Peer evaluation and peer coaching: Not the same thing

On October 5th, I testified in front of the Colorado State Board of Education.  Though the audience I spoke to was a bit different than the elementary students I am used to talking to (though just as fidgety at times), I understood the importance of having a teacher’s voice about issues that have such huge impacts on the classroom. 

 Colorado is on the brink of implementing the EQuITEE Act, which changes the way teachers and principals are evaluated.  Along with co-authoring the Denver NMI Report: Voices from the Classroom, which makes recommendations about this law, I felt the need to speak about peer evaluation to policymakers.  In an early draft of the the law, peer evaluators were a part of the plan; then the State Board debated removing this clause.  After agreeing to leave this component in the law, they made the distinction that peer evaluators could not be peer coaches.

Following are my comments at the recent State Board of Education meeting:

I am here today to support the reinstatement of section 5.03 (B) and (C) in the EQuITEE Act (formerly SB191), but [I am] still concerned that peer evaluation and peer coaching observations are not the same thing.  My hope is that my story sheds authentic light about the day-to-day world of education as a teacher, and shows the necessity for peer evaluation if we want to see accurate and valid teacher evaluations.

When I think about the need for peer evaluation, I am reminded of my student teaching experience.  When I student-taught I learned more about teaching than I ever did before.  It wasn’t because of the papers that I wrote, or lengthy lesson plans that were created.  It wasn’t even because of visits from my advisor, a retired social studies teacher.  It was because I had with me in the classroom my cooperating teacher, who was a fellow art teacher who knew the content, the standards, and the type of students I was teaching.  Together, we formed the teacher I am today, and I am so thankful I had a chance to learn from her.  Through what I hope will be the state’s evaluation process – pre-conference, observation, post-conference, follow-up – I learned the value of having a peer in the classroom that understood the parameters of an art room and offered relevant feedback to improve my teaching. The results made me a better teacher, which ultimately made more of an impact for my students. I knew I was growing as a teacher because my students were learning more, and were more engaged.  One second-grade artist reaffirmed this as he shyly came up to me and stated, “Mrs. Lyles, you are doing a real good job!”

Because each content area in the schools is different, these various classrooms require different teaching styles and classroom management.   With the new legislation of the EQuITEE Act, we have the opportunity to improve the evaluation system by offering real, authentic feedback that will improve teachers’ craft, and also lift up best practices.  This is done by creating a system where highly qualified teachers who are recognized for their work are trained to be evaluators among their peers.  Because I had a peer coach in my student teaching experience, I would hope that this could be seen as an accurate evaluation as well.  It makes sense that the person who is coaching is also qualified to evaluate.  This training needs to be rigorous, objective, and transparent so that it yields consistent and valid results across the state.

I want to be clear that with the implementation of peer evaluation, the principal evaluation will still be very much in place.  It is not an either/or situation.  My principal is aware of the idea and fully welcomes the peer evaluation system.  After talking with him about it, he stated that he wishes he had more time in the classroom with the teachers of our school.  However, the many demands of the job make it challenging to provide ongoing feedback on a continual basis.  He stated that because teachers are professionals, it can’t always be about a principal holding every teacher accountable.  It needs to be about teachers holding one another accountable.  So knowing how beneficial the peer feedback is, my principal supports the idea of peer evaluation and hopes that it becomes a reality.

The whole idea of the EQuITEE Act is to recognize great teaching and improve the areas that need work for our teachers to provide the best education for our students.  The students deserve to have their teachers to be continually learning how to provide a better education for them.  Because of this, I encourage you to reinstate the peer evaluation into the legislation.  Thank you for your time and consideration.  And most importantly, thank you for valuing a teacher’s voice.