Every system is perfectly designed to achieve the results it produces. Think about it – if a system is designed to produce great watches and 10 out of every 100 are defective, then the system as currently constituted is designed to produce great watches 90 percent of the time. You may be asking, what does this have to deal with teacher evaluation? The answer is EVERYTHING!
The teacher evaluation system may not be entirely broke – but it certainly needs some fixing. The system as currently constituted in the vast majority of districts looks well designed from the outside. Most districts have mutually agreed on evaluation instruments (most likely the very high quality frameworks produced by Marzano or Danielson), a set of timelines, a bank of additional documents to support the process, and guidelines on how and when conversations should transpire. All things considered, this is a well-documented and thorough chain of events to guide action.
The problem, however, is that our current system produces two results: completion and compliance. In the effort to ensure completion and compliance, the true purpose of teacher evaluation is lost. The focus is no longer on growth, reflection, and collaboration. The process moves from an opportunity to get better to a process to save your job. Here are four reasons why the teacher evaluation systems in schools must change and change quickly:
- All parties dread the process
- It is not causing substantive teacher growth in most districts
- It is a resource-hungry process that is not often monitored
- Without proper execution, great frameworks are being scapegoated
DREADING THE PROCESS
When administrators simply want to grind through the process and teachers simply want to survive the process – it is doomed for failure. I was working with a district to revamp their practice last year and when the ‘District Office people’ left the room, a brave principal stated – “I spend 100 hours a year or more on evaluation – I just want it to mean something.” It is an awful feeling to be spending countless hours on something you do not believe has meaning or purpose.
Leaders must remember that people do not get burned out from doing work they are passionate about and that is purposeful. The issue is that in education we have somehow changed teacher evaluation from something that has great purpose into a sterile process or hoop to jump through. As a result, the current loses the potential to change adult and thusly children’s lives, and becomes a process that is a joyless grind for all parties involved.
WHERE IS THE GROWTH?
One of my biggest issues with teacher evaluation is that it is often a once-every-two-year process that exists in isolation. A principal and teacher meet to discuss lesson, the lesson occurs, a debrief happens, and then a written form is exchanged. The process begins and ends in two weeks and can be captured in one simple sentence.
Great principals know that the quality of their school cannot exceed the quality of their teachers and they use the formal evaluation process as a catalyst for change and growth. The data and information gathered from that formal process is simply fuel to support embedded and ongoing coaching and development. Without growth, evaluation is a just a process to assess someone’s value to the organization. In that scenario, nobody wins.
I cannot think of many other investments that cost tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of dollars per year (conservatively when you factor in man-hours) that go less monitored. Principals complete an evaluation and send it to District Office, where very often nobody with an educational background even reads them, and then the document is filed away forever. This lack of monitoring not only turns a blind eye to potentially toxic behaviors, it also creates a system where the growth of the evaluator is ignored. Schedules reflect priorities and when senior leaders in an organization cannot be bothered with a process, it shows the level of importance they place upon it.
BLAME THE FRAMEWORK
It is easy to find something to blame when the process is not working. It is also way easier to blame an inanimate object. Think about it – bump your toe, blame the dresser; burn your hand, blame the stove. What is happening in education is people are not enjoying the evaluation process and correspondingly blaming the framework. Most often, that means Mr. Marzano and Ms. Danielson are getting thrown under the bus left and right.
While I personally do not believe any one instrument can capture all things that define excellent teaching, those two frameworks in particular are incredible. If used independent of the evaluation process as a guide for growth, I do not think any teacher would be working diligently to tear down the merits of either. The process becomes so dominated with thoughts of angst, mistrust, and the fight-or-flight mentality that something has to be blamed. As a result, the frameworks are often the scapegoat. I implore everyone to take a step back and appreciate these two frameworks for what they should be – growth tools.
It is easy(ier) to point out what is wrong with the system than it is to suggest solutions to help fix the problem. While this blog post admires the problem, this is only the beginning. This post will serve as the first post in a four part series to help better explore the problems and potential solutions that exist for teacher evaluation systems out there today.
The remaining three posts will be on the following topics.
Post one – The teacher perspective
Post two – The principal perspective
Post three – The superintendent perspective.
Additionally, all of these topics are explored in detail in my new book, Making Evaluation Meaningful. I cannot wait to hear your feedback and to continue working together to improve our education system for all involved.