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Chapter 4: The Value of the Non-Evaluative: Rethinking Faculty Observation (review by Lawrence Evalyn)

Part of the Collaborative Book Review of Structuring Equality: Handbook for Student-Centered Learning. The book is available here. This post reviews Chapter 4, "The Value of the Non-Evaluative: Rethinking Faculty Observation" by Erica Campbell.


Addressing the problem that “professional development” too often de-prioritizes pedagogy, especially for senior faculty, Erica Campbell provides an inspiring template for observations between colleagues to support ongoing experimentation and reflection.

Whereas departments use evaluative observations to determine whether a teacher is “good enough”, Campbell’s non-evaluative observation treats teachers themselves as the primary audience. The chapter’s structure can be confusing -- the “Observation Instructions” would be most useful before the worksheets -- but the process itself is well-designed. “Observation Partners” conduct “Peer-to-Peer Interviews” to provide context and identify goals. Each chooses a new teaching method to try twice during the semester. The observations are structured through a classroom diagram and an “Observation Report.” The partners collaboratively fill out the “Post-Observation Debrief” worksheet, brainstorming next steps rather than judging past performance. Finally, each instructor fills out a “Self-Reflection of Teaching Practice.” Copies of all worksheets go to an Observation Committee.

Each component supports critical reflection, focused on “helping rather than judging.” The worksheets elicit useful and varied details to reflect upon. The weakest worksheet is the classroom diagram: its intended use is valuable, but the drawings of desks are too specific to represent most classroom configurations; a simple blank space would be more flexible. The worksheets’ reciprocal use promotes “helping” conversations. Campbell impressively defangs the structural power imbalance between faculty paired across rank boundaries; both partners are equally authoritative as observers, and equally vulnerable experimenting with a new pedagogical method. The Observation Committee seems incongruously hierarchical: simpler check-ins affirming the dates of meetings might better provide privacy for reflection.

In all, Campell’s suggested procedures provide a compelling alternative to hierarchical evaluative observations and to formative self-evaluation via recorded video, both of which, in my experience, involve too much panic and too little collaboration. Any group or pair of teachers could benefit from applying this process together.

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