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Teacher and Principal Evaluation: Confidence Builder or Buster?

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New personnel evaluation systems are in place across the nation. They are an attempt to move away from a subjective, comment-based document, to one that is comprehensive and research-based. In the best of cases, leaders have been trained for a few hours on the use of a specifically selected document to capture teacher and principal performance and evaluate all aspects of each teacher's and principal's work throughout the year. Then a calculation results in a word like ineffective, developing, effective, or highly effective.

There are cases where teachers and principals are asked to provide evidence themselves. These evaluations have often been added to the work of the spring. Principals and teachers are focused on the culmination of the learning that took place during the year. Schools are alive with concerts, spring sports, proms, field days, preparing for finals, recovering from the AP exams, and reviewing portfolios and projects and papers. Amidst these rituals of spring, another is now added. The word will come, the label that describes how well each is doing.

The rules have changed. To some degree, evaluations had taken place previously but they were often more casual than substantive. So here we are, in yet another place where we are regulated to do something that we agree needs to happen. This year, not only is the process new to many, but in some instances, the results will become public information. The label is not private between the employer and the employee. It will be known by parents and by students, by our families and friends. Is there a reasonable positive outcome that this might serve, especially now? The systems are new to us. The results can be publically shared. And we are still developing our expertise.

In these early years of implementation, with all the other changes being instituted, meaningful methods for implementing good evaluation are rare. Just like good teaching, formative feedback throughout the year helps steer the teacher's or principal's work toward maximizing their successful practices and minimizing or transforming their less successful practices. Evaluation at the end of the year is not good for students, not good for teachers and certainly not good for principals.

Can an argument be made that a learning institution can be successful in a climate rife with worry, disappointment, disillusionment, helplessness, and stress? We have not seen the book or research to support such a contention. Principals struggle to create environments where children and adults experience success. Confidence begets more success - not an unfounded or dishonest confidence but one supported by data, shared with honest feedback and deliberately engaged dialogue. Yes, evaluation is a confidence builder or breaker.

After a year of work with children, parents, colleagues, professional development that demands the learning of Common Core Standards, shifting topics, and diminishing resources that includes the loss of colleagues, teachers and principals are feeling diminished. Leaders attempt to keep morale high, but wait, the same thing is happening to the principals. They, too, are now measured, in part, not only by the student achievement scores, but by a similar, new, evaluation system that their supervisors just learned...in most cases, for a few hours over the course of the year.

Teachers and principals should be evaluated for their performance and success. It is a worthy use of resources to develop those attributes of our staffs and ourselves that can grow and improve. That is not the challenge. As with everything else we do, the process counts. Since we do not have the time to implement slowly and learn how to do it effectively, the process falls upon the shoulders of the leader (who is also being evaluated in this new way) to conduct the process with compassion and understanding and to establish and maintain the focus on teaching and learning in the building.

Because this process is new, and we are not experts at it, stress has befallen our buildings and districts. Dealing with this stress is not a job for the building leader alone. There is a need for all leaders to show up on the scene. There are teacher leaders who understand exactly the emotional temperature of the building. There are teaching assistants, monitors, secretaries, and even custodians, who know how the building feels and what it needs. This is a time to call upon everyone - a moment in which leadership in its most distributed form must be called upon. No one can do this alone. The waters are uncharted and turbulent. We need all hands in the effort. Our buildings must remain positive and energized in spite of this stressful time.

After all, what we want is for all teachers and leaders to deserve and receive positive recognition as this year ends. Maybe we can add new words of our own "deserving" and "recognized" for their contribution to children. The faculty and principals should be launched into their summer rest, vacations, or work at a different pace, feeling appreciated, while knowing what they do well, what they want to improve, and having time to plan how to accomplish that improvement. Evaluation should not the measure of what we don't do well, it should be a reflection of what we do well and include what we want to do better. Evaluation should be formative, offering assistance along the road to continuously improving our practice. If we leave it to the end, to a word laden with value, we will have spent inordinate hours and days on an activity that is meaningless. Let us make a commitment, that if evaluation is to be done, it should be done well, and that means doing it all year long, not just in May and June. Celebrate what is done well, recognize strengths and target areas that will improve student achievement. But no matter what needs improvement, always remember to recognize the deserving educators who contribute to the lives of children each and every day.

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