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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Some thoughts on Peer Observation in Law Teaching

Prof. Mary Lynch at Albany has posted a great essay at Best Practices in Legal Education raising the issue of why we don't do more peer observation of each-other's teaching the way we share and comment on drafts of articles.    As she notes, it's unfortunate that the only time this happens is in evaluative situations.   As I've said before, it's my honor to be a commentator this month so here's the link, but also some more concise thoughts.    Peer observation is a very helpful thing.

I don't know anyone who was an instant success as a teacher--although certainly some people have smoother starts than others.  Mine was epically rough.   And 16 years later I've gotten a lot better at it, but still have a lot to learn.

But the great thing about teaching in a law school is that every law school has in the building many excellent teachers and even more competent ones.  And most are associated with universities with even more excellent teachers and probably a group of experts available to support teaching.     It would be good to find a way we could use these resources to learn from each-other without fear of negative evaluation.  One thing I suggest in my comment to Prof. Lynch's post is that we develop a format in advance so that rather than observing in general we are able to provide feed-back on things that we all agree are important.  Or on things that we think may not be going well (or that we think are going well--but maybe the view from the back of the room is that they're not).  The technical term for that is a rubric and they can be as elaborate or as simple as you want to make them.

It can be frustrating that there is not as much available on law teaching as there is on teaching in general, but that's changing fast.  Places like the Best Practices Blog are great resources as are a really nice series of books from Carolina called Strategies and Techniques on Teaching Law.   Another book I've recommended and used isn't one I'd put front and center on your desk-the title is Teaching What You Don't Know--but it addresses a problem that's pretty common for anyone starting to teach a survey course in any field--you can't be equally familiar with every topic.     These sources can be a starting point for getting together as a faculty or even a small group of friends to identify things you'd like to be doing in the classroom and that you can help each-other achieve through peer observation.

Posted by Jennifer Bard on September 27, 2017 at 10:12 PM | Permalink


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