Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Equity Project and Emphasis on Teacher Observation and Collaboration

As I explained in my last post about The Equity Project, TEP's core belief centers on the quality of teachers in the classroom as the single most important factor in student success. After a rigorous and intense search and hiring process, The Equity Project feels it has assembled a veritable dream team of teachers. Though TEP has assembled a dream team, leadership at TEP understands two important points: 1) the value of great teachers extends beyond the impact made directly on students; 2) even the best teachers must continue to grow personally and professionally in order to stay on the vanguard. TEP leadership has in place a strategic and deliberate plan to address both points.

The following text, which outlines the TEP plan, is taken directly from the TEP website:
While an interdisciplinary curriculum is a theoretical ideal, the structural reality of many schools precludes the collaboration required for interdisciplinary teaching and learning to take place. In contrast, TEP’s school structure specifically creates and reinforces a collaborative culture in several key ways: (a) The annual 6-week Summer Development Institute lays the foundation for interdisciplinary teaching as teachers collaborate in planning specific curricular changes and designing Academic Support Plans for failing students. (b) TEP’s teacher schedule has been specially designed such that every TEP teacher spends at least three periods per day observing, being observed, and debriefing/planning with a partner teacher (teacher pairs rotate each quarter). This unique structural feature provides built-in time for teachers to plan and implement interdisciplinary units with one another.

The brilliance, for me, in the TEP schedule lies in item (b): "every TEP teacher spends at least three periods per day observing, being observed, and debriefing/planning with a partner teacher (teacher pairs rotate each quarter)." Who better to observe to improve one's own pedagogy than master teachers? Who better to observe teachers and provide feedback on pedagogy than master teachers? Peer observation creates a non-threatening win-win situation for teachers. Regardless of whether the observer and the active teacher specialize in the same academic field or not, teachers can learn from one another when provided the opportunity by educational leaders to spend time in each other's classrooms. In many districts and at many schools, teachers rarely have the opportunity to leave their own classroom to observe other teachers. Likewise, in many districts and schools, leadership rarely encourages such interaction between educators. Kudos to to The Equity Project for not only understanding the value of such an exercise but also for making a quantifiable commitment to the exercise by building time into the schedule for observation and collaboration.

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