A blog following teacher Aaron Jura as he plans engaging, yet relevant English Language Arts content for High School students in New Orleans, LA.
When reading these reports (see link buttons below), I was struck with a line in the Aspen Institute’s Roadmap to Improvement reading. The Aspen Institute said that current evaluator training and certification programs “… send the message that the main purpose of evaluation is to rate teachers, rather than support their professional growth.” I’m sure many classroom teachers could agree with this claim as the current state of teacher evaluation in the state. Even on a teacher level, colleagues will often focus on the rating as opposed to focusing on the feedback given. Getting anywhere near a reflective practice will require changes in the ways that leadership and educators in the classroom view evaluation and observation. The reflective nature of observation and evaluation is also highlighted in the principles listed in the CCSSO report titled Principles for Teacher Support and Evaluation Systems. The first principle listed sums up the main issue that the purpose of evaluation and observation must be better defined and tied to student achievement AND professional growth. Getting to a place where teachers feel supported through evaluation and observational feedback is an important goal. In order to increase buy-in and in some cases re-legitimize the profession as a profession and not merely a job is an important element too.
In my experience, there is a clear management gap that must be addressed at the leadership level in order to focus on selling any new observation or evaluation tool. Managing people is very difficult and does not come naturally to some people. I have observed nearly every leader I have ever worked with struggle to communicate with classroom teachers about observational feedback. The leader often presents as timid or overly aggressive and ultimately unfocused on the ultimate goal of professional development.
Student achievement can be positively impacted through effective observational feedback that directly relates to improving teaching practice. Also, doesn’t it just make sense to directly tie the feedback to the student’s ultimate success? Most teachers do what they do because they believe in their students and want to see them succeed. If the conversation is moved toward students and away from the hypercritical teacher centered rating I would say that the messaging issue relating to this being about the students and their success and not merely on the educator and their perceived challenge areas.
Fairness, credibility, and transparency would be my next area of interest. When I worked for General Electric in management many of the elements of an employee’s observation were available for viewing and analysis by the team. It shouldn’t be scary to share about your evaluation and observational feedback. I think that celebrating student achievement could be the focus of PD’s – discussing solid classroom practices that increase critical thinking while also positively impacting engagement. This is where I think that peer groups or professional learning communities (PLCs) could be a big asset to a refined evaluation model. A well implemented PLC program could be very beneficial when refocusing back to reflective practice and performance improvement. Colleagues can be a huge asset to improving teacher performance and nurturing/fostering an environment where that is celebrated would help educators and also leverage the highly effective qualities of others to improve our own performance in the classroom.
We ask students to constantly reflect on things and to consider new possibilities. I believe that teachers should be consistently engaged with doing the same thing about their own practices to positively impact student achievement. In the Aspen Institute report I was also struck with how they described how a prescriptive plan for improvement would be more effective to better develop teacher professional growth. I think this could be a very interesting way to use a Professional Growth Plan (PGP). In a perfect scenario, the PGP would be formed with the observer as a focus area for teacher improvement. Based on previous observations or evaluation information, feedback from PLC group, and self-reflections teachers could work with their evaluator to monitor and improve teacher effectiveness. This would of course look differently in every setting, but I think some fluidity at the local level could allow the PGP to be a tool for student achievement and at the same time be a conversation point or focus area for the teacher and evaluator throughout the year.
Addressing the guiding question, I believe that the stigma of evaluation needs to be addressed and many people in leadership roles need to be better versed in the objective of the evaluation. If the evaluation/observation is used to encourage teachers to do better for their students and their future students, then the evaluation system can be used as a level for improving student achievement. Secondly, I think that addressing this messaging concern could also help to make the experience for new teachers and those who are veterans more rewarding. By encouraging improved performance for students through reflective critique and peer support systems we could also impact the severe problem of teacher retention. Elevating the job of teaching to the profession of educating is a message I believe anyone in the field can get behind.
Here are links to the articles I referenced in the post:
Mr. J is a high school teacher in New Orleans, Louisiana. Mr. J believes in the power of educators to help children and families achieve. Follow his blog for tips and techniques to keep engagement high and student achievement at the forefront.