Home‎ > ‎

PAR Blog

The PAR Blog is a space to exchange ideas and best practices around the topic of teaching, coaching and evaluation.  We believe in the power of peer coaching and support and hope that this can be another way for teachers to get support and give support to one another.  

If you have a suggestion for a blog post (or are interested in sharing your own post in this space), please let us know!

--Lauren & Mark (Consulting Teachers)

Blog Posts

Recent Posts

  • Peer to Peer: Job Hunting Season (Peer to Peer Column from April 2018 BTU newspaper)By Mark Lonergan with Anne SlaterAcross BPS, March 1 was the official kick-off of “job hunting season.” If you ...
    Posted Mar 16, 2018, 3:45 PM by Mark Lonergan
  • CT Job Now Accepting Applications If you're interested in working as a Consulting Teacher, the job is now posted here.  Read Mark's reflection on being a Consulting Teacher here. 
    Posted Mar 12, 2019, 8:17 AM by Fabienne Mondesir
  • Career Opportunity: Consulting Teacher Role (from BTU eBulletin 6/12/19)Career Opportunity: Consulting Teacher RoleLooking for an exciting career challenge? The Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) Program will be hiring a Consulting Teacher ...
    Posted Mar 12, 2019, 8:06 AM by Fabienne Mondesir
  • Peer to Peer: Exemplary Ratings Peer to Peer: Exemplary RatingsBy Mark Lonergan with Anne SlaterIt was May 2001, at the end of my first year of teaching in Boston Public Schools, when I ...
    Posted Dec 21, 2017, 1:33 PM by Mark Lonergan
  • Coaching Visits and new PA & PAR website Visit our BPS/BTU coaching website to set up a coaching visit with experts from Peer Assistance (PA) or Peer Assistance and Review (PAR).  You can also share our coaching ...
    Posted Dec 14, 2017, 5:52 AM by Mark Lonergan
Showing posts 1 - 5 of 16. View more »

Peer to Peer: Job Hunting Season

posted Mar 16, 2018, 3:45 PM by Mark Lonergan

(Peer to Peer Column from April 2018 BTU newspaper)

By Mark Lonergan with Anne Slater

Across BPS, March 1 was the official kick-off of “job hunting season.” If you are seeking a position in BPS or outside, we hope this month’s column can be helpful for you. And if it has been awhile since you last applied for a job, we’ll also share a few tips on how things have changed in the past few years.

My Story

I first interviewed to work for Boston Public Schools in the spring of 2000. Back then, there was a screening interview for the district and if you passed, you then could apply directly to schools. I remember the screening interview seemed to have only three questions: What can you teach? Did you get your tuberculosis vaccine? Where can we reach you on Labor Day weekend?

My second round interviews were a mixed bag. I read through the Boston Globe classified ads each Sunday and applied to any school where I saw they might need a math teacher. One principal wanted to learn about my classroom management style by cursing and yelling at me in the middle of the interview. Another had to run off after a few questions because the 2nd floor bathrooms were flooding. Some schools wanted me to come teach a sample lesson, and others seemed happy just to talk with me on the phone.

In the years since, everything has changed and nothing has changed. There are no more ads in the Globe, but the basic steps in the process are still the same as they’ve always been. As someone who navigated the process 4 years ago and is currently going through the job hunt again, I wanted to share some advice and tips from expert job coaches:


The first step in this process is the most important: asking yourself, What’s next? For most teachers, it can be asking, Where do I want to teach? What do I want to teach? Or maybe asking, Do I still want to teach? Having a vision and a goal doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get the A+ dream job, but it can help you understand where to focus your energy and also help you understand what trade-offs you’ll be willing to accept if a B+ or B- job offer comes along.

A couple of resources that might help during this phase of the process:

  • Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans (2016). This book was written by design school professors who reframe the “what’s next?” as a design challenge. It includes lots of useful activities.

  • Pivot by Jenny Blake (2016). This book by a former Google employee has practical suggestions for those who are contemplating a career change.

  • Life Reimagined by Barbara Bradley Hagerty (2016). Chapter 10 of this book has some inspirational stories for anyone looking to find a new career after the age of 50.

  • Assessments like SkillScan (skillscan.com), Myers Briggs Type Inventory (myersbriggs.org), or the Strong Interest Inventory (cpp.com) are available online for a fee. Many of us took these tests back in high school or college, but might want to take them as adults to better understand your skills and interests.


The next most important part of the process is networking. According to job coach Ginny Rehberg, about 70 to 80 percent of jobs are found through networking. It’s important to remember, however, that networking is not the same thing as mingling or making small talk with strangers. “We often think of networking as a verb,” said Bill Burnett and Dave Evans in Designing Your Life. “It can feel slimy or like we're trying to hustle people. Instead, think of network as a noun: an interconnected web of people and industries. In this sense, to network is just asking for directions. The point isn't to do networking; the goal is to participate in the network.”

Job coaches advise trying to set up informational interviews as one way to network, especially if you’re interested in moving to a different career field. Ginny Rehberg suggests using phrases like, “I’d like to pick your brain” or “I want to get some insight on the field.” If someone says yes and is willing to meet, respect their time and remember that this is not a job interview. Treat the experience as a learning opportunity: Be curious about what they do instead of worrying about showcasing what you could do.

But sometimes in the course of the conversation, future job opportunities might come up. If so, Burnett and Evans advise being ready to use this ‘killer question’: “The more I learn about your organization and the people I meet here, the more fascinating it becomes. I wonder, Peter, what steps would be involved in exploring how someone like me might become part of this organization?”

Support network

Making any sort of change often requires asking for help and being willing to lean on others. If you’re changing jobs, consider seeking out a coach or support group to help you navigate the process and give you some encouragement when you need it. Career coach Jane McHale suggests assembling your “personal pit crew” by reaching out to people you know who can help you in these areas:

  • Who are my greatest fans?

  • Who knows my profession well?

  • Who owes me a big favor?

  • Who knows everybody?

  • Who can make me laugh and keep me moving?

  • Who has considerable influence?

Libraries, colleges, and other non-profit organizations often sponsor job seeker support groups. These can be very helpful for some people. The Harvard Ed Portal in Brighton hosts a weekly job seekers support group. Jewish Vocational Services (JVS) also provides local support for job seekers. And also keep an eye out for the unexpected helpers. McHale says that the people you most expect to be helpful usually are not, but that you’ll often find surprise “job angels” who will go out of their way to help you out, even though they may not know you well.

The Resume

Job searching still requires that you assemble three main components: a resume, a cover letter, and references. My one take-away from writing a resume this year was that everyone seems to have a slightly different sense of what a good resume should look like. I got a lot of conflicting feedback on my resume. The challenge is to make something that follows the rules but also something that can make you stand out. Experts estimate that most recruiters spend about 6 seconds looking at a resume--so it needs to be easy-to-navigate without being too bland.

In the book Infographic Resumes, Hannah Morgan says that a good resume needs to answer three main questions: Can you do the job? Will you do the job? Will I like working with you? Morgan also includes a list of resume pitfalls to avoid including typos, inappropriate email addresses, large amounts of wording from the job posting, and blocks of text with little white space. Morgan also includes some real-world examples of bad resume choices like: calling yourself a genius, oversharing about your politics or religious beliefs, claiming to speak Antarctican, bragging about being Prom King, or including the phrase “LOL.”

In terms of format, you may want to use multiple formats for your resume. A Google document is easiest to share for feedback with editors, while a PDF might be best to share with readers (so they won’t see comments and revision history). You might also want to include your resume on your digital portfolio (more on that later). And always make sure that you have a printed copy of your resume when you walk into the job interview.

Cover Letters

Dear Selection Committee: I am very excited to write this paragraph about cover letters. I have written paragraphs about other topics and believe that I have the right set of skills to also write about cover letters. If you look at my resume, you will see that I have previously written paragraphs about networking and other topics. My previous paragraphs all featured multiple sentences and correct spelling. They were read by more than 15 people. I believe my prior experience and track record of success make me a strong fit for writing a paragraph about cover letters. Please contact me by phone or email if you would like to schedule an interview. Thank you for your consideration.

See what I just did? That’s basically all you need to do in a cover letter: say why you’re writing, toot your own horn a bit, and point towards a next step. Writing cover letters used to cause me a lot of anxiety, but then I realized that it’s basically like a movie trailer: you want to get someone interested in reading your resume or excited about meeting you face-to-face, but you don’t want to give away the whole story.

If you’re applying in BPS, you are asked to write a cover letter that is 300 words or less. In general, as long as your cover letter fits on one single page typed, then it should be fine. Also, you can use bullet points or paragraphs, whatever best fits your writing style.

References & Feedback

The BPS application also asks for at least 3 references. These can be colleagues or supervisors (past or present) who know your work well. When asking, it can be helpful to provide a “brag sheet” or bullet list of reminders of what they’ve seen you accomplish. Try to make it easy for your recommenders to say nice things about you. And don’t forget to write a thank-you note afterwards.

Even if you’re not on the best of terms with your current supervisor, you should at least notify them that you are looking at other positions. There’s always a chance that your potential new supervisor will call up your current supervisor to ask about your performance--even if you haven’t listed them as a reference. When your current supervisor gets that call, it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Additionally, you may also want to keep a “brag file” of positive feedback that you’ve received from students, parents, colleagues, evaluators, and supervisors. These might not be useful as references, but could be a great way to include other voices in your portfolio. If you don’t have a brag file, it’s also okay to reach out and ask for some positive feedback. A colleague recently sent an email where she asked for a quick blurb of feedback to help her with her job search. It was an easy request (she only wanted a couple of sentences) and she also gave an easy out by saying “If you don’t have the time or don’t want to do this, then I totally understand. Thanks and all the best to you.”


A final piece of the preparation is to pull together some examples of your work in a portfolio. This can be in a binder, but increasingly, teachers are creating digital portfolios that can be shared as a link along with your resume. If you’ve never created a website before, the new Google Sites is super easy to use. Some people also use Wordpress or other blog creation tools where you don’t have to worry much about formatting.

Here are some important elements to include, according to Edwige Simon’s article “Do I Need a Digital Teaching Portfolio?” on Edutopia:

  • Home or About Me page (with bio, welcome paragraph, your email address, and a current photo of you)

  • Resume (with a PDF link)

  • Teaching Philosophy/Statement

  • Sample annotated lesson plan

  • Contact information

  • Feedback from colleagues, supervisors, and students.

You should also make sure that your portfolio is more than just words. Whenever possible, include images, video, maps, and anything else that helps to show what you can do. You may also want to visit tinyurl.com or bit.ly to create a shorter web address for your portfolio. This will make it easier to include the web address on your resume and your cover letter.

Next Time:

We’ll talk about phase 2 of the job search process: applying and interviewing. And if, like me, you’re currently looking for a new job, remember to be patient and take good care of yourself. I’ve already met a few “job angels” this year. Hope that you’ll find your “job angels” and “personal pit crew” as well. Good luck!

The Peer-to-Peer column is written by Anne Slater, from the Peer Assistance program, and Mark Lonergan, from the Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) program. This column is written by teachers and for teachers. If you have a topic you’d like us to explore, please email us. To find out more about what Anne and Mark and others do as peer assistants and consulting teachers, visit btu.org/whats-working/peer-mentoring/ or bostonpar.org.

CT Job Now Accepting Applications

posted Feb 27, 2018, 10:56 AM by Mark Lonergan   [ updated Mar 12, 2019, 8:17 AM by Fabienne Mondesir ]

If you're interested in working as a Consulting Teacher, the job is now posted here.  

Read Mark's reflection on being a Consulting Teacher here

Career Opportunity: Consulting Teacher Role

posted Feb 13, 2018, 4:59 AM by Mark Lonergan   [ updated Mar 12, 2019, 8:06 AM by Fabienne Mondesir ]

(from BTU eBulletin 6/12/19)
Career Opportunity: Consulting Teacher Role
Looking for an exciting career challenge? The Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) Program will be hiring a Consulting Teacher to begin in September for a four-year term. Be on the lookout for a job posting on TalentEd, but in the meantime, you can learn more about the role at bostonpar.org or come talk to the two current Consulting Teachers (Lauren Clarke-Mason & Fabienne Mondesir) at the BTU before and after the BTU membership meeting on March 13, beginning at 4:00.

Peer to Peer: Exemplary Ratings

posted Dec 21, 2017, 1:32 PM by Mark Lonergan   [ updated Dec 21, 2017, 1:33 PM ]

Peer to Peer: Exemplary Ratings

By Mark Lonergan with Anne Slater

It was May 2001, at the end of my first year of teaching in Boston Public Schools, when I was pulled into the headmaster’s office to go over my end-of-year evaluation. Sensing that I was nervous, my headmaster started with some compliments and said that I’d had a very strong first year. I was happy to have almost made it to June and relieved that my 2nd period class had slowly found a way to work and learn together. Near the end of our meeting, she handed me my formal BPS evaluation. I was a bit surprised to see my final rating: “Meets or Exceeds Standards.” What’s this? I thought, Didn’t you just say that I was doing a good job? Isn’t this the equivalent of telling a student, “You’re an A, B, or C student”?

In 2011, with the passage of State Regulation 603 CMR 35.00, the rating of “Meets or Exceeds Standards” changed in Boston and across the state to our four current rating levels. While policymakers and administrators have spent lots of time calibrating and thinking about how to distinguish between unsatisfactory, needs improvement, and proficient ratings, there’s been much less consensus around trying to distinguish between proficient and exemplary--in trying to articulate the difference between an “A” or “B” or “C” teacher. This month, we’ll take a closer look at exemplary ratings: What are they? How are they determined? And what parts of the process might need to change in the future?


According to the “School and District” profile data available on the DESE website, about 11.5 percent of educators across the state were awarded an exemplary rating in 2016 (the most recent data available to the public). By comparison, 84 percent are proficient, 4 percent are needs Improvement and 0.5 percent are unsatisfactory statewide. In Boston, about 20 percent of BPS’s 3800 teachers were exemplary in 2016.

One challenge that emerges in looking at the DESE data is how widely the share of exemplary ratings can vary from district to district and even within districts. At the Massachusetts Academy for Math and Science in Worcester, 8 of 10 staff members were rated as exemplary. But some districts (including Arlington) had no teachers at all with an exemplary rating. Claire Abbott, the Educator Effectiveness Coordinator at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education,said that there’s no quota or target determined by the state. “From the start, we’ve wanted the educator evaluation framework to remain responsive to the local context of individual districts and to the professional judgment of evaluators within those communities, so we have no recommendation for how many educators should be rated as exemplary.” The towns of Orleans, Wellfleet, Provincetown, Brewster and Eastham all had more than 50 percent of teachers rated as exemplary. While Arlington, along with Bedford, Lexington, Marblehead, Richmond, Rockland, Northborough and Harvard, all had zero exemplary teachers in 2016.

The frequency of exemplary ratings also varies widely within BPS. The chart shows 2016 data for Boston high schools. Some schools had more than half of the staff rated exemplary, and some schools had none. This is because Boston, like the state, leaves the determination of ratings up to individual evaluators. Jerome Doherty, director of performance management for Boston said, “There are no formulas for arriving at an overall rating (aside from the requirement that Standards I and II must be rated at least proficient in order to issue an overall proficient rating), so we advise using sound reasoning and common sense to arrive at an appropriate rating that is representative of the educator's overall practice as a whole.”

This may mean that different evaluators have a different understanding of what exemplary should look like. Carmen Davis, principal of Irving Middle School said that she gives out exemplary ratings very rarely. “In terms of exemplary ratings, a teacher should be able to implement effective practice and also understand the why behind what they’re doing,” said Davis. “They should understand what makes the practice effective related to impact on student learning and be able to teach their colleagues about their instructional practices.”

Elis Kanner, who is the director of coaching and evaluation at Charlestown High School, said that there are three main problems with the current expectations for exemplary ratings. “Right now, the system isn’t transparent, teachers don’t know in advance what they’re getting so there’s no agency, and there’s inconsistency from building to building and from evaluator to evaluator.”


Laura Chesson, a former BPS teacher who is now the Superintendent of Groton-Dunstable, said “In my former district, Arlington, we spent several meetings hammering out a specific definition for exemplary, and determining how a teacher got that rating. The teacher had to indicate that he/she wanted to work towards that rating, with a heavy emphasis on teacher leadership roles.” In Groton-Dunstable, Chesson and Assistant Superintendent Katie Novak have created a menu to help teachers understand exactly what is expected for those wanting an exemplary rating. “This is a question we've been struggling with for years with our educator evaluation working group,” said Novak. Their menu of exemplary practices tries to clearly define what it means to “model for others.” In Groton-Dunstable, educators can be a model by presenting at a staff meeting, leading a department, sharing expertise at a conference or seminar, or by working as a peer coach/mentor.

In Boston, the variance between schools and evaluators is wide. One challenge is that the language within the exemplary ratings leaves room for interpretation. Most standards include the phrase “is able to be a model” to distinguish between proficient and exemplary ratings. Does “able to model” mean that a teacher is willing to model or has actually been a model? Tony King, headmaster of Boston international and Newcomers Academy, feels that “able to model” is best demonstrated by working with fellow staff members and maybe leading PD. “The issue that had been holding us back was the part of exemplary that suggests the teacher is able to model the standard,” said King. “We didn't have enough opportunities for teachers to do this, but we have added more teacher-led PD in the last two years, so I anticipate a solid number of exemplary rated teachers at BINcA.”

DESE’s Claire Abbott said that the variance in Boston “aligns with the data we have in general. There is variation in terms of the use of the exemplary rating across districts.” Abbott says that the variation is higher within districts than across districts. “I’m not surprised to hear that there’s school-to-school differences.” This variation is one of the primary motivators for Abbott’s current project: an update of the 2011 rubric which will include refinements to modeling language in the exemplary descriptors.

BTU Vice President Erik Berg said he is also not surprised by the variance around exemplary ratings. “The personalities behind the use of any rubric are inherently subjective,” said Berg, “So no matter how calibrated and defined a system is, the inevitable differences across human judgment appear when indicators like ‘all of the time’ versus ‘most of the time’ are in play.”


Another challenge with the current exemplary rating is that some people say that it’s not really clear how exemplary is defined. Jess Madden-Fuoco, who is the director of teaching and learning at Boston Green Academy and who also teaches the BPS “Observation and Feedback” courses, said that she feels the rubric definitions are pretty clear. “I can clearly see a difference between proficient and exemplary, but there is a wide range of how evaluators within schools and across the district assign proficient vs. exemplary ratings,” said Madden-Fuoco. “It’s frustrating when the Globe runs stories that make it sound like teaching and learning is stronger in buildings with higher rates of exemplary ratings when the truth could be that evaluators in those buildings are more likely to rate educators as exemplary.

The Office of Human Capital is trying to make criteria clearer across the district. OHC’s Jerome Doherty said, “We are working on developing guidance for how school leadership should think about the evidence in comparison to the exemplary descriptors on the rubric. We want to avoid school administration saying ‘you must do X to be rated exemplary,’ where X represents a very specific teaching practice or artifact.” Doherty and the Office of Human Capital are gathering examples of how schools across the district are addressing the question of exemplary ratings.


Another challenge with exemplary ratings is that they can have a negative impact on morale, for those teachers who don’t receive an exemplary rating and even for those who do. “Morale in BPS can already feel tough. We get love from students and hopefully from colleagues, but as a system it can be tough to feel appreciated,” said Madden-Fuoco. “This proficient vs. exemplary issue can be demoralizing in an unintended way, especially for people who are aiming for exemplary but do not get there.”

Madden-Fuoco also said that once a teacher has reached an exemplary rating, it can also be challenging to adjust to anything less than exemplary. “People can start to see proficient as not a great rating. If you read the language in the “proficient” category of the rubric, it is not negative, but proficient can feel like a lower rating because it isn’t exemplary.

One teacher [who moved from exemplary to a proficient rating] told me it felt like a fall from grace,” she said. Irving principal Carmen Davis agreed: “It can be hard when evaluation ratings change. It would be good if people were more normed.”

Veteran educator Mary O’Brien of the Henderson K-12 school said that she tries not to worry too much about exemplary ratings. “Advice I got early in the process was that we should aim for exemplary but be happy with proficient ratings,” said O’Brien. “When this was first rolled out, I remember someone saying that exemplary should be hard to get and will be difficult to maintain. I’ve tried to remember that in my own practice. All of us can be learning.”

Ben Helfat, headmaster of Boston Adult Technical Academy (BATA), said that another challenge with exemplary ratings is that it doesn’t fit into a coaching or growth mindset. “If we’re going to adopt a coaching model,” said Helfat, “Then exemplary really shouldn't be there. I don't see where exemplary fits into a growth mindset.”

Helfat said that in his school he certainly has teachers who are doing exemplary work (and earning exemplary ratings on standards), but he said that “When a teacher in my school does something exemplary, I try to highlight it and might even email it to the rest of the staff, so that they can know about it and try to emulate it. Giving an ‘E’ rating privately to someone doesn’t have the same impact on the community.”

At Charlestown High School, Elis Kanner has been trying to provide coaching, support, and acknowledgement through their school-wide coaching and support program. Kanner and other evaluators at Charlestown are in the second year of piloting a school-wide coaching program that is also tied to EDFS and the evaluation process. She said that response from staff has been positive overall, but the “wrinkle of exemplary” has been a challenge for time-crunched teachers and administrators. “Teachers felt attached to having the opportunity to be rated exemplary, but we had to invent a fair process. I ended up spending more hours on the question of exemplary than most other parts of my job.” Kanner said that even after drafting a transparent process, it still felt like there was not enough time for evaluators to review, calibrate, and evaluate artifacts. “There’s not enough time to coach, let alone time to calibrate on what exemplary looks like,” said Kanner. “This was time away from being in teachers’ classrooms and meeting with teachers to actually work with them on improving their practice.”


Jerome Doherty hopes the district can begin to provide more clarity around the expectations for exemplary ratings.

“At the district level, while we have developed clarifying language around our shared vision of effective practice through the Essentials for Instructional Equity, we should have a similarly transparent set of expectations for school leadership, which I am happy to say we are working toward at this very moment,” said Doherty. He also said that his office is hoping to develop “clearer and more user-friendly rubric language.” Doherty and OHC are also offering “guiding principles” for exemplary ratings that give school leaders a menu and options to think about how to define exemplary practice, in addition to updating the district’s interactive rubric (bostonpublicschools.org/ir).

Others think that we should not really be worrying about exemplary ratings at all. “I do not see any use or purpose behind having a distinction between proficient and exemplary in our evaluation system,” said Erik Berg. “I would eliminate the exemplary category. It only serves to sow discontent and allow unconscious biases to come to the fore.”

At the state level, Claire Abbott is in the middle of an update to the DESE 2011 rubric. “This rubric has been used for 6 years by over 85 percent of districts across the state. It’s now time to update it.” The proposed refinements include merging some rubric elements to streamline the rubric and eliminate some redundancies. For example, “Well Structured Lessons” (I.A.4) and “Standards-Based Unit Design” (I.A.3) are combined into one element, “Well-Structured Unit & Lesson Design,” in the updated rubric.

Another proposed change for the next iteration of the DESE model rubric will be a clearer distinction between proficient and exemplary practice. Abbott said that we “want anyone who’s looking at the two ratings side-by-side to clearly see  how to move from proficient to exemplary.” The committee of teachers, administrators, and policy-makers who are revising the rubric recommended changing language from “is able to model” to “models this practice for others.” The advisory board also recommended removing the “modeling” language from 7 rubric elements, like “Sharing Conclusions with Colleagues” (I.C.2). All of the proposed refinements are being piloted in seven districts across Massachusetts, with final updates to be determined based on their feedback by July.

The challenge of recognizing exemplary performance is not unique to the teaching profession. In fact, it may be even more of a challenge in other career fields, where performance evaluation is often tied to how much you are paid or how much of a quarterly bonus you’re awarded. In the book Work Rules, Google’s vice president of people operations Laszlo Bock explains that there are five different performance levels at Google: needs improvement, consistently meets expectations, exceeds expectations, strongly exceeds expectations, and superb. Perhaps distinguishing between “strongly exceeds expectations” and “superb” is even more challenging than distinguishing between “proficient” and “exemplary.”  

But for now, Elis Kanner is worried that exemplary ratings are not actually helping our students. “I don’t know how exemplary ratings actually helps kids. I tell teachers that if you want recognition and challenge, you should pursue National Board certification instead. Ideally I hope we can find other ways to honor teacher practice.”

The Peer-to-Peer column is written by Anne Slater, from the Peer Assistance program, and Mark Lonergan , from the Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) program. This column is written by teachers and for teachers. If you have a topic you’d like us to explore, please email us. To find out more about what Anne and Mark and others do as peer assistants and consulting teachers, visit btu.org/whats-working/peer-mentoring/ or bostonpar.org.

Coaching Visits and new PA & PAR website

posted Dec 14, 2017, 5:52 AM by Mark Lonergan

Visit our BPS/BTU coaching website to set up a coaching visit with experts from Peer Assistance (PA) or Peer Assistance and Review (PAR).  You can also share our coaching visits flyer

Peer Models Survey

posted Nov 8, 2017, 9:44 AM by Mark Lonergan   [ updated Nov 8, 2017, 9:45 AM ]

Take a moment to recommend and celebrate a colleague who would be a great model for others to observe and learn from with this short Peer Model survey.

Peer Models Survey 2017

New PAR Pamphlet

posted Oct 17, 2017, 1:56 PM by Mark Lonergan

Here's the latest version of the pamphlet that gives overview information about PAR. 

2017 PAR Panel Recommendations

posted Jun 27, 2017, 11:55 AM by Mark Lonergan

Screen Shot 2017-06-22 at 11.44.57 AM.png

At the end of each PAR Panel case, the panel gathers suggestions and questions to share with the district, the administrators, and the PAR Program.

Designing Your Next Move

posted Jun 26, 2017, 12:59 PM by Mark Lonergan   [ updated Jun 26, 2017, 12:59 PM ]

The Japanese term ikigai means "a reason for being." It's the intersection between what you love, what you're good at, what you're paid for, and what the world needs. If you're thinking about your own ikigai this summer, you might want to check out the Designing Your Life 101 workbook, that has some readings and activities about designing (or redesigning) your life/career path.

Peer to Peer: Engagement & Motivation

posted Feb 19, 2017, 1:56 PM by Mark Lonergan

By Mark Lonergan with Anne Slater
April 2016
From Boston Teachers Union newspaper


It's a little bit after 10 a.m. on a rainy April morning when I walk into Brenda Rosario's classroom at the Rafael Hernández K-8 school in Roxbury. Students are concluding their morning meeting

on a rainbow-colored rug by playing a quick game of “Simón Dice” (“Simon Says”) and getting ready to transition to their center work.   A moment after the game wraps up, students go to their tables and get to work.  Really get to work.  

At one table, students are doing math problems: writing diagrams and explaining strategies to solve a word problem that they’ve glued into their yellow math journals.  At another table, students are reading about polar bears and are writing down facts and an illustration in their green writing journals.  Back on the rug, four students are listening to an audiobook and leafing through the pages to read along.  Students at another table are holding magnifying glasses as they closely investigate a whelk egg case or I-don't-know-what and write down their observations using a scientific vocabulary word list. When students finish early, they are very eager to show me what else they are working

on. One student shows me a book she’s written about snorkeling with a mermaid.  Another shows me her book about a princess with a pet unicorn.  

A bell rings and Brenda checks in with the class.  Then they get back to work, some staying where they are and others moving on to the next table and the the next activity.  It’s a level of productivity and focus that would make Henry Ford jealous.  When I come back to the room an hour later, students are still hard at work.  What exactly is going on here? Are students motivated, engaged or both?  And what conditions foster this level of engagement and motivation?

This month, we’ll look at what several experts have to say about the topic of DESE r

ubric element II.A.2 (Student Engagement) and element II.B.3 (Student Motivation).  When I stepped into the the role of coach and evaluator, one of the biggest challenges I had was figuring out the question of what does student engagement and student motivation really look like and what conditions can foster its growth?  

In Experience & Education (1938), John Dewey criticizes schools that “set a premium of passivity and receptivity,” because they often create environments where the only escape is to become disobedient.  He also criticized traditional education for “its failure to secure the active co-operation of the pupil in construction of the purposes involved in his studying.”  Even if he wasn’t using the words “en

gagement” and “motivation,” Dewey seemed to understand that disengaging and unmotivating environments were not the way to go.  

The Skillful Teacher


In the 1997 book the Skillful Teacher, authors John Saphier and Robert Gower contrast the motivation skills (which “empower instruction”) with management skills (which “support and make possible instruction”).  In their pyramid “Map of Pedagogical Knowledge,” the management skills are near the bottom and the motivation skills (which include building personal relationships, maintaining a class climate and setting expectations) are right in the middle.  The management skills (attention, momentum, space, time, routines) are the “foundation of teaching,” which means that “if those jobs aren’t being handled, no learning can take place.”

Saphier and Gower talk explicitly about engagement in their chapter on attention.  “Unless students are paying attention to the instruction it does not matter how good the lesson may be otherwise,” they said.  “Engaging and involving students on task in large group, small group, or individual learning experiences is what attention is all about.  Indeed, i

t is the precondition for instruction.”

Teach Like a Champion

Doug Lemov, author of Teach Like A Champion, lists engagement as one of the five elements of classroom culture.  It starts with discipline (“teaching someone the right way to do something”), management (“the process of reinforcing behavior by consequences”), control (“your capacity to cause someone to choose to do what you ask”), influence (“inspiring students to believe, want to succeed, and want to work for it for intrinsic reasons”) and then engagement.  

One of the themes of Lemov’s book is that “kids often change from the outside in.”  And several of the strategies focused on classroom culture are about outside changes that may or may not lead to true motivation and engagement.  The “SLANT” technique is one that comes to mind here.  “SLANT” is the acronym to remind students to: Sit up, Listen, Ask and answer questions, Nod your head and Track the speaker. It has been widely popularized by the KIPP charter school network.  Lemov says that if students are not alert and attentive, then “teaching them is like pouring water into a leaky bucket.”

Another interesting engagement technique from Lemov’s book is “Props” where teachers are encouraged to permit their class to spend up to one full second celebrating student accomplishments.  One example is “The Hitter” technique:  “You say, ‘Let’s give Clarice a Hitter.’ Your kids pretend to toss a ball and swing a bat at it.  They shield their eyes as if to glimpse its distant flight.  Then they mimic crowd noise suitable for a

home run for some fraction of a full second.”  Sounds like fun.

Conscious Classroom Management

The book Conscious Classroom Management by Rick Smith is recommended by BPS as a resource to help teachers with student engagement.  The BPS website says that the book “details the ways to create a positive classroom culture where students are invested in their success.”  Although Smith spends much of his book giving advice about prevention techniques and intervention techniques for unruly classrooms, there’s also an interesting section on building positive connections.  In this chapter, Smith discusses the value of including choice

s for students in our lessons.  “The more we can build in choices for our students, the more likely they are to feel energized as participants in their learning process,” Smith says.  

Smith suggests that teachers should include some chances to build positive relationships with students as part of the curriculum or as part of daily routines.  For fifteen years in my math classes, the first assignment of the year was always to write a letter to the teacher.  And I would write one back to them and share it the next day.  It was an efficient way to break the ice, to see what kind of writers and thinkers were in the room and to tell which students had access to a computer and printer.  Smith also suggests class meetings or circles, journal writes or having students involved in setting the class rules and norms as ways to increase student choices.

Another technique that Smith suggests is a “4-H strategy” where the teacher greets students at the door and allows them to choose one of four greetings: hello, handshake, high-five or hug. Secondary teachers may have to swap out the hug option and replace it with “nod and grunt” or “ironic eye roll.”  Whether at the start of class or somewhere else during the lesson, Smith suggests having a small moment of personal interaction with each student.  He acknowledges that this approach can be challenging in particular to secondary teachers and specialists, who may see scores of students in any one day.  “Meaningful and valuable personal contact can and does happen between teacher and student in ten and twenty-second connections.”


If engagement can sometime start from the outside in, motivation is always best when it starts from the inside.  This is the central argument of the book Drive by Daniel Pink.  This book has the least connection to the education world (Amazon.c

om lists it in the “Business and Money” category), and yet I think it has the most wisdom to share with educators about how to engage and motivate our students.  

Pink explains that there are three things that motivate us: biological conditions (like the need to eat or sleep), extrinsic conditions (like the traditional reward and punishment systems) and intrinsic conditions.  In the first half of the book, he explains why extrinsic motivational strategies don’t really work.  These “carrot and stick” reward and punishment systems can crush creativity, foster short-term thinking and extinguish the possibility that students will find deeper sources of intrinsic motivation.  PInk says, “We’re designed to be active and engaged.  And we know what the richest experiences in our lives aren’t when we’re clamoring for validation from others, but when we’re listening to our own voice—doing something that matters, doing it well, and doing it in the service of a cause larger than ourselves.”  This made me wonder what kind of impact the extrinsic reward and punishment systems built into our schools (grades, detentions, behavior charts, suspensions) are really having on our students.

The second half of Drive focuses on how to recognize and foster intrinsic motivation.  Pink describes the three elements of intrinsic motivation: purpose, mastery and autonomy.  Purpose can be achieved by communicating why we’re tackling an assignment or how today’s task “contributes to the larger ent

erprise in which the class is engaged.”

The second element of intrinsic motivation is a chance to reach for mastery.  Mastery is hard work: challenges that can be conquered in a single sitting will not promote mastery.  Pink describes mastery as “an asymptote”--which you may remember from Algebra II as “an invisible boundary line that you can approach but never cross.”  Mastery means lots of hard work along with an understanding that there’s always room to get better.  

The third element of intrinsic motivation is autonomy.  Pink uses 4 T’s to describe the choices that must be offered for us to feel autonomy: Task (choice in what we are doing), Time (choice in when we are doing it), Technique (how we are doing it) and Team (who we are doing it with).  He highlights Google and other innovative companies that allow employees to spend as much as 20 percent of their time on self-directed autonomous projects.  Many of Google’s most successful products have precipitated from this “play” time.   Autonomy is also one of the central tenets of Montessori schools, where students are given choices about what to do and when to do it.

Pink has some specific advice for teachers around the question of homework assignments and giving praise.  With homework assignments, Pink advises teachers to ask themselves these questions: Am I allowing any autonomy/choice over how and when they do the work?  Does the assignment promote mastery by offering a novel, engaging task? Do they know why we are doing this assignment and how it connects to our larger goals and objectives?  

In terms of praise, Pink cautions against public praise (“life’s not an awards ceremony”) and falsely inflated praise (“don’t kid a kid”).  He also advises teachers to focus their praise on effort and strategy, not intelligence.  “No fake praise,” says Pink.  “Only offer praise when there’s a good reason for it.”

So what should student motivation and student engagement look like in our classrooms?  Former principal of the Edison K-8 and current Principal Leader Mary Driscoll said, “I look at what students are doing and ask them questions about the task. If they can tell me what they are doing and why they are doing it, if they can tell me how they know their work is quality work then I know they are engaged. I listen for the productive buzz that students make when they are engaging with one another and with the content of the lesson.”  Driscoll also warns that motivation and engagement do not always correlate.  “If the task is too easy, or not relevant, students might still willingly engage, but with a performance orientation rather than a learning orientation,” she said.

Pink highlights the difference between true engagement and mere compliance.  “Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement,” he said.  “While complying can be an effective strategy for physical survival, it's a lousy one for personal fulfillment. Living a satisfying life requires more than simply meeting the demands of those in control. Yet in our offices and our classrooms we have way too much compliance and way too little engagement. The former might get you through the day, but only the latter will get you through the night.”

Peer-to-Peer is a monthly column written by Anne Slater (from the Peer Assistance program) and Mark Lonergan (from the Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) program).  To find out more, visit btu.org/whats-working/peer-mentoring/


Intrinsically Motivating Assignments

From Drive by Daniel Pink

Autonomy: Am I allowing any autonomy/choice over how and when they do the work?  

Mastery: Does the assignment promote mastery by offering a novel, engaging task?

Purpose: Do they know why we are doing this assignment and how it connects to our larger goals and objectives?  

1-10 of 16