Come on in; Let’s Grow Together. Re-imagining School Culture: Transformation through Peer Observation.

Peer Obs

Are we really doing this?

I recently walked through the halls of my high school and felt a sense of excitement as I noticed the brightly colored sticky notes hanging above several classroom doors. I stopped and read a few before I continued my journey to my corner of the world: “Green Acres”. During our September 2017 faculty meeting, the Associate Principal at my school proposed a peer observation initiative. The minute the words passed his lips there were lamentations by some about “how we were expected to do this on top of everything else going on?” One senior teacher gathered up her belonging and walked out of the room. I felt a quick pang of anxiety and my first thought was, “do I want other teachers who I don’t know that well judging me?”  I was not very excited about this prospect at the onset but within the first week, I had a huge reversal of attitude as I began to understand to immense benefits to be gained from such an endeavor.


According to the BBC, “Peer observation is the observation of teachers by teachers, usually, though not always, on a reciprocal basis. Pairings may be mentor/novice or experienced teacher/experienced teacher where the objective is to provide opportunities for teachers to reflect on their teaching in a calm and safe environment.” (British Council Teaching English. 2017)


Benefits of Peer Observation:

  • Positive Culture Shift: teacher burn-out is a common phrase around most school campuses, as teachers often feel alone in addressing their professional struggles. The practice of peer observations fosters a collegial and open environment based on trust and collaboration and honest dialogue. Having this built-in support system can lead to reduced job stress, a renewed sense of purpose and commitment as well as friendly competition, as teachers push each other to be their very best on a daily basis. Being in such a positive culture can transform the experience of everyone in this environment and can lead to immense successes for both students and teachers.
  • Creating a staff of Reflective Teachers: successful peer observation practice encourages teachers to become “students of teaching, with a strong, sustained interest in learning about the art and science of teaching and about themselves as teachers. (Cruickshank, 1987, 1991). Constant reflection should be a trademark of any professional and this practice creates a culture where teachers consistently evaluate their own performance and actively work towards sustained professional growth.
  • Self Initiated Professional Growth: peer observation affords teachers the opportunity to tailor their professional growth to fit their unique needs. They can seek out colleagues who complement their own weaknesses and benefit from new ideas and strategies to strengthen their own practice. The voluntary nature of this practice often yields greater teacher buy-in as they are given ownership of their professional growth and is not simply fulfilling a mandated “top down” directive.learners-grow
  • Reduces Isolation: teaching, unlike many other professions, can be an incredibly isolating field. Dr. Drew Baker, teacher at Glen Allen High School recently spoke to our EDUC 603 class and phrased it best when he said, “professional chefs cook for and are critiqued by other professional chefs, surgeons perform surgeries before other surgeons but as teachers, we go into our classroom, shut our doors and perform our practice in isolation, never really getting the chance to learn from each other.”  Peer observation, forces teachers to step out of their comfort zone, encouraging them to seek out and create new professional relationships with colleagues with whom they may otherwise never interact.
  • Access to Resources: teachers are incredibly resourceful and one might be amazed at the plethora of resources that can be obtained from others in the profession. Teachers constantly come across new strategies and activities but many are reticent to employ them for fear of failure. When teachers observe and learn from building colleagues, they are more likely experiment with the new resources that they gain because they’ve seen it in action and they know that there are others they can go to for assistance if needed.peer obs 2

Reflecting on my own school and our own peer observation initiative, we are only four weeks in and already seeing the positive impacts. At lunch, conversations are now centered around the number of observations that have been done, the cool things people are seeing, the number of times teachers have been observed or strategies that they have learned from colleagues. I have conducted eight peer observations and I’ve had at least one takeaway from each that I plan to implement in my own classroom. There is an increasing level of camaraderie and positive rivalry amongst departments as each department seeks to become the leader in peer observations. This is a huge change from just last year and inter-department friendships and communications are now much more common.


DSF Peer Observations

DSF Peer Observations as of 10/15/17




Cruickshank, D. (1987). Reflective Teaching: The Preparation of students of Teaching. Reston,  VA: Association of Teacher Education.

Teachers Observing Teachers: A Professional Development Tool for Every School. Retrieved from:




Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Where Did All the Black Teachers Go?” #VirginiaNeedsMoreTeachersOfColor #ThePygmalionEffect

Over the course of years, I would receive magazines from the Virginia Journal of Education, and rarely did I ever read them.  One day I came home, looked in my mailbox, and sorted my mail only to see there was a magazine from VEA.  As I was about to place the magazine in the junk mail pile, a little voice inside of me said, “Read it!”  I flipped the magazine open and caught the headline, “Virginia Needs More Teachers of Color.”  The opening paragraph stated that according to a report from the Taskforce to Diversify Virginia’s Educator Pipeline, “Almost half (49 percent) of the students in Virginia’s public schools are minorities; however, only one in five (21 percent) of their teachers are” (Rowell).  I proceeded to read and one statement stood out to me, “All students benefit from having teachers with diverse backgrounds, but research indicates teachers of color play an important role in improving outcomes for students of color” (Rowell).  Interesting…I thought to myself. Very interesting.

So, with the title of that article being, “Virginia Needs More Teachers of Color,” naturally my question was, well, “Where are all of the teachers of color?” I did some research that led me to an article entitled, “Where Did All the Black Teachers Go?”  This article dug up some background history in response to the question.  When districts integrated their schools post-Brown, black schools were shuttered or absorbed.  Celebrated black principals were demoted or fired.  By some estimates nearly a third of African American teachers lost their jobs, and those who survived were sometimes selected based on a lighter skin color that made them more palatable to white communities. During this period, white communities regarded the arrival of blacks as an attack on their schools and these stories deterred blacks from pursuing teaching careers (Staples).


Furthermore, addressing other topics, the article explained how black children from impoverished families benefit from having black teachers.  Studies show that children who encounter African American teachers are more likely to be recognized as bright enough for gifted and talented programs, more likely to be viewed as capable of success and more likely to graduate from high-school and aim for college (Barshay). Unfortunately, statistics now are also showing that districts are doing a terrible job of retaining teachers of color and that more leave the field each year than enter it.  A 2016 report said that this is happening because African Americans interested in teaching black students find they are steered into positions where they only teach black students. They complain of only being pigeonholed as disciplinarians and their other talents rendered invisible (Griffin).

Since my question was answered about where all the black teachers went, I revisited the article, “Virginia Needing More Teachers of Color”.  In lieu of that article, I present the Pygmalion Effect.  


The Pygmalion Effect is described as positive expectations influencing performance positively and negative expectations influencing performance negatively (Rosenthal).  Researching Rosenthal’s phenomenon I came across a quote; “When we expect certain behaviors of others, we are likely to act in certain ways that make the expected behavior more likely to occur (Rosenthal).  Immediately, I thought of Dr. Crystal Hoyt’s lecture on implicit bias, stereotype threat and gender/racial bias.  In terms of teaching, faculty who gripe about students establish a climate of failure, but faculty who value their students abilities create a climate of success.  When we talk about leadership, the underlying question is. “What kind of climate are you creating through your expectations?”

Teachers of color are needed to impact those outcomes of students of color because in my opinion teachers of color understand those students better.  Whether coming from different socioeconomic backgrounds, having the same racial identity makes a difference.  Understanding one’s culture, having similar backgrounds and struggles, teachers and students develop relationships of shared experiences where they can relate.  Relatable transforms into relational, which is key for the establishment of trust and respect. In regards to Pygmalion, teachers of color tend to have more positive perceptions of students of color and different expectations than non colored teachers (Brown).  The lack of diversity, along with differing interpretations of student ability and behavior may explain why students of color are suspended or expelled at disproportionate rates, have risk of academic disengagement and increased probability of dropout.

Overall, I believe this topic is amazing for conversation, reflection, and awareness. From a leadership perspective it does pose questions like: Where are teachers of color predominantly placed in a school district? Why are they placed where they are placed? What are the hiring and retention practices for teachers of color? And Do students perform better having teachers who look like them?  The conversation of race is synonymous with black and white; however, America is a melting pot with growing minority populations. How do we ensure that there is equity of racial identity in schools across Virginia and nationwide?

Barshay, Jill. (2016, January 19). Bright Black Students Taught by Black Teachers Are More Likely to Get Into Gifted and Talented Classrooms. Retrieved October 26, 2017 from,

Brown, Emma. (2016, March 31). White Teachers and Black Teachers Have Different Expectations for Black Students. Retrieved October 26, 2017 from

Griffin, Ashley. (2016 November 3). Through Our Eyes: Perspectives and Reflections From Black Teachers. Retrieved October 26, 2017 from,

Staples, Brent. (2017 April 20). Where Did All The Black Teachers Go? Retrieved October 26, 2017 from,

Strauss, Valerie. (2016 April 9). Study: Black Students From Poor Families Are More Likely to Graduate From High School If They Have At Least One Black Teacher. Retrieved October 26, 2017 from,

Rosenthal, R, and L. Jacobsen. Pygmalion in the classroom: teacher expectation and pupils’ intellectual development. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968.

Rowell, Virginia. (2017 November). Virginia Needs More Teachers of Color. Retrieved October 26, 2017 from, Virginia Journal of Education.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Does the Peter “Principal” work here?

peter principleSo often in education, we see promotions from within the field.  Perhaps not from within schools or school divisions, but for the most part, it is teachers who decide that they want to take the next step into leadership by overseeing a department, a grade level, moving into an instructional specialist position, or a building principal.  Rarely do we as  educators see or seek  outside executives as direct leaders of schools.  Is it the passion for learning that one must have in order to lead a school?  I have been thinking a lot about this concept as I move into leadership myself-I am fascinated how much of education is run like a corporate business. And so, the question must be asked: Is teaching a classroom the same as running a company or running a building?  Studies have shown that “there is a strong parallel between the decision a teacher makes to move into school administration and the decisions other professionals (e.g., engineers, lawyers, physicians) make to move into corporate administration” (Gates, Chung, et al., 2003, p. 32).  And to make the transition from teacher to leadership, we often must straddle the duties that come with being an effective teacher and the duties of being an effective leader–creating lesson plans while supporting teachers, grading papers while observing classrooms–at some point, you begin to feel like you are running around in the weeds–not being effective anywhere. I often hear conversations surrounding this feeling of being in the “weeds” with my fellow leadership newcomers, which started me thinking…is it a readiness thing? A confidence thing? Or, is it possible that teachers who are recognized as being great in the classroom get recruited for leadership positions, but then potentially fail in the larger arena?  It’s a theory that arises in leadership often–the Peter Principle–developed by  educator, Laurence J. Peter in 1969, suggesting that “as people are usually promoted ‘to their level of incompetence’ (“individuals who are good in one job are not necessarily good in the job into which they are promoted”), it would be natural to expect individuals to perform worse after promotion has been achieved” (Acosto, 2010, p. 975).  We have all experienced or encountered educational leaders,who were once renowned for their exceptional reputation in the classroom, but then as leaders, they fall short with communicating to staff or sticking with decisions.

educator cartoon

As up-and-coming leaders, we must constantly remind ourselves what it is that we want to do with the bigger picture and fall back on ours strengths that we know others see and respect in us.  Yes, The ”Peter Principals” do exist out there–not all great teachers belong in leadership nor should they feel the pressure to take that path.  But, being a lifelong learner, as many of us are, it is important to reflect on our perspective and our place within the leadership field. Of course it’s a confidence thing, a readiness thing–we have to give ourselves some time.

leadership cartoonIn our recent Foundations of Educational Leadership class, we focused on leading change, and as part of that discussion, we looked at Michael Fullan (2014) regarding his perspective of considering “what happens when you find yourself needing new skills and not being proficient when you are used to knowing what you are doing” (p. 175) .  It is at this point where we determine whether we have reached our incompetence level or whether we will use our instincts and knowledge to figure it out and adapt to our own changing roles.  We cannot ask others to follow us into change if we, ourselves, are not comfortable with the unknown.  Are we always ready for what is thrown at us? No, of course not; before we jump to the assumption that we have “reached our level of incompetence,” I challenge us, as new leaders, to remember what got us this far in the first place–our grit, our own experiences, and our competence.  family curcuis







Acosta, P. (2010, 12). Promotion dynamics the Peter Principle: Incumbents vs. external hires. Labour Economics, 17(6), 975-986. doi:10.1016/j.labeco.2010.02.005

Fullan, M. (2014). Leading in a Culture of Change. Wiley.

Gates, S. M., Chung, C. H., Ross, K. E., Santibanez, L., & Ringel, J. S. (2003). Who is Leading Our Schools? an Overview of School Administrators and Their Careers. RAND Education.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Reimagining the Classroom

       Theodore Levitt said that “creativity is thinking up new things.  Innovation is doing new things.” Today’s educators are facing the pressures of standardized testing, school accreditation, meeting the diverse needs of students, keeping up with technology, bridging the global achievement gap, and teaching larger classes with fewer resources.  How can we possibly meet these needs?  It takes courage to move from having a traditional teacher centered classroom, with the teacher lecturing to students sitting in rows, to a student centered environment with flexible grouping and hands on activities.  When teachers lead from the heart they “have passion for their work, compassion for the people they serve, empathy for the people they work with, and courage to make difficult decisions.” (George, 2007)  

     I have personally observed teacher leaders revamping their classroom environments with success.  When Kim Poore and April McDonough began working in a collaborative VA US History classroom, at Hopewell High School, they noticed that their students in this urban setting were struggling.  Determined to see their students succeed, they started taking risks and completely transformed their classroom to bring life to their content. When they began reimagining their content through the eyes of comic book superheros,  students became engaged and started making huge academic strides.

McDonough - Poore pic 1

McDonough-Poore pic 1


McDonough - Poore pic 3

McDonough-Poore pic 2


 Melissa Nelson, an English teacher at Powhatan High School, courageously took the challenge to honestly look at the needs of her students in this rural setting.  Inspired by a blog on having an “eye candy” classroom, Melissa started to reimagine her space.  She replaced traditional desks with an assortment of tables, chairs and posted only the items vital to her content on the walls.  Her students were eager to come to class, allowed to sit where they felt most comfortable, and produced work on a deeper level.  

Melissa Nelson's room

Melissa Nelson’s room

     Last year, I decided to rethink my classroom.  I noticed that the special education students in my consumer classes were embarrassed for their peers to see them enter “The Sped Room.”  I completely redesigned the space to feel more homey.  The room now had a library with comfortable seating, an executive suite (a comfortable workspace with minimal distraction), and student desks arranged in flexible groups.  I also  incorporated activities involving technology.  Students thrived in this space and were eager to participate in projects that moved them toward deeper learning.

executive suit

Executive Suite



Seating in class library

 “The physical structure of the classroom is the critical variable in affecting student morale and learning.” (Phillips, 8/2014)  While these classes look completely different, they have one thing in common – teachers who are innovative in meeting the needs of their students.  What can you do to reimagine your classroom environment? 

George, B. (2007). True North: Discover your Authentic Leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Gonzalez, J. (2017, March 27). Classroom Eye Candy 2: The Learning Lounge. Retrieved September 24, 2017, from

Phillips, M. (2014, May 20). A Place for Learning: The Physical Environment of Classrooms. Retrieved September 24, 2017, from


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Women in Leadership


According to Beyoncé, “Girls run the world.”  If this is actually the case, then who’s hiding all the women in educational administration?  This is my third class in the ELPS Program.  Ninety percent or more of the peers in my classes have been women.  I was impressed with my fellow females as I considered the number of same-sex-sisters I had working toward similar goals.  It wasn’t until I began reading the research that I realized, just because we are in the programs doesn’t necessarily mean we are getting the jobs.

The Washington Post affirms that 75% of public school teachers are female, yet only 30% of administrators are (McGregor and Tobey, 2014).  E-School News reported, “Seventy-two percent of the education workforce consists of women, yet the number of women in leadership positions falls far short of that statistic. They fare best in the role of elementary school principals, with 54 percent of these jobs being held by women. But at the secondary school level, only 26 percent of principals are women, and in the head job of superintendent, 24 percent are women” (Domenech, 2012).  I read several articles all leading me to the same conclusion: Women are underrepresented in school leadership.  After scouring over the research, I kept thinking-“Where do we go from here?”  I came up with few ideas.

Witnessing women with confidence and passion pushing towards positions of leadership brings a smile to my face.  As women, we need to recognize our ambitions and rather than diminish one another, build each other up.  Why is it that women are often each other’s own worst enemies?  Ladies, we need to drop our egos and work together, supporting growth.  Because, let’s face it, bad attitudes and belittling is not helping our situation.   Hard work pays off.  Believe in the power of perseverance.  We are multi-tasking beasts- raising families, propelling our careers and still setting aside enough time to get that workout in.  We need to celebrate our strengths; keep positive, and most of all continue to push the envelope.  Like with any systematic change, a shift won’t happen overnight. But, if each of us makes a conscious effort to empower those we come in contact with rather than discourage, isn’t that really what leadership is all about?

Domenech, D. (2012, November 2). Why are women so underrepresented in educational   leadership? E-School News.

McGregor, J. & Tobey, P. (2014, January 9). Glass-ceiling update: A snapshot of women in leadership positions. The Washington Post




Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Who Do You See? The Conversation of Identity…

Multiracial individuals are more likely to have a heightened awareness of race as a social construct than monoracial individuals. (Shih, Bonam, Sanchez, Peck, 2007) With research also showing that racial identity is directly linked to ability and that Asian/White and Black/White multiracial individuals were less susceptible to racial stereotypes than monoracial individuals because of how multiracial participants view race as a social construct and are not assigned one set of stereotypes due to being more than one race according to the authors. When a person’s race becomes, salient or made relevant as part of who he or she is, that person is directly affected by that and the stereotypes that come with their particular race. Whether it be high performing, educated, and affluent versus low performing, uneducated, and impoverished. These are the stereotypes that can follow someone their entire life and yet through it all it does not define who they are and or who they will become.


S.J. is a rambunctious, smart, funny, beautiful, happy, loud, and sassy 4 year old little girl who at a very young age knows who she is as Skylar and a soon to be big sister! What she knows is that her mother and father love each other and love her unconditionally. She knows that she has a Mimi and a Nonna’ a Paw Paw and a Poppy. She has an Aunt Allie, Ashleigh, Lizzy, and a Titi (me). What she does not know is that the world will initially see that she is a product of an interracial marriage and is a bi-racial or “mixed” child and how the world might judge what she can do by that label.


She does not know that the world will remark her beauty and then feel uncomfortable or unsure of whom to assign it to. Her Caucasian mother or her African-American father. She does not know that she will be judged by those who oppose interracial relationships and the children that they create. She does not know that she will be asked and in some ways told to choose a side, pick an identity, be one and not the other.


sky_w_mom_and_dad.jpgThe conversation that will happen and have already started happening about who she is primarily as an individual and that her race is secondary and that her race has nothing to do with her ability and who she will become. We continue to show and tell her that she can be whoever she wants to be with no limitations. Looking at her face when someone refers to her as “mixed” I cannot help but notice the look of confusion that comes across it, and as she often looks to me for an answer, I simply tell her she is “Skylar”. As we do not categorize her or allow others to, she will not either. She will then have to be ready to educate those around her, some may be strangers and others may be her friends and in some cases her own family.



Take these two beautiful girls, who are second cousins. Both girls are bright, beautiful, and come from highly educated backgrounds and parents and are inseparable, however the world around them has already separated them and deemed them as unequal to one another based on their race. Skylar will never worry about the things Sasha will worry about, she will never second guess herself when she walks into a room, if someone stares at her for a moment too long it will not be because they think she is too dark or different. Skylar will not be marginalized based on her race. I would love to be a fly on the wall in one of their conversations 15 years from now.



Most of all I am doing what I can to prepare her for the conversation she may one day have about her own identity. I will tell her that my racial identity and that of her father’s is one with stereotypes that she may never experience or understand. The world she will know and experience will be vastly different from that of what I knew then, know now, and experience today. I cannot wait for the world to meet Skylar Jade who is already a force to be reckoned with and not a “pretty little mixed girl” to be categorized.


M. Shih, C. Bonam, D. Sanchez, C. Peck (2007) Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, American Psychological Association




Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Embracing Culture and Diversity In The Classroom

America has always been a land of varying cultures. It’s classrooms, unfortunately, have not always reflected that. Today, when the US is home to more ethnicity and cultures than ever before in history, that diversity of cultures must be reflected in the classroom. Why?  Because children are learning more than reading, writing, and arithmetic in school. Think of a classroom as a tiny society. This tiny society represents the larger society we all live in. In this tiny society, children are learning how to navigate the world inside and outside of a classroom setting. They are learning how to get along with others. They are learning how to embrace differences and how to handle them. In short, they are learning how to see differences and how to un-see them.

Most of us were in awe the first time we were old enough to understand the beauty of our first snowfall and snowman, our first springtime and new flowers poking their way out of the ground, our first summer of sandy beaches, and our first autumn with its turning leaves. Just as we were in awe of the first time we were aware of the changing seasons, we soon came to take them for granted without ignoring them. That pretty much sums up how diversity should be taught in our classrooms not “the way we do things around here” (Deal, Peterson, 2016) attitude.

A school’s culture is a combination of countless attributes that create the school’s “experience” (Kuntz, 2012).  Teachers must find a way to make the common, uncommon and the ordinary, unique. The goal is that when Sabrina and Tommy meet Abdullah and Ricardo they learn about the differences in the family each child represents. They learn about the varying diets, customs, faiths, and cultures of each other, while finding a way to share their own stories in a safe environment. The teacher, who is the leader, or president, of the classroom, is responsible for the “political climate” created there. They can help the children learn to learn.

Part of what gives cultural differences the potential to be scary is a lack of understanding. Create a safe, trusted atmosphere. True North by George Daniels teaches us the importance of being self-aware and comfortable in your own skin.  Peeling back the onion and begin looking at your outer layers.  Embrace change by inviting children and their parents to bring in a dish that represents their family, photos of ancestors and short selections of music.

Children are actually quite natural at accepting differences. Think about it. They don’t question why Muppets come in all different shapes, colors, and sizes. They simply accept that they are different while still being part of the same species. What teachers really need to do is teach them to accept each other as readily. These simple things go a long way in creating a place where the children who will grow up in, and one day lead, our society learn more than tolerance. They learn trust, appreciation, camaraderie, and respect.

          Cultural Video :  Being Different is Beautiful

Deal, T. E., & Peterson, K. D. (2016). Shaping school culture. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Brand.

George, B., & Sims, P. (2007). True north: Discover your authentic leadership. San Francisco,

Calif: Jossey-Bass/John Wiley & Sons.

Kuntz, B. (2012). Create a Positive School Culture. ASCD, 54(9).


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment