It has been a year of great change in Tennessee schools. Revised tenure rules, collaborative conferencing, the beginnings of the transition to Common Core standards have all been new dynamics in public education in the Volunteer State. Obviously one of the biggest and most important changes has been the movement to the new teacher performance evaluation system, known as the Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model (TEAM).

Having every teacher evaluated every year, with half of that performance evaluation based on student outcomes has been a seismic shift in our schools. But with generally excellent educators in our classrooms, and an outstanding instructional rubric as the default evaluation instrument, I contend that this momentous change will also have a monumental positive impact on the consistency and quality of teaching across the state, and therefore lead to improved academic outcomes for students.

In Knoxville, one of the best decisions that we made in this time of transition was to add one more major change into the mix: peer evaluation. As we faced the new reality of annual teacher evaluations, we recognized the need for additional trained observers and evaluators in order to handle the logistical challenge of a then-required minimum four classroom observations per teacher. Out of this necessity, we decided that we would enlist the talent of some of the very best teachers in the Knox County Schools to create a new role: the Lead Teacher. Lead teachers in our school system are strong, effective classroom teachers who have been given additional compensation and release time to participate as part-time observers and evaluators in the new TEAM evaluation system.

I’ll be candid, we don’t have the perfect system yet. We still face some lingering logistical, cultural and practical challenges. However, what we have experienced is that receiving evidence-based feedback on one’s classroom instruction from a respected colleague can be incredibly powerful. The Lead Teacher role requires superior professionalism, maturity and sensitivity; but when it is done well, reflective peer-to-peer conversations about high quality teaching may turn out to be one of the most valuable strategies we have to increase teacher effectiveness and student achievement.

So, just as with the TEAM performance evaluation system itself, we will keep working on implementing, refining and enhancing our Lead Teacher model. In the meantime, through their leadership, hard work and clear focus on developing and supporting their peers, our Lead Teachers continue leading the way toward consistently excellent instruction and enhanced student learning and success.

NOTE: 2012 Tennessee Teacher of the Year and SCORE blogger Byron Booker is a Lead Teacher in the Knox County Schools.