Several weeks ago, I posted a reflection of a demo lesson that I had recently completed. This lesson coached students in their ability to identify main idea and supporting details, and one of my professional goals was to model the process of formative assessment that I am encouraging the teachers that I am working with to adopt. I used this process myself in my work with the students, and it guided my instruction along the way. I also used the process as reflective practice in my own work when I shared the content of my demo lesson with others, solicited feedback through peer review, and adjusted my instruction in response.

I think it’s important to walk my talk. Asking teachers to be reflective about their own practice, speaking about the importance of formative assessment, and suggesting transparency is one thing. Leading by example is another. I’m grateful to my personal learning network for helping me do that as best as I can.

I have another question, though. Please, if you can, share your response to this statement (because you knew it was coming, and so did I):

“As the ‘expert’ you are supposed to be doing everything perfectly. Admitting that you need a peer review is like admitting you aren’t competent at what you do. You shouldn’t need a peer review, and you shouldn’t have had to adjust your instruction. You’re the expert. Everything that you do should be right the first time. The fact that you needed others or kids to tell you how to teach better is pretty lame.”

Chew on that for a bit, if you will. And let me know what your thoughts are.



  1. Angela, did someone actually say this to you? Or is it your own musings? In a coaching training I attended, Les Howard, a coaching consultant talked about Tiger Woods as one of the greatest golfers, yet he has a coach. Look at Olympic athletes–at the top of their games, they still need their coaches. And if their coaches could do it “perfectly” they would be out there competing, no? We may be teachers, or “experts” but most of all we are *human* and none of us are perfect. Man, if everything I did had to be right the first time… Moreover, when things don’t go right, and we monitor (either through observation, reflection, or peer review) and adjust we are also modeling those processes for teachers. It is often the fear of not being perfect that keeps teachers from trying new ways of thinking and doing. According to Joyce and Showers, it takes about 25 times for a practice to become integrated into a teacher’s repetoire. Thomas Edison said something along the lines of a trial not being a failure because you learned something *doesn’t* work. Probably more than you were looking for, but these words touched a nerve! (I may have to come back and pick up these words for my own blog!) 😉

  2. Mike Fisher Reply

    There are so many things that are upsetting in that statement.

    For one, it undermines the very fabric of being a reflective practitioner. Being an “expert” is only as good as one’s ability to grow through their collective experiences. If being an “expert” means that one should reach a certain “pinnacle” and then stop there is ridiculous. My doctor is an “expert” who I trust, but do I want him to stop learning or not be a part of a professional network or invite critical analysis of his methods? Um, that would be NO–that would be unconscionable. My expectations are that he is continually growing and learning within his field to keep me as healthy as possible.

    Two–again, back to reflective practice. Unless you’re still teaching in a 1950’s style, peer review should be an expectation at this point–the cornerstone of a collaborative process to enhance the teaching of everybody. This is about kids ultimately–and the loner teacher no longer fits in the modern educational system. That thinking has to go–it’s as inappropriate as cursing or yelling or drill and skill rote behaviors that make us all look bad.

    Three – the fact that you opened yourself up to letting others, especially kids, review your process, underscores the professionalism through which you operate. In order to facilitate discussion and understanding, people need an example of how to do things a right way. In this age of critical thinking and analysis, teaching teachers and kids to be metacognitive about their own practice emphasizes learning processes, not products. Which is what we need to be doing. What “facts” can we teach kids that are going to be more important that teaching them to “learn?”

    Many teachers are still in the mode of “giving kids a fish” without teaching them to “catch fish on their own.” Which mode will sustain kids in the long run?

    If you don’t invite discussion, if you don’t promote active collegiality, if you don’t lead by example…then eventually you’re going to get tired of chewing on that same old fish. Is that what being an expert is?

  3. Dennis Waitley, American motivational speaker and author once said, “Never become so much of an expert that you stop gaining expertise. View life as a continuous learning experience.” He also said, “You must continue to gain expertise, but avoid thinking like an expert.”

    So, as the expert, we should also be modeling the behaviors we believe in and would like to see from our teachers. No one is perfect; although we may have expertise in certain areas, it does not mean that our way is the only way and that there is no room for improvement. If we take the stance that being an expert means that we cannot grow to be better in our practice we are doing a disservice to ourselves, the teachers we guide and support, and ultimately the students as well.

    Great post, Angela!

  4. Ditto to Linda re: Tiger Woods. I can only imagine the earful someone would get if they asked Tiger why he continued to work with a coach despite his dominance in the field.

    I would only repeat Mike’s and Kate’s comments regarding connection to the student learning ’cause I think they are so right on. Preach it friends!

    On a personal note, I have been in peer review at least 25 times (CFL Fellow for 5 years, formal peer review at least 5 times a year) and NOT ONE TIME have I walked away thinking it was a waste or time or did NOT shift or improve my thinking or approach to a topic. NOT ONCE. My world has easily been rocked a dozen times and I’ve been in sessions with an acknowledged expert and heard her approach her work differently as a result of a comment from a second year teacher.

    Right the first time, my left foot. Even Einstein had first drafts!

  5. All these comments are right on. However, we can’t ignore the common message to teachers that they are the only expert in the classroom, and that this is connected to their “power” over the kids. The message is — If you show a chink in the expert armor, you lose that power, and you lose control over the classroom.

    I think that teachers extrapolate this to peer review as well.

    We can’t divorce the idea of teacher/learner with peers from their role as teacher/learner with kids. We have to teach teachers that they can be co-learners with the kids and still be the shaper of the learning environment. That not knowing is not the same as not being in charge.

    We have to model this for everyone, and give teachers the permission and skills to accept new input from peers – and students.

  6. Such important points, and they are sustaining me a bit today. This is the sort of work that I believe in and that I feel very passionately about. Most teachers do too. It is hard for some to understand the intent or purpose, though, particularly when they’ve been living in a culture that hasn’t functioned in this way traditionally. It’s not only uncomfortable for US to reveal the chinks in our armor–I think it is also uncomfortable for those who like the idea of that armor, regardless of the fact that is always little more than an illusion.

  7. WOW! Obviously I concur with all of my colleagues who posted around the notion of expertise and the power of peer review. And I am digesting what Sylvia has commented upon regarding a sense of losing control.

    Are we less of an expert for blogging our thoughts? For asking questions on Twitter? For observing a colleague teach in our building?

    The educational profession will never really be viewed as professionals until we begin to operate out of our silos, open the doors of communication and learn from one another. That is what a successful business does and it is what we should do as well.

    Keep your chin up – for every naysayer there are 20 who say yay!

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