Monday, October 6, 2014

Would You Openly Critique Your Colleagues Work?

Could we in the United States create school cultures in which instructing colleagues on how they might improve performance is not a rare and emotion-laden event, but rather an accepted and valued mechanism in the development of desirable professional practice?

In an eSchool News editorial I contrast the atmosphere of collegial review in the Singaporean education system and in the United States. I recount the experience of participating in a constructive but pointed critique of a young Singaporean teacher and thinking that "if this were an American school I’d be hesitant to critique a colleagues’ work out of fear that they would take the criticism personally."  
As I relate in the piece, I sat on my old school's faculty evaluation committee and critiqued colleagues' teaching practices in face-to-face reviews and reports. Throughout this period, I was concerned that a critical review might damage my working and personal relationship with a colleague and create an awkward situation for years to come. At times I tried to be obtuse in leveling criticism at a teacher’s practices and spent most of the time lavishing praise on the teacher’s pedagogical strengths.
In my Singaporean experience, the air was totally different. The committee did not retreat from pointed criticism of the young teacher. At the end, the teacher even appeared genuinely appreciative and I learned that formal, face-to-face discussions of teacher pedagogical practices are the norm in the Singaporean system. 
Doesn't it make sense that to better the teaching craft we should review teacher practices regularly? How can we create a positive, non-threatening culture of collegial review?