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Teachers Need More Feedback From Other Teachers

Ali Wright

In the summer of 2009, a fellow math teacher and I designed and implemented a program called "Summer Bridge"—a 5-week credit recovery for students who had previously been unsuccessful in Algebra 1.

Before professional learning communities were en vogue, we collaborated as a professional learning community through every step of planning, teaching, and assessing. Because we co-taught a group of 40 students every morning, we would often have the opportunity to observe each other teach.

Having spent most of my career in isolation, it was eye-opening to watch another teacher in actionsomeone who had been teaching right down the hall for me for years. We both had the same goal of helping our students succeed in Algebra 1, and we were able to work together toward that end. We constantly gave each other feedback—often during lunch or at the pool later in the dayin order to make that experience as enriching as possible for our students.

This experience taught me the transformative power of informal observations and teacher-to-teacher feedback focused on students. To this day, I use many of the instructional strategies that I learned just from watching my colleague that summer.

Not surprisingly, my Summer Bridge experience incorporated all six principles of teacher feedback: 

  1. Focus on improving student outcomes;
  2. Feedback related to clear, specific and challenging goals for the recipient;
  3. Attention on learning rather than the person or comparisons with others;
  4. Encouraging teachers to be continual independent learners;
  5. Mediated feedback from a mentor in an environment of trust and support; and
  6. Promoting an environment of professional learning and support from the school's leadership.

While I had a great professional learning experience that summer, it's disheartening to think that in my 13 years in the classroom, that was the only time that I have had exposure to valuable, ongoing teacher feedback.

It's time to change professional development and evaluation in U.S. schools. Although non-evaluative peer observation and feedback is a part of Kentucky's new teacher effectiveness model, the minimum requirement is just one observation per year.

This is a step in the right direction—but it's clearly not enough to transform teachers' classroom practice. We need to consider structures that provide teachers with opportunities to observe one another more frequently, such as the co-teaching model that I was fortunate enough to experience.

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

Ali Wright (@alicrowley) is a National Board-certified teacher in Lexington, Ky. A teacherpreneur with the Center for Teaching Quality, she divides her time between teaching Algebra 2 and AP Calculus at Lafayette High School and working to transform the teaching profession from within the classroom as a common-core advocate. 

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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