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Success Factors with Peer Assistance and Review (PAR)

by Kim Marshall, TIE columnist

The article: “The Potential of Peer Review” by Susan Moore Johnson and Sarah Fiarman in Educational Leadership, November 2012 (70 3, pp. 20-25);; the authors can be reached at and [See Marshall Memo 254 for a longer article about peer review.]
In this Educational Leadership article, Harvard Graduate School of Education professor Susan Moore Johnson and Cambridge (MA) principal Susan Fiarman address two concerns often voiced about teacher involvement in teacher evaluation: Does it encroach on the principal’s domain, and do peers give truly candid feedback to fellow teachers?
Based on the experience of a number of districts using the Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) model, Ms. Johnson and Ms. Fiarman give a ringing vote of confidence to the model—provided it is implemented well. Their suggestions:
• Select outstanding consulting teachers. It is essential to have a rigorous, transparent selection process to avoid the perception of favoritism. Candidates need a strong track record in the classroom (verified by unannounced visits) and demonstrated writing skills. And of course teachers and union officials need to be part of the selection process.
• Establish clear guidelines for consulting teachers. This includes how many classroom visits they should conduct with their assigned teachers, what types of assistance to provide, and what steps to take with persistently ineffective teachers.
• Use clear teaching standards and rubrics. Peer reviewers must be able to give feedback and direction to teachers using specific, agreed-upon language about effective and ineffective classroom practices.
• Offer good training and support. Consulting teachers need lots of help to develop and hone the repertoire of skills necessary to build rapport and trust with teachers, observe classrooms perceptively, help teachers shift from practices that are not working, and keep accurate records—all in a much less-structured job than they have had as teachers. “It is a huge learning curve,” said one consulting teacher. “People come to this position at the top of their game. Consulting teachers are the leaders at their schools. This is sort of a kick to the ego because you have to learn so much in this job.”
• Make sure the PAR panel does its job. This is most important when dealing with unsatisfactory teachers. “You have somebody’s career in the palm of your hand,” said one consulting teacher. Here are the types of questions asked by PAR panels in such cases: What have you done to help her? Have you videotaped her? Have you taken her on a peer visit to see a master teacher? What resources have you given her? What is the structure in the school like? Does she have a team leader who’s working with her on a weekly basis? Is her staff development teacher helping her?
Summary reprinted from Marshall Memo 459, 5 November 2012.

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