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Evaluations and Peer Observation

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Guest blogger Pennye Rogers is a Hope Street Group Fellow for 2013 and has been in education at the secondary level for 24 years. She currently teaches High School Physics, Anatomy/Physiology, Chemistry, and Biology while also serving as the Science Department Chair at Todd County Central High School in Elkton, Kentucky.

The new Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (PGES) will soon be implemented across the state. Even though accountability has been postponed for another year, Kentucky teachers must get involved now to tweak the system before implementation occurs. There are still areas of concern; there are still unknowns. The concept of peer observation is one area of PGES that is stirring conversations among teachers. Discussion includes questions such as: Who is my peer? How can a single peer observation stimulate real professional growth? And, how will peer observers be compensated for their extra work?

First, exactly what is meant by 'peer observer'? By definition, a peer must be one of "equal standing". Therefore, a teacher's peer must also be a teacher, at the very least. Some school districts are currently using curriculum specialists as peer observers. This is wrong! Anyone perceived as being a supervisor in any capacity cannot be a peer observer. Another issue surrounding the concept of peer includes subject area taught. The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) is piloting a Virtual Peer Observation Model in which accomplished teachers serve as peer observers through shared videos. This practice would benefit small schools in remote areas but could also be utilized to provide peers for specialty subject areas such as foreign language. Even though an accomplished teacher would recognize good teaching and best practice strategies, understanding the student-student and teacher-student interactions is important for peer observation to be successful.

The second question is that of logistics. In PGES, there are 4 observations in both models. Only 1 observation of 20-30 minutes is required of a peer observer in 1 year. The observation requires a pre- and post-conference. The peer's role is to record only observable facts with no bias or interpretation. In plain words, the peer cannot evaluate the observed teacher. The full responsibility for true self-reflection and improvement lies solely on the teacher. The question boils down to this: Will one single peer observation lead to enhanced effectiveness of each teacher observed? It seems that the observed teacher must be truly motivated in order for peer observation to really work.

Finally, there is a question of compensation. Currently, peer observers that I have spoken with are required to forfeit their planning period in order to complete a peer observation. Pre- and post-conferencing may be done before or after school. If a peer observer only does 1 peer observation for the entire year, this may not present a problem. After all, due to tight budgets across the state, all teachers occasionally must give up some planning time to benefit the school. However, considering that training is involved and most observers would observe multiple times, losing several planning periods and time outside of school hours, the situation suggests that some compensation is appropriate. Even accomplished teachers need time to plan and improve lessons and to reflect on their practice.

PGES is not going away. A new teacher evaluation system is in the state law. However, the details are still not complete. It is up to us--Kentucky's teachers--to get involved and share our thoughts and concerns. Now is the time to be proactive and not wait to react after it's too late!

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