photo courtesy of creativecommons.org