In 2007, Boston began two peer mentoring programs as a partnership between the Boston Teachers Union (BTU) and the Boston Public Schools (BPS). Peer Assistants (PAs) work with permanent teachers who are experiencing difficulties in the classroom while New Teacher Developers (NTDs) work with novice teachers. Both programs provide non-evaluative support to teachers on a voluntary basis. In 2014, BPS and the BTU agreed to pilot a Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) Program as well. Peer Assistance and Review is an intensive teacher-to-teacher support and evaluation system being used nationwide to recruit, develop and sustain a quality teaching staff. PAR is available to teachers with more than two years of experience who have not yet reached Proficient status on the EDFS rubric. All three of these programs are staffed by BTU members, and participation in the programs is voluntary.
Studies clearly show that new teachers find the support and mentoring of other teachers as the most important support in helping them navigate their first years of teaching (see MediaWatch). These findings undercut efforts by some who try to pit veteran teachers against new teachers and who argue that “new” and “young” is the key to successful classroom teaching.
New Teacher Developers (NTDs) work exclusively with first year teachers. Full-time NTDs provide in-classroom support and guidance to first year teachers to enhance their performance based on the BPS’ Dimensions of Effective Teaching. The NTD observes the beginning teacher in his or her classroom, provides feedback, models effective instructional practices, discusses ways to address areas of weaknesses, and set goals for improvement. There are full time NTDs who are have a caseload of 14 teachers, and there are part-time NTDs who work with new teachers as well as maintaining their own classroom teaching.
This work and all exchanges are confidential. Although NTDs may meet with the school administrator and seek guidance, they are not involved in the official evaluation of the teacher’s performance.
The Peer Assistance (PA) program builds on the lessons and success of the New Teacher Developer (NTD) role but focuses on the needs of veteran teachers who need to improve their performance. The training and professional development of Peer Assistants overlaps with that of the NTDs. There are currently four full-time Peer Assistants in BPS who work with up to 12 of our members at one time. A committee of five — “three BTU and two non-BTU” — oversee this program, including posting and hiring the personnel and assigning the PAs to specific teachers.
The Peer Assistance Committee evaluated the program at the close of 2010 school year based on feedback and recommendations solicited from PAs and teachers served. Comments were very positive, and 100% of the respondents said they valued the Peer Assistant program as a model of professional support and improvement. The only negative comments targeted the lack of administrative support.
Here are some responses:
“I am so grateful to have been able to work with my PA this year. She has helped me gain my confidence back. It was really helpful for me to bounce ideas around with. She was able to relate to my situation with her personal teaching experience.”
“I was able to organize my lesson plans and teach the curriculum in a way that flowed better. I also was given a few tricks to help with classroom management. I valued the time and help I received from my peer assistant.”
“My PA has been a tremendous support this year. He was well-planned and always had a purpose to his visits. He systemically worked on the issues that brought me into the program. He was a tireless advocate for me in the building, meeting with my supervisor to clarify the role of Learning Center and the responsibilities inherent in meeting the goals of an IEP. This support alone, improved my performance as well as student learning immeasurably. In addition, his knowledge as a special educator made it possible for him to address specific issues that I faced with accommodations and modifications. His assistance this year was amazing. I would recommend this experience to anyone who is facing the challenges that I experienced. “
The services provided by the the Consulting Teachers who work for the Peer Assistance and Review program are similar to the mentoring and support offered by the Peer Assistance program. A key difference is that the Consulting Teachers also serve as evaluators for the teachers on their caseload. Consulting Teachers work with up to 12 teachers at a time. The nine-member PAR Panel oversees the work of the Consulting Teachers and makes the final determination of evaluation ratings for teachers who participate in the PAR Program. For more information, please visit bostonpar.wordpress.com.
BTU permanent teachers can learn more about the program and how to sign up here.
Read the BPS/BTU 2009-2010 report on the Peer Assistance Program.