A few weeks ago I published a blog post (found here) lamenting reasons why teacher evaluation must change. The issue is compelling.
BUT – nobody wants to only hear about what is wrong with something. In our district, we refer to this behavior as “admiring the problem.” And while that is easy to do, as educators and leaders, we need to be in the solutions business – not the problems business. So, this post and the others to follow in my blog series do just that: they focus on solutions.
This entry explores the most complex of the solution areas when it comes to fixing what ails teacher evaluation. This area is complex because it does not make intuitive sense. This post will discuss what teachers – yes, teachers – can do to improve the evaluation system. If you are still struggling to wrap your head around the concept that teachers can improve the teacher evaluation process – that is precisely the problem. The problem exists when teachers, principals, and other educators view the teacher evaluation process as something done to the teacher – instead of with them.
This post will examine three quick, free changes that teachers can choose to try to ensure that their evaluation process improves and helps guide them to personal and professional growth.
Mindset Shift – Know the Data
So, when I talk with teachers and encourage them to relax when it comes to the teacher evaluation process – I often get death stares. My next step is to hit them with data. The perception is that when the ‘new generation’ of intensified teacher evaluation ushered in by the widespread adoption of the Danielson Framework occurred, many more teachers faced negative consequences or poor evaluation ratings as a result. This is simply not the case.
Most states report that 95 percent or more of their teachers rate Proficient or better each year. Some states this data is higher and some marginally lower, but 95 percent is a fairly accurate bar for teachers to consider.
The questions still remains, however, why should this data help ‘improve’ teacher evaluations? One of the biggest issues is that the reason cited for teacher evaluation not leading to teacher growth is the fact growth and employment security are conflated in the current system. The truth is – it will always be. Teacher evaluation is the best, most systematic approach schools have to work toward improving the practice of teachers. If teachers can make the mindset shift and cross the mental hurdle to understand this – perhaps by internalizing that for 95 percent of teachers, evaluation is legitimately about growth, not preserving employment, the system has a real chance to improve.
Ask the Appropriate Questions
Let’s tell the truth – for the majority of teachers the best part of teacher evaluation is the handshake signifying the end of the process. When we seek the end of something as our reward, the best elements of the journey are lost. And often, we seek to shortcut that journey whenever possible. This is how most educators have approached teacher evaluation:
- Administrator underprepared – YES! Shorter post-conference.
- Administrator says I did a great job – YES! Be quiet; it looks like I am on my way to a good rating.
- Administrators points out a few areas for growth – OK, let’s get out of here before it becomes a bloodbath.
This attitude and mindset inhibit the process from doing what is intended – fueling teacher improvement. If asked at every observation and evaluative conference, these three simple questions will serve to focus the conversation on growth, progress, and improvement. As a note – scripting these questions helps to ensure that the anxiety of the moment does not lead to forgetfulness and it also helps to maintain a focus on growth – even when the instinct to ‘get through’ the conversation emerges.
- In which area have I grown since a past observation/evaluation?
- In which area have I stagnated as a professional in the past year?
- If you had to pick one area in which I could improve that would have the greatest impact on my overall performance, what would it be?
You know that first day back at the gym after a long layoff? It is really uncomfortable. So is the next day, and the next, but eventually it gets better and it is something you look forward to (or at least tolerate) because you understand the benefits of the action you are taking. Well, videotaping your teaching and co-conferencing collaboratively an extremely similar process. Difficult and uncomfortable to start – but if you stick with it, rapid improvement follows.
In my opinion, video co-collaboration is the holy grail of teacher evaluation and it is HOW we will eventually shift the focus of the process to growth. Sound crazy? This, I believe, will be the norm for teacher evaluation in 2025. But, right now this is anything but the normal, expected practice.
It takes a teacher with confidence, initiative, and an insatiable desire to grow to embark on this before it becomes the ‘new fad’ or mandated from above. While many Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) prohibit this from taking place during a formal evaluation, a teacher always has the opportunity to move forward and conference on their teaching in a non-evaluative setting if the red-tape is interfering.
Teachers have the ability to positively impact their own evaluation experience. It is absolutely true that evaluation can be stressful. That said, teachers have a fundamental choice to make: survive the process or drive the process.
It is unfortunate that it is sometimes left to teachers to turn to the evaluation process from meaningless to meaningful, but it is a reality we must face. So, teachers, this is my plea to you. This process has too much potential to be left unrealized – please make these changes to drive evaluation change. Choose You! Choose Growth.
My next three posts will be on the following topics:
Post three – The principal perspective
Post four – 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.