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The effects of peer observation on self -governance among elementary school teachers

Brian Straughter, Johnson & Wales University


Teachers general practice tends to occur in isolation and does not welcome visitors and observers (Johnson, 1990; Lortie, 1975; Mann, 2000; Sergiovanni, 1992). But that old understanding is slowly changing. The belief that teachers can learn from one another is becoming more common (Bauch & Goldring, 1998; Donaldson, 2001; Kruse & Seashore-Louis, 1995). It would be reasonable to expect that most teachers are taking advantage of this new ideology by visiting and observing each other, but in most schools that is not the case. Identifying ways to help teachers observe and talk about each others practice is one first step toward establishing a community of learners (Scribner, 1999). The Mission Hill School (MHS) is a new pilot K–8 school in a large urban school system in New England, designed to be innovative in terms of curriculum, pedagogy, and governance. As a staff-governed school, in which teachers both support and judge each others work, staff felt that they had to actually see each other at work. At the same time, they were cognizant of their own hesitations to engage in formal observation. Specifically, this research asked the following questions: (1) What barriers prevent formal peer observation and follow-up dialogue in a small, staff-governed pilot school? (2) How can a school-wide system of formal peer observation overcome such barriers? and (3) What teacher knowledge does formal peer observation lead to and what are the implications of this knowledge for staff-governance? The process evolved from a loosely structured system aimed at improving teaches classroom practice, to a more rigidly structured and scheduled system and finally to a moderately structured system whose primary objective was to improve staff governance. Through this ongoing process, teachers described deep motivation to learn and a sense of trusting relationships with their colleagues. They also reported gaining knowledge about themselves, each other, and the school. Yet the teachers never fully embraced the peer observation and dialogue system, despite its reported benefits and its severe phases of revised implementation. During the 18-month research period, one in-depth interview was conducted with each individual teacher, 4 surveys were developed, several full-staff meetings and regular informal interactions with colleagues were documented. Data was then examined for internal consistencies, triangulated using observation, interviews and questionnaires, and alternative interpretations were explored. Data was also examined to identify and understand the implications of this knowledge for staff-governance. Findings revealed key psychological and structural barriers to formally observing peers, such as vulnerability about receiving critical feedback, as well as difficulty critiquing colleagues. Teachers also mentioned prioritizing students and student learning and therefore, not wanting to leave their own classrooms. Additionally, the many responsibilities of a new school and too rigidly or loosely structured peer observations acted as barriers.

Subject Area

Teacher education|School administration|Elementary education

Recommended Citation

Straughter, Brian, "The effects of peer observation on self -governance among elementary school teachers" (2001). Dissertation & Theses Collection. AAI3042729.