A School Leader’s Perspective on Teacher Evaluations

Accountability is the latest buzzword in education. Usually it’s viewed as a good and necessary thing. But when accountability is directly linked to things you can’t control or becomes purely punitive, it can paint a picture that isn’t realistic.

via Jacob Bøtter @ Flickr Creative Commons

via Jacob Bøtter @ Flickr Creative Commons

A few years ago, the state of Indiana raised the bar on teacher evaluations. Most schools adopted the RISE evaluation model in it’s entirety. Teachers were held “accountable” for student state test scores. Initially, most were nervous but welcomed the feedback that a more intensive evaluation system would bring. Only after they realized that they system was full of flaws did they begin to lose faith in the process.

I wanted to clarify some things about teacher evaluations from the perspective of an administrator who has had the opportunity to sit and observe numerous classrooms and has had several great and even tough, yet productive conversations with staff. Parents and community members, regardless of what school they call home, need to understand three things about healthy teacher evaluations.

1. The goal isn’t to fire teachers. I personally feel that the news media has not done justice to schools in portraying the true purpose of a good evaluation system.

Witch hunts sell and bring viewers. To say we’re going after the “bad” teachers sounds great in theory. But the message didn’t have the affect they thought it would. All it did was send the great educators scrambling to jump through hoops. The poor teachers might have changed for a short time, but no lasting change was made for them.

The goal of a strong evaluation system isn’t to fire teachers. It’s to strengthen them.

We want all teachers, regardless of their strengths or weaknesses to continually sharpen their educational sword. I’ve found that a teacher only knows what he/she knows. Very few, contrary to political banter, are so stuck in their ways that they are detrimental to student learning. Most of these teachers  would improve if someone just took the time to pour into them rather than threaten them with termination.

2. The good teachers are already doing everything RISE requires. I’m finding this out every single day. If anything, it is asking them to do MUCH more documenting of what it is that they are already doing. For many, this has proven burdensome and a distraction. Evaluators can try to minimize this as much as possible, but it is impossible to relieve them from this load completely.

The excessive documentation isn’t necessary. The best teachers LOVE to tell me what they’re doing in their classroom. They invite me to drop by at specific times to check out new projects or lessons. Their excitement is contagious so I almost always drop by their rooms to see what’s up.

If I had the power to change the corresponding laws, I would allow more freedom with the over-burdensome documentation of evidence, especially for those teachers who are doing a stand-up job.

3. Teachers are shining brighter than ever before. I have seen it with my own eyes. They are getting to work early and staying late. They are making phone calls, collaborating on lesson plans, attending professional development opportunities, and involving parents more than ever before.

They want to succeed, and so they are heavily invested with their time, their finances, and their emotions. During celebrations, the smiles are bigger. During trying days, the tears seem heavier. And most encouraging of all, their camaraderie is more genuine…not only with those in their school, but across school and district lines.

Conclusion

So while the system is far from perfect, I definitely feel it has made both teachers and administrators rethink about the purpose of teacher evaluations. In my mind, it’s to help every teacher improve his/her skill to the benefit of students.

Teachers don’t get enough credit when great things are going on, and I fear they receive too much blame when things go wrong. I’ve encouraged my staff to not let their highs get too high, but also not let their lows get too low.

Teaching, in the scheme of a student’s education career, is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a team sport, not a solo run. No matter how many flaws the evaluation system has, as long as the administrator and teacher have a great relationship and are able to communicate openly and honestly with one another, then real improvement can certainly happen.

QUESTION: If you were a school administrator who is performing an observation on a teacher, what is the first thing you would look for?

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