I have to admit that I’ve never been fond of peer reviewing other students’ projects; it’s time consuming, tedious and distracts me from focusing on my own work. When I receive peer feedback, the comments oftentimes lacked depth and a critical eye for assignment detail. At least, I use to feel this way about peer reviewing, but my opinion has dramatically changed. As I’ve been reading through my colleagues’s projects, I’ve been able to contemplate the purpose and objectives of our intended learning through the varied examples of community engagement and collaboration present in these other contexts. The depth and passion for impacting student achievement through deliberate teacher professional learning and collaboration has been somewhat of a transformative experience in my own learning as a student.
I’ve been looking at one project in particular that focuses on the use of a primary-based Professional Learning Community (PLC) to 1) impact student academic achievement and 2) build quality character attributes and social skills. While the formal writing of this project is a nearly complete, it is nevertheless a work-in-progress and like all drafts, benefits from a discerning eye. I’ve found that through the peer review process, I’ve gained a better understanding of what my own project strengths and deficits are. I can better see my gaps in fully communicating my intent. I’ve gained some great ideas for what I could try-out in my own project; I may or may not incorporate all of the strategies I’ve picked-up but I nonetheless have them stored away in my brain for possible later use; like most teachers, I am a professional recycler and renovator of great ideas. But whether I am renovating or recycling or trying something borrowed on for size, great ideas come must come from somewhere. It’s in contemplating that somewhere that I stumbled upon the realization that changed my thinking about peer review from I’ll pass, to give me more.
I think this process of peer reviewing, which is really a loose form of critical friends ala Zepeda (2012), is precisely the concrete experience I need to make a personal connection to the potential of this type of professional learning. My community of “critical friends” does not follow Dunne et al. (2000) definition as defined in Zepeda (2012) as ongoing, focused on own teaching and students’ learning, and taking place within my own school, simply because my critical friends are online. Though we are not physically in the same location, I nonetheless feel that our interactions have been a valuable asset in my professional journey, most poignantly felt through the peer review process. Ironically, I have not received feedback on my own project yet, but that is beside the point; the value I have derived from feeling as if I’ve had a positive impact on helping a fellow educator in their personal learning process has far out-weighed the time and energy I’ve taken from my own project and will be returned ten-fold. That’s the point, I think, of critical friends generally and teacher collaboration in any form; by making ourselves available for others we open the door to an exchange of ideas, resources and expertise that far exceeds what we possible give. And this is the whole point.
Zepeda, Sally J. 2012. Professional Development: what works, second edition [Kindle version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com.