Ed. Note: Maryann Woods Murphy is a Spanish teacher and a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from her school in Allendale, NJ. This former New Jersey State Teacher of the Year and 33-year teaching veteran travelled with Secretary Duncan’s bus tour to meet with teachers and teachers unions. Here she shares her first-hand experience with a visit to the AFT Union Hall in Toledo, Ohio on Wednesday, where the Secretary viewed a demonstration of Toledo’s innovative program to mentor and evaluate teachers.
“Welcome to the home of peer review,” says Francine Lawrence, Vice President of the American Federation of Teachers and the former president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers. “We are so proud to recognize what we have done together.”
The room at Union Hall, Toledo, is packed. Teachers, educational leaders and community members are here to share “The Toledo Plan” with the Secretary of Education on his bus tour. There is excitement in the air.
“The Toledo Plan” is a peer review process that uses master teachers to guide and support the professional development of a newly hired probationary teacher or a non-probationary teacher who needs assistance.
Dal Lawrence, former President of the Toledo Federation of Teachers, was a key player in the creation of the plan 31 years ago. He says that it’s about seeing which teachers can “fly on their own” after they get expert mentoring.
Tonight we are watching how the panel reviews the work of two probationary teachers. Each intern teacher has been assigned a trained, consulting teacher who has worked with the intern extensively throughout the year. Now it’s time for that consulting teacher to present a case for the retention or release of their mentee to the panel.
One of the teachers that the consultant presents, shows great organization, an ability to connect with students, expertise in the design of learning activities, clear expectations and terrific routines. This intern seems to be a capable and caring educator and this is what the consulting teacher recommends to the panel.
But the panel needs to probe and clarify any doubts, asking the consultant for evidence of the intern’s positive performance. Finally, the panel decides to affirm the consultant’s recommendation. This teacher will be offered a non-probationary contract for the following school year.
The next probationary teacher presenting to the panel really struggles. Though she is well meaning, her directions are unclear to kids. In her kindergarten class, students are distracted, doodling on themselves with markers, standing up at will and tossing paper cups. Despite the fact that the consulting teacher has offered many helpful suggestions and strategies, the intern cannot get her teaching together. The year has gotten progressively worse, and students are just not learning.
The panel agrees with the consultant’s negative recommendation. This teacher has not learned to “fly” and won’t be invited back to teach in Toledo. She didn’t make the cut.
After the mock peer review process concludes, Arne takes the microphone: “I have followed this model very closely for years,” he says, “I am always looking for models that the country should be looking at.” He goes on to say that he’d like to see more “tough minded collaborations” and “more districts working together in a thoughtful and collaborative way.”
Francine Lawrence, the Vice President of AFT closes the evening by saying that “in every school where you have significant student achievement, you have union and staff collaboration.”
The positive climate I see tonight and the long history and success of the peer review process show that working together for the good of students is possible. In fact, it’s been happening in Toledo for a very long time.
Read a previous bus-tour post about the Toledo event.