The power of perception

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Teacher evaluations are an already complicated subject. Throw in the added complication of having the same individual serve the function as both a support and evaluator, and it gets even trickier. But this approach can be successful... when there is a high level of trust and collaboration.

A new study highlighting successful peer assistance and review (PAR) programs in two California districts provides a model for such a program. Most impressive is how collaboration between districts and unions creates a successful and helpful teacher evaluation system.

The success of these PARs is encouraging but not the norm. This raises the question: why did they succeed where so many others fail?

Coaches and teacher-mentors in other districts are very wary to become evaluators... in fact some places prohibit coaches or mentors from serving as evaluators. We need look no further than our front yard to see an example.

The Aspen Institute pointed out the firewall between Master Educators (whose role is to evaluate) and coaches (whose role is to support) within DC's own IMPACT system. Communication between the two is more than discouraged; it isn't allowed. IMPACT structures have both risen from and, unfortunately, reinforced the notion that evaluators are a "they're-out-to-get-me" enemy. The union heavily lobbied to create the firewall between Master Educators and coaches but in the process, has further reinforced the perception that evaluations aren't for anything more than accountability.

In order for teachers and coaches alike to embrace peer evaluation programs they must see the value in an evaluation—and that value comes from knowing it will have real benefits for teachers through helping them improve their practice.  The two California districts show that it can be done.

Katie Moyer