I am not defending poor teaching. Far from it.
I don’t want the lazy or incompetent or worse in my calling.
But do evaluations need to be geared to the lowest common denominator?
Last week I wrote about poorly-conceived and poorly-orchestrated teacher evaluations.
In brief, there are numerous shortcomings with teacher evaluations (from my experiences) not the least of which is a faulty beginning premise by many evaluators: If the students do not make the grade (whatever that may be or however it may be determined), the teacher is to “blame.”
How about this real-life medical metaphor: I have a friend who had knee surgery recently. This person did NOT follow the disciplined post-surgical exercise regimen prescribed by the surgeon needed to properly heal. Result: Slow recovery; pain; limited mobility. Is the doctor to blame?
Yet, in our society, there are many who will readily point to the teacher as the problem. It does not matter if the student followed the educational prescription or not—the teacher has to defend against nonfeasance, misfeasance or malfeasance.
I am not defending poor teaching. Far from it. I don’t want the lazy or incompetent or worse in my calling. But do evaluations need to be geared to the lowest common denominator?
Unfortunately, political agendas lead to little more than one collective monologue after another.
Here is my shortlist for supervisors to move them toward more effective teacher evaluation:
- TRUST AND AUTONOMY. Without trust there never will be an effective evaluative tool. Period. It requires excellent and common sense leadership to nurture and build this culture. Part of this component requires that the leader motivate his/her faculty by allowing autonomous development.
- MASTER TEACHERS. Only true master teachers should have the privilege to evaluate a teacher. Not a bureaucrat. Just because everyone at one time or another has been in a classroom as a student (or taught years ago or sat in on a focus group), that does not make them effective teachers or evaluators. A supervisor who can develop a tight schedule of classes and teaching assignments is not necessarily competent to judge a teacher.
- MEASUREMENT. Develop a tool that measures TEACHING. Not committee work; not clerical work; not administrivia. Actual teaching with students. Include areas that add value to the calling (research, writing, publication, creative endeavors and the like). But be mindful of what you SAY you are measuring and what you really REWARD (or PUNISH).
- MENTORING. Reduce the evaluation load of supervisors. If a supervisor has to evaluate 40 teachers plus carry out a myriad of other administrative duties, he will not be able to mentor teachers as needed.
- ENGAGEMENT. Speaking of mentoring….Engage and support teachers in meaningful professional development—and let them have a say in what that development will be.
- BIG PICTURE. Supervisors need to do what they can to make observations a priority. Observe teachers many, many times during the academic term. Participate for the entire class period and come at different times of the day (e.g., an early morning class and an afternoon class).
- Side note: I know (again from experience) that some contracts make it difficult for ad hoc visits. Again, I believe this goes back to a culture of trust replacing an environment of fear, retribution and mistrust. Tall order.
- As soon as possible after each visit, sit with the teacher and discuss the observation. I can hear the protests that this is not practical. Sorry. If you want effective communication and relationship building, make it practical. Period. If evaluation is truly a tool for professional development (and not a “gotcha!” or one more thing to check off the bureaucratic checklist) it MUST become a priority item in fact—not just in lip service. For another take on this, see Bill Gates’ op-ed piece in the New York Times (2/22/12).
- Encourage meaningful student input into the evaluative process. Anonymous drive-by evaluations are of little use (IMHO). Anybody can post a flaming or praiseworthy note and not sign it. It takes courage to own feedback. Without identification, I find it of little value.
Video recommendation for the week:
Daniel Pink speaks about Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.
Teachers need to be proactive as well. One of my few effective supervisors (thank you, Joe Davis!) advised me long ago to keep an ongoing portfolio of my evaluation-worthy activities. Toward that end I suggest teachers consider the following:
- TRUST. See my first note on the list above. Faculty have an important role in this evaluation process as well. Be daring; be bold; be vulnerable.
- SHARE. Invite your supervisors in often. I have invited supervisors and board members into my classroom. My message: I am proud of what we (my students and me) do in the classroom—come visit! Keep a log of the visits. Keep copies of any pertinent emails (invitations and thank you notes for instance).
- PORTFOLIO. Maintain an ongoing file/folder/large envelope in which to place notes, letters, copies of emails, conference papers, conference programs, invitations, and student thank you notes (maintain confidentiality of the student; think FERPA).
- CONTRIBUTIONS. Keep copies of any authored and/or published materials. In fact, as you contribute to the profession (curriculum development, program presentations, webinars, articles, books, blogs, and videos) make sure to provide your supervisor with complementary copies/links.
- COLLABORATION. Visit (sit in on) colleague classroom presentations. Collegial collaborations and collegial collisions can be more valuable than any formal tool. What can you adapt for use with your students? Log what you have learned and applied.
- COLLISIONS. Invite colleagues into your classroom. Ask for meaningful feedback.
- COMMUNITY. Become part of a community program on which you can speak or facilitate a conversation (this is a community-based example of your teaching skills).
- EDUCATION. Enroll in and complete course work at a local college. Maintain a record of your transcripts and noteworthy class projects.
- CONNECTION. Know the mission and goals of your school (or district). Show evidence of how you make the worthy principles part of your teaching activities.
Teaching is my calling. I am proud to be a teacher. We (me and my teaching colleagues) can all grow—and thus improve the calling. It is too important to leave to chance or bureaucratic ineptitude.
Hug a teacher—again—this week. ♥
Choose well. Live well. Be well—and H.T.R.B. as needed!
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Make it a wonderful week!
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