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Evaluations and the Feedback Shift

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Guest Blogger Lindsey Childers has been an elementary school principal at Indian Hills Elementary School and for the 2013-2014 school year will transition into a district-level curriculum specialist/primary assistant principal position.

"Good job!" "Nice lesson!" "Students look like they are having fun!" Are these comments that you have written down on an evaluation instrument over the years? Or how about "students aren't engaged" or "work on your class behavior"? We have all been evaluated multiple times in our careers as educators and, sadly, the majority of the feedback we have received has been similar to these examples. As teachers, we know the importance of feedback in the success of our students; however, we have not been given much of that feedback to improve our success as professionals. As Kentucky continues to develop its policy around education, we have adopted a new evaluation system that will change those comments and conversations in order to really help in the improvement of professional practice.

In an effort to really hear the voice of the practicing teacher, Kentucky has decided to implement the new evaluation system (Professional Growth and Evaluation System or PGES) in steps by piloting the instrument in various districts across the Commonwealth. After this first wave of exposure, changes were made and the pilot group was increased to reach more teachers and more districts in order to judge its effectiveness and continue to improve in areas that were a concern. We are working towards a full state implementation of this new system. During this pilot process, I have talked extensively with a variety of teachers involved in this stage of implementation to really understand what is working and what needs work. Although there are areas that are still a concern, one overwhelmingly successful piece to this new system has been the shift to effective feedback.

With our new system, the focus is on what is seen or heard in the classroom. Instead of "taking notes" as evaluators are accustomed to doing, they are "scripting evidence". This shift is one that requires a great deal of training on the part of the evaluator as well as those being evaluated. As we continue to prepare for full implementation, we have to be aware of the changes that will be significant and begin to shift our mentalities and practices accordingly. When discussing the change in feedback with other teachers, I have seen and heard an overall appreciation for this change. "It's nice to know that the conversations I have with my principal will focus on the facts of a lesson and not the opinion of the person completing my observation," says Deena Smith, kindergarten teacher at Trigg County Primary School. Smith goes on to say, "As teachers, we are always our worst critic. If my feedback is based on what is seen and heard in the classroom, I am able to really judge the overall effectiveness of my lesson and look at what changes I would like to make accordingly."

Other teachers in our district's pilot program have made similar statements. Annetta Visingardi, kindergarten teacher at Trigg County Primary School said, "As a classroom teacher, I know what I am trying to get across to my students and sometimes we can get wrapped up in what we want them to learn instead of focusing on how they actually respond to our teaching. By focusing evaluative conversations on what is seen and heard in the classroom, I can see what my students actually take away from a lesson and isn't that the most important part of our job?"

This is a shift that will definitely take some practice for administrators and teachers alike, but the overall teacher voice has been a positive one when looking at the feedback shift. We all have a great opportunity to continue to prepare for this process by really analyzing the feedback we give our students. Remember, feedback is only effective when it focuses on where we are and where we need to go. Only then can we really discover what we need to do to get there.

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