Faculty Mentoring: Using a Faculty-Led Peer Review Process to Improve Performance
This article describes a faculty-led peer review of teaching (PROT) program at Bon Secours Memorial College of Nursing (BSMCON). This program is proven to be an effective formative tool for faculty to improve their teaching. Faculty who teach in higher education are summatively evaluated using several methods, with administrators placing much focus on student evaluations of courses and faculty members (Klopper & Drew, 2015). Relying on students’ end-of-course assessments to gauge faculty members’ teaching can be challenging due to low response rates, extreme responses, and survey fatigue. Research recognizes the need for PROT as integral for higher education faculty (Blauvelt et al., 2012; Sullivan et al., 2012; Teoh et al., 2016). Peer review can provide valuable information regarding teaching competencies for novice faculty members and supervisory academic leaders.
When academic institutions use peer review of teaching, they are able to provide continual development of teachers’ pedagogical skills, ensure the teaching effectiveness of faculty at all levels, and show accreditors that they are committed to professional development and continual improvement. The literature identifies several significant barriers to using a peer-review process to assess teaching. These include potential bias in the evaluation, faculty feeling that a single review provides insufficient information on which to base a change in their teaching, and fear that administrators may use the peer review as a summative evaluation— especially troublesome if the evaluation evinces bias (Blauvelt et al., 2012). An additional barrier to using PROT involves an organizational culture that does not value the peer-review process (Blauvelt et al., 2012). A higher education organization that applies a formative and informal, yet collegial approach to the PROT process can support faculty members’ professional growth as teachers, thus improving students’ educational experiences.
The peer review of teaching program at BSMCON
The PROT program structures the peer-review process, encourages faculty to incorporate evidence-based teaching strategies, advances professionalism and collegiality, demonstrates faculty core competencies associated with accrediting bodies, shows students that faculty are committed to improving their teaching, and aligns with the faculty promotion process. The PROT program at BSMCON was developed by the faculty development committee. Other than providing initial direction, the dean did not have input into the strategic plan, process, or implementation of the program. This was important to the faculty because we wanted a faculty-led effort that focused on peer mentoring and collegiality.
Conceptual and theoretical framework
The complexities of the academic setting are challenging to novice faculty members, who should be given the fundamental tools to enhance their teaching ability and advance pedagogical competency. The PROT program provides guidance and support for these novice educators so they can build their skills. The program also challenges seasoned faculty to continue to learn and grow as teachers.
Kanter’s theory of organizational empowerment (1977) formed the conceptual and theoretical basis for the PROT program. For Kanter, when people perceive that their work environment gives them the opportunity for growth and access to the power they need to carry out their professional activities, they are empowered. We felt that Kanter’s theory provided a structure for our PROT program that cultivates a workplace environment where peers support each other collaboratively and in a way that respectfully empowers all faculty members.
Program structure and processes
The PROT program is a collaborative process, intended for professional growth and development through shared learning. To solicit peer reviewers, a faculty member sends an email to all faculty to see who might be interested in and available for a review. The peer reviewer does not necessarily need to have content expertise in the course subject matter to provide a peer review. In fact, it is often better if the reviewer is not a content expert. That way, they can assume the student’s viewpoint as a learner during the observation period, which can lead to profound insights for the faculty member being reviewed.
There are three phases to the process: prereview meeting, observation of teaching, and follow-up meeting. During the prereview meeting, the faculty member being reviewed completes a preobservation form that addresses the following:
- Student learning objectives and evaluation methods (if appropriate) for the class being observed
- What teaching and learning activities will take place
- What students need to do to prepare for class
- What the faculty member wants the peer to focus on (e.g., a new teaching strategy or learning activity or student-student or student-faculty interactions)
- Logistics during class time, such as where the reviewer should sit, whether they should interact with the students, and how long they should stay in the class
- Reviewer access, if possible, to the student’s view of the course in the learning management system so they can be aware of readings and other preparatory material, if the faculty member wants the reviewer to be involved with the students (e.g., if small groups of students are working on a case study)
During the observation, the reviewer takes notes that address the teacher’s strengths and opportunities for improvement. Guidelines during the review include the following categories:
- Communication with students (e.g., greeted students at beginning of class, used appropriate tone, eye contact, body language, and humor, treated students with respect and answered questions, and asked questions that promotes critical thinking
- Classroom management (created an environment conducive to learning, maintained balance in the discussion, started and ended class on time, and observed break times, if appropriate)
- Pedagogy and instructional skills (e.g., balanced lecture with other interactive learning activities, expected students to be prepared for class by using the preparatory readings as a base for learning activities, used appropriate technology tools)
- Content (reviewed objectives, kept discussions on target, presented content in an organized manner, used up-to-date resources)
The follow-up meeting to discuss the findings takes place within a week after the observation. This conversation and review findings are confidential; however, if they wish, the reviewee can use this information to show performance improvement in their official summative evaluation with administrators.
Interested faculty may consider implementing a pilot PROT program to identify and craft solutions to any challenges. We used a volunteer group of six faculty members who paired up and observed each other’s classes. This group then revised the preobservation and observation forms to ensure the elements they wanted to address were captured. To maximize a PROT program’s effectiveness, each faculty member should be expected to serve as a peer reviewer as well as be reviewed at least once each academic year. Although the review process is confidential, participation should be expected and made a part of faculty performance expectations.
You will need to determine what are appropriate outcome measures for the PROT program at your institution. BSMCON used the Gallup Employee Engagement survey as part of our measurement of success for the program outcomes. Gallup questions that focused on empowerment and organizational support for growth and development match well with the selected framework and PROT program goals. Additional metrics include the graduate exit survey questions regarding student satisfaction with instruction and learning.
Lessons learned and value to teaching
BSMCON faculty members recognize the PROT program as a positive influence in more fully developing and affirming their teaching abilities. Additionally, the college’s level of professionalism and collegial atmosphere have improved, and faculty feel more empowered in their classrooms. Observers in the classroom obtain a student’s perspective of the learning activities and teaching style of their peers. Sometimes this results in learning new ways to engage with students and a change of practice for the peer reviewer. Developing and using a faculty-led PROT process can be a positive addition to your department’s faculty development plans and can improve faculty and student outcomes.
Blauvelt, M. J., Erickson, C. L., Davenport, N. C., & Spath, M. L. (2012). Say yes to peer review: A collaborative approach to faculty development. Nurse Educator, 37(3), 126–130. https://doi.org/10.1097/NNE.0b013e318250419f
Kanter, R. M., (1977). Men and women in the corporation. Basic Books.
Klopper, C., & Drew, S. (2015). Teaching for learning and learning for teaching: Peer review of teaching in higher education. http://hdl.handle.net/10072/160095
Sullivan, P. B., Buckle, A., Nicky, G., & Atkinson, S. H. (2012). Peer observation of teaching as a faculty development tool. BMC Medical Education, 12. https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6920-12-26
Teoh, S. L., Ming, C., & Khan, T. (2016). Faculty perceived barriers and attitudes toward peer review of classroom teaching in higher education settings: A meta-synthesis. SAGE Open. https://doi.org/10.1177/2158244016658085
Christine Turner, PhD, RN, is a professor at the Bon Secours Memorial College of Nursing, where, as the past chair of the faculty development committee, she spearheaded the development of the faculty-led peer review of teaching program. She has 16 years’ experience teaching in a variety of nursing programs, including the baccalaureate and master’s degree levels.