“This year is a mulligan.” The analogy, a golf term to describe a do-over for a shot, is hard to hear from a colleague, and even harder to admit that there is a lot of truth in what they say.
With the pandemic significantly impacting people’s lives and their access to their basic needs, let alone education, now does not feel like the right time to be judging anyone’s efforts.
Even in “normal” times, the effectiveness of educator evaluation systems has been questioned. Below are a few findings from relevant studies that support this stance.
- Cohen and colleagues (2020) found that formal observations cannot capture the intricacies of classroom instruction due to the general nature of evaluation rubric language. These tools are implemented with every classroom in mind, which means they can miss what makes every classroom unique and special.
- Hiebert and Stigler (2017), studying the Japanese approach to professional improvement in comparison to the United States, learned that collaborative discussions focused on teaching – instead of teachers – led to improved theories about effective instruction, a more aligned and adaptive curriculum, a better sense of professionalism among faculty, and a greater dispersion of promising practices throughout the school.
- Hill and Grossman (2013) highlight research that shows content expertise is necessary for facilitating continuous teacher improvement in specific subject areas. Leaders who lack specific content knowledge can help support this process but are often ill-equipped to initially come in and communicate actionable feedback without significant time spent learning about every classroom.
These findings are exacerbated by the reality that everyone feels like a brand-new educator now. Teachers are still trying to determine what is most effective for their students when engaged in online spaces. Leaders are hesitant to observe instruction with the intent to supervise and evaluate with the reasonable concern that it will add more stress to teachers’ lives. Our overall feeling of frustration due to this crisis can lead us to feeling unsuccessful and ineffective, creating more crises.
So instead of evaluations, we are offering teachers ways to capture the artifacts, feelings, and thinking involved with this unique school year. Our state is allowing for flexibility in this area. Yes, we probably have enough on our professional plates to drop everything in this area. Yet this is also an opportunity to capture our experiences and learn from them for future reference; for example, we can learn about facilitating virtual learning if a district has too many inclement weather days next year.
Next are two pathways our teachers may opt for as opportunities to pause, reflect, and potentially renew.
Slide Deck of Artifacts + Reflection
Our district uses Google Apps for Education. The tools offered are used widely in classrooms, by students and teachers. One application, Google Slides, has been popular for delivering lessons in Zoom and Google Meet.
We can use this same tool to organize images, video, classroom anecdotes as well as traditional assessment results to document the school year. Each slide can be dedicated to an aspect of instruction—for example, the domains within a district’s evaluation rubric. These pieces of evidence can be utilized as a starting point for reflection and self-assessment.
For example, in the comment space below each slide, teachers can write a description of why they selected specific artifacts and how they best represent this part of their practice. Below is one slide example, from my own modeling of this process for teachers.
A more complex yet potentially richer learning process is developing a professional portfolio. This is what I am doing for my own work as a leader for the school year.
A portfolio can be what we want it to be: from a basic collection of artifacts and associated reflections (see previous example) to a dynamic space for documenting and sharing ongoing professional inquiry.
In my example, I am developing a portfolio within Schoology. It is a learning management system that has more features and capabilities than Google Classroom. Within my Schoology portfolio, my potential driving question for the year (“How can I lead from a distance?”) is guiding the artifact collection process. It is data to determine if my actions are leading to improved teaching and learning. This is a more authentic yet involved and complex process, and I will present both to faculty as a choice for how they might engage in professional reflection and renewal.
The mulligan analogy is not perfect for our situation. In golf, you do not know you will need a do-over until after your first shot goes off into the woods or in the pond.
The difference here is we know that this year is and will continue to be incredibly challenging. If we can relax a bit with evaluation, we can then create space to support more authentic professional learning and supervision. The system was lacking before 2020. Maybe this is our opportunity to improve it.
Cohen, J., Hutt, E., Berlin, R., & Wiseman, E. (2020). The Change We Cannot See: Instructional Quality and Classroom Observation in the Era of Common Core. Educational Policy, available: https://doi.org/10.1177/0895904820951114.
Hiebert, J., & Stigler, J. W. (2017). Teaching Versus Teachers as a Lever for Change: Comparing a Japanese and a US Perspective on Improving Instruction. Educational Researcher, 46(4), 169-176.
Hill, H., & Grossman, P. (2013). Learning from Teacher Observations: Challenges and Opportunities Posed by New Teacher Evaluation Systems. Harvard Educational Review, 83(2), 371-384.
This post was originally published at https://readbyexample.substack.com/.