I've written a lot about how teachers can improve their practice after their first few years on the job. In particular, something I've wondered is how teachers could hold one another accountable for improving their teaching. Today something happened that reminded me how hard it can be to receive advice from a colleague, when all you really want is sympathy/empathy for something that's going wrong in your classroom.
Some students recently transferred into my math class and I am having trouble making the math accessible/getting them to work up to my expectations. Today I tried getting tough with the students about their performance, and it didn't go well. I expressed my frustration to my colleague and basically got rebuked for going about the situation incorrectly. Of course, she was right. I did handle the situation poorly. But, it was still really uncomfortable to hear it from a colleague. It's fine now, but I don't think I'd scale up my situation as a model for helping teachers become more effective. Making someone feel bad usually doesn't make her want to change. It just makes her angry and defensive (like I did with my students today...). I don't think our nation will get anywhere by making teachers feel bad about the jobs their currently doing. Evaluation needs to be more productive than that.
What are my take aways? 1. There are situations where colleagues can critique one another. They include weaknesses that a teacher has asked for help in addressing...in situations where help is being solicited. They probably don't include teachers simply going into one another's classrooms and giving suggestions on how to improve. They could very well include honestly recognizing one another for things we're doing well.
2. Sometimes evaluation has to be uncomfortable. Teachers have weaknesses that they themselves can't easily identify, and there need to be situations where it's OK to broach the subject and expect that teachers make changes in their practice. It's very possible that such criticism could come from a principal or other administrator - as long as the teacher respects and trusts the administrator's knowledge of instructional delivery.
3. Changes in teaching - the thought process and the creation of new resources - actually happen outside of teaching hours. For this reason, I don't think that teachers' contracted hours of work (given the current structure of a school day) are sufficient for really improving teaching. Teachers need structured time to talk to one another and to meaningfully reflect on their teaching. The best teachers most likely put in a lot of extra hours doing this on their own time. But, if the nation hopes for more effective teaching in general, teachers need more time and greater expectations for examining and improving their teaching practice.