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NEE currently offers multiple measures of educator effectiveness by combining classroom observations with teacher professional development plans, units of instruction, and student surveys. In addition, we teach administrators to utilize the results of the four measures to provide feedback, support professional growth, and provide educational leadership for their teachers. Our team continually evaluates the components, processes, and professional development materials we provide to our school districts, utilizing the latest research findings on improving teachers’ instructional skills as a guide for our work.

As we consider potential improvements to NEE’s overall effectiveness, our attention has been repeatedly drawn to a key piece of research telling us that the evaluation and improvement of instructional practices are more effective when teachers take an active role in the process.

As we considered methods to actively engage our teachers in the analysis of their instructional skills, we felt there were connections to several other research findings:

  • Teachers tend to improve their instructional skills during the first five years of teaching. After that period, improvement levels off and skills remain largely unchanged for the remainder of the teacher’s career.
  • Teachers develop their skills primarily through a process of individual trial and error. This can be largely ineffective in achieving improvement.
  • Teachers who have more control over their practice are more likely to improve educational outcomes for their students.
  • Student achievement increases when teachers participate in a low-stakes program of peer evaluation. This is true both for students in the observer’s classroom and for those in the classroom where the observation takes place.
  • When done well, peer observation with feedback and reflection improves professional practice and can be an important part of a teacher’s professional development.

These findings recommend the development of a fifth NEE component: a peer observation tool. This new tool would add valuable elements to NEE that:

  1. engage teachers in continued deliberate practice to improve instructional skills
  2. provide observation and collaboration with others
  3. place the teacher in control of the process

Before we share more about our vision for a peer observation tool, let’s expand on how and why peer observation would be a powerful addition to the NEE lineup.

What is Peer Observation?

NEE defines peer observation as a formative process where two peers work together. The observer offers feedback to or seeks to gain knowledge from the colleague who is doing the teaching. We see it as a developmental opportunity for teachers. NEE’s goals in creating a peer observation component are to:

  1. Develop a shared understanding of effective classroom practice.
  2. Support teachers in building their capacity.
  3. Improve instructional skills through critical reflection and continued practice.
  4. Increase the quality of teaching and student learning.
  5. Benefit both teachers in the team, the one doing the teaching and the one who observes.

We believe all kinds of teaching can benefit from this type of examination. The only requirement is that some type of teaching takes place. This could be in a classroom during a lecture, a small-group activity where the teacher facilitates, a one-to-one session with a student, or an online classroom where the teacher moderates an asynchronous discussion or conducts a session using Zoom.

The Why: Benefits of Peer Observation

There are many documented benefits related to having your teaching observed. We usually think of classroom observations as being conducted to improve the person teaching and sometimes to demonstrate an instructional strategy to the observer. Research indicates that benefits are obtained by both teachers, with the observer sometimes gaining the most. Some additional findings on the benefits include:

  • Improvements in instructional practice can be linked to an increased number of observations. The use of peers as observers can increase the number of observations each teacher receives without overburdening the administrator.
  • When peer-observers are matched by grade level or content area, they have more insight into the content knowledge and content-specific pedagogy of the lesson. They can be more accurate observers and may provide more credible feedback.
  • Teachers receive a more reliable assessment of their skills when more observations are conducted. They receive more feedback and have more opportunities to use the feedback and coaching suggestions to improve their practice.
  • Administrators gain additional insight into teachers’ skills allowing them to refine their observation skills and confirm their observations.

NEE’s Vision for a Peer Observation Tool

NEE envisions a peer observation tool that would allow a teacher to identify the instructional skill to be analyzed and invite a peer into their classroom to conduct an observation. Conversely, a teacher could request to observe a peer to gain knowledge or skill in utilizing a specific instructional strategy. NEE would provide online training for teachers who participate in the peer observation process to ensure all participants are prepared to observe, offer feedback, debrief, and reflect on the experience effectively. The end goal is for the teacher who requested the observation to develop a plan to enable classroom implementation of the new knowledge and skills.

Many NEE schools currently utilize peer observation in a limited fashion. Most use it as a part of a mentoring program for beginning teachers. Some schools also utilize peer observation as a part of a coaching initiative. Offering a NEE protocol that includes a process for observation, feedback, and reflection and developing online features to support schools in organizing, scheduling, and documenting peer observations would not only increase the use of the strategy but lead to improved results from the experience. This additional component would strengthen a school district’s efforts to improve instructional practice. 

This is the first of a three-part series on peer observation. Upcoming articles will address the best practices for the use of peer observations, overcoming typical challenges that can thwart the effectiveness of peer observations, and details on the protocol and tool envisioned by the NEE Team.

The Network for Educator Effectiveness (NEE) is a simple yet powerful comprehensive system for educator evaluation that helps educators grow, students learn, and schools improve. Developed by preK-12 practitioners and experts at the University of Missouri, NEE brings together classroom observation, student feedback, teacher curriculum planning, and professional development as measures of effectiveness in a secure online portal designed to promote educator growth and development.