PAR: Increasing teacher retention and effectiveness and boosting student achievement
You stand at the front of the room, 30 students sitting before you -- some fidgety, some focused, some laughing with their friends. You studied for this moment. You moved to this area for this opportunity. It is the first day of school and your first day as a teacher -- not just in Baltimore County, but anywhere. But you are less nervous than you expected to be, and a big reason for your unexpected confidence is the support you know you will receive all year from the Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) program.


PAR provides standards-based mentorship and assessment of teachers by teachers. "The program began in 1981 in Toledo, Ohio, and it quickly gained traction around the nation," explains Jennifer Dunkle, a supervisor in the Office of Organizational Development and a PAR program manager for BCPS. The other program manager is Joelle Skorczewski, a hiring officer in the Department of Human Resources.

Before joining Organizational Development, Dunkle taught second grade for seven years and was a teacher mentor and then an assistant principal. "It has been very rewarding," she says, "to take what I know about mentoring and transfer it to the PAR program."

Dunkle describes PAR in BCPS as a three-legged stool involving the school system, TABCO (the Teachers Association of Baltimore County) and CASE (the Council of Administrative and Supervisory Employees).

Pivotal role of Consulting Teachers
At the center of PAR is the work of a team of Consulting Teachers. According to Dunkle, "They are teachers who have passed a rigorous interview process and who demonstrate understanding of effective instruction and the ability to coach and develop positive relationships with peers."

Since PAR began in BCPS during the 2013-2014 school year, it has served about 500 teachers each year who were hired without prior professional teaching experience. Beginning this 2015-2016 school year, PAR Consulting Teachers also are working with some BCPS veteran teachers who have been identified as needing additional support.

"The role of the Consulting Teacher is really special," explains Dunkle. "They are involved to increase teacher retention, enhance teacher performance, and ultimately to boost student achievement."

Consulting Teachers meet individually with their client teachers. They come into the classroom to observe and collect data and to provide feedback and support. Often they will work side by side with their client teachers to plan and deliver lessons or offer demonstrations. They do not evaluate teachers, however they provide regular reports and recommendations to a PAR Panel. The PAR Panel determines when a teacher can exit from the program and also if any other actions need to be taken.

While the Consulting Teachers are not based in school buildings, they work closely with principals, S.T.A.T. (Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow) teachers, department chairs, and other school-based personnel as well as with resource teachers in the Division of Curriculum and Instruction.

The Consulting Teachers are trained by a consultant, Dr. Fran Prolman, who helped to establish the PAR programs in Baltimore, Montgomery, and Prince George’s counties.

Consulting Teachers = trusted advisors
"First year teachers are more successful as a result of PAR," says Dunkle. "New teachers have stated that they felt supported and nurtured, and that their beginning year was more effective as a result." In response to a survey last school year, 94 percent of clients agreed or strongly agreed that their Consulting Teachers provided useful resources and strategies.


One client teacher noted. "My Consulting Teacher has given me great advice on how I can grow and further my career through schooling. I now know what I would like to focus on, and I have a better idea of how I am going achieve these goals within the next five years. He has also helped me grow professionally by reviewing my observation summaries with me and suggesting strategies on how I can improve."

Another client teacher said, "My Consulting Teacher has been very open, honest, and respectful to me. Hearing some of the feedback that she had was difficult to hear at times, but appropriate and necessary to my development and professional growth."

Just part of the package of support for new teachers
PAR is just one part of the support that teachers new to BCPS receive. New teacher induction begins with the three-day New Teacher Orientation held each August. This is followed by a Fall Seminar in October. New teachers can register to attend one of three days and to participate in a variety of workshops and sessions on topics such as classroom management, navigating the digital curriculum, maintaining records and parent communications. New Teacher Afterschool workshops usually begin in November, and further explore topics originally offered at New Teacher Orientation.

New teachers can also register for the 3-credit Unraveling the Mysteries of the CIA (curriculum, instruction, and assessment) course. This highly recommended course meets monthly from October through June. The instructors are Consulting Teachers who focus on strengthening participants’ classroom management, lesson planning, and technology integration knowledge and skills.


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