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Teacher Talk on Teacher Evaluations

When I reflect on my past teaching experience and evaluation process, I truly had no idea exactly what my principal wanted from me. In turn, I found myself playing it safe, teaching an easy lesson, a familiar lesson. Maybe even one I had already practiced with them so the students would pick it up quickly and not seem confused or ask too many questions. Making me seem like the perfect teacher! But did this process really improve my teaching? Not at all. I should have aimed for lessons that challenged the children, I should have welcomed those questions and been prepared for them to take the lesson where it needed to go. In all honesty, evaluation became a process that felt to me like a “gotcha” instead of a true growth instrument. Much like that feeling one gets when a cop pulls up behind you. Even though you are not doing anything, most people get a nervous feeling of being caught or not doing something right. This is the same feeling I would get when the principal walked into my room. Looking back, my evaluations failed to recognize any excellence or mediocrity and began to represent a missed opportunity for giving me valuable feedback that could have helped improve my practice. Thankfully, today, most states are making significant changes to how teachers are evaluated.

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We all know why we have evaluations: to ensure teacher quality.

But there’s another purpose to teacher evaluation that gets overlooked far to often: to promote professional learning. Teacher evaluations typically serve this more developmental purpose through professional conversations between teachers and administrators.

Our commitment to professional learning at SchoolStatus is important, not because we believe teaching is of poor quality and must be “fixed,” but rather because it is such a tough profession we believe we can always find ways to improve on one’s practice through effective evaluations and meaningful, interactive conversations. No matter how great a lesson or teacher is, there is always room for improvement and growth. As educators we must make a commitment to be involved in a career-long quest to improve practice.

So how do we ensure teacher quality while promoting professional learning? How do we produce valid and reliable results? And how do we turn evaluations into meaningful growth instruments that don’t feel like an “I gotcha” moment educators come to fear instead of welcome?

Consider the typical observation:

  • Administrator enters classroom and observes a lesson.
  • The administrator takes notes.
  • The administrator uses notes to write up evaluation.
  • The administrator leaves evaluation in mailbox or sends electronic copy.

It’s important to note that in this scenario, the administrator is doing all the work and the teacher is completely passive. Sure the teacher taught the lesson but contributes nothing to the observation itself. So, it’s not surprising teachers don’t find this process valuable or supportive of their learning. In reality this process violates everything we know about learning – the learning is done by the learner through a process of active intellectual engagement.

If we want valid and reliable teacher evaluations that teachers find meaningful and from which they can learn, we must use a process that engages teachers in activities that promote learning – namely self–assessment, reflection on practice, and professional conversation.

Consider the following scenario.

  • The administrator enters the classroom and observes a lesson.
  • The administrator submits a copy of all the notes with evaluated levels of performance.
  • The teacher reflects on the evaluations and will begin to identify strengths and weaknesses and prepares to discuss all areas.
  • The teacher and administrator can discuss the lesson through professional comments added to the evaluation instrument using our program, Feedbak.

You can see that using a well designed evaluation can fill our gaps in several ways. The teachers gain information through the formal scoring and feedback routines of our program, this evaluation encourages teachers to be generally more self-reflective regardless of the evaluated criteria, and this process creates more opportunities for professional conversations about effective practices.

In the past, too much attention was focused on identifying and removing poor teachers. But with teacher shortage everywhere, we need to focus on investing in our teachers now and identifying a system that supports continuous improvement, both for individual teachers and the profession as a whole. It’s time to enhance teacher learning and skill, while at the same time ensuring the teachers who are retained and tenured can effectively support student learning throughout their careers. Support for teacher learning and evaluation needs to be a part of an integrated whole that promotes effectiveness during every stage of a teacher’s career.

“No matter how good you think you are as a leader, my goodness, the people around you will have all kinds of ideas for how you can get better. So for me, the most fundamental thing about leadership is to have the humility to continue to get feedback and to try to get better – because your job is to try to help everybody else get better.”

– Jim Yong Kim
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Melissa Ladner brings her expertise as a classroom teacher to her work at SchoolStatus. You can find her on the road almost any day of the week visiting schools and training in the amazing tools SchoolStatus creates for educators. Check them out here! 

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