Byron's Babbles

Teacher Evaluation & Leading Learning

Evaluation of teacher performance plays a crucial role in educational personnel reform, student performance, and teacher leader development, so it has been an important yet difficult issue to tackle in educational reform. Before the reform efforts of 5-10 years ago, teacher performance evaluation was very teacher task oriented, neglecting contextual performance and student learning. I would call this managing teachers as opposed to leading learning. Previous evaluations of teachers failed to make strict distinction among the three dominant types of evaluation: capability, achievement, and effectiveness. I also believe these evaluations did not take into account the context of the school. These evaluations were a single action being done to teachers as opposed to a process or system created and carried out to support teachers in his or her role of carrying out the vision and mission of their school.

This post is not about how to create a teacher evaluation system, but about why it is so important that we have a great performance evaluation system to SUPPORT our teachers. I believe this is one of those areas where our teachers deserve to be made “first” so we can put our “students first.” Marzano tells us that great evaluation systems develop expertise with specificity. This is so important in enabling our teachers to carry out their role in providing highly effective student learning and growth as part of the learning profile of the school. Additionally, Danielson argues the full value of a high quality evaluation framework is not realized until it is used as the foundation for professional conversations among practitioners as they seek to enhance their skill in the complex task of teaching.

So, let’s talk about those conversations. We are completely overhauling our evaluation process/system for the Hoosier Academies Network of Schools. Leave it to say, there were many gaps in the process (or lack there of) and rubric I inherited. Those that know me very well know that my first step was to form, yes, you guessed it, a “task force.” Let’s touch on that for a moment – I believe task forces are a great way to build leaders. Our teacher evaluation task force is made up 3:1 of teacher leaders. What better way to get leaders ready than actually “doing” the work of leading? This is teacher engagement at its best! We just started our journey this past week with two days of intense conversations, gap analysis, and action planning around the complex task of teaching in our very different and complex context. This was very important to our beginning to develop what Danielson calls, “Developing a common understanding is critical to accuracy, teaching advancement, and the Framework’s impact on students’ core learning.” In my opening statement to our task force I explained this is a very important journey – we must support our teachers so they can be the best they can be for our students.

We are very fortunate to have partners in this journey. To ensure we get this right, we have become a part of the Indiana Teacher Appraisal and Support System (INTASS) project. The INTASS project offers states, districts, and schools support in designing, implementing, and monitoring their teacher evaluation systems. More importantly, by being part of the project we receive training for our teacher evaluators and support for teachers to engage in evaluation and professional growth opportunities. Here’s what I love about this – note it’s all about the teacher. Another great benefit is we get get to take this journey with two great educational leaders who I greatly respect, Dr. Sandi Cole and Dr. Hardy Murphy. I believe one of the most important points, among many great points, Dr. Cole got our teachers to understand last week was making the mindset shift that teacher evaluation is not something done “to” teachers, but done with teachers to provide professional growth and support for all of our teachers. Dr. Murphy drove home the fact that our performance evaluation system must enable our teachers to effectively carry out the vision and mission of the school. 

The INTASS process rests on four basic elements of a quality evaluation plan: 

  1. Clear, frequent, and transparent communication among a wide base of stakeholders
  2. Professional practice measures that are mutually agreed upon by stakeholders 
  3. Multiple measures of student learning outcomes
  4. Fully aligned post-evaluation processes, including job-embedded professional growth and support for all educators.

My friend and author of Under New Management, Dr. David Burkus would argue that we need to change from the old systems of evaluation where there is one big formal annual evaluation to a more frequent, less formal process. Our friends at INTASS would agree and so do our teachers. Our teachers on the task force told us loud and clear that they wanted feedback often that was meaningful and actionable. Including teachers’ growth and development in more check-ins would allow administration and staff more time to talk about opportunities – novel idea! Teachers could also examine their current role and their desired career path and then receive advice on the knowledge, skills, and abilities they need to improve in their current role and to move closer to the future they envision for themselves and how that personal vision aligns with the school’s vision and mission. This is a contrast to the rearview-mirror perspective provided by most annual reviews, including our own that I would give an “F,” but we are fixing. These more frequent discussions about the teacher’s growth and development allows all to brainstorm on staff goals and how they align with the school’s strategy. These more frequent observations and conversations help teachers own their career and development plan and feel more empowered to grow. This growth will, in turn, enable effective leading of learning for our students. 


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