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Springtime Evaluations Offer a Glorious Opportunity

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Along with the increasing evidence that spring is arriving, end of year activites loom. A decision point presents itself. How are we going to walk these last days of this school year? How are we going to lead through the end of year assessments, tests, decisions about promotion, decisions about scheduling teachers, and the evaluations? 

At the very beginning of their book, Rosamond Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander cite a story: 

A shoe factory sends two marketing scouts to a region of Africa to study the prospects for expanding business.   One sends back a telegraph saying,

SITUATION HOPELESS STOP NO ONE WEARS SHOES

The other writs back triumphantly,

GLORIOUS BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY STOP THEY HAVE NO SHOES  (p.9)

In this season, especially, we become aware of possibility.  This season offers us an opportunity to take stock of the morale of the building, the students, the teachers and staff, and take stock of the morale of the community.  We look carefully to see what is emerging. Do we nurture it or pull it? Now, as the school year accelerates to the end via testing and evaluations and budget votes, rest assured it is not too late.

Evaluation is a bear.  For many, we are amidst the implementation of  a new format with its emphasis on "how to",  often greater than on "why." In what direction will you place your gaze?  There are deadlines, and forms, and meetings.  There are evidence collections and calculations. Whether we view this time as a "glorious opportunity" or hopeless will foretell how it is received. 

We may be beseeched with demands from outside our walls, but we cannot be mandated to feel and act in a certain way.  The Zanders write about the impact of evaluation on his students at the Conservatory, "Students would be in such a chronic state of anxiety over the measurement of their performance that they would be reluctant to take risks in their playing" (p.27). We know that we have teachers and students, both, who react similarly.

The glorious opportunity is now. Thinking about the conversations with faculty and staff now, as the evaluation process is in full gear, can set the beginning of a new journey.  Not a big shift, more like a rudder, unseen but causing the shift into a new direction. Before those conversations can begin, we have to ask ourselves:

  • What is my purpose in having this conversation?
  • What do I know?
  • What don't I know?
  • What do I need to find out? 
  • How can I make the conversation meaningful to the person with whom I am speaking?

For many, after completing the evaluation form, the meeting is a perfunctory task to be checked off a long list of things to be done. And, the meetings are often scheduled before those five questions are asked and answered. This is understandable because of the perceived or real time crunch.  And, also understandable, since this evaluation process results in a rating, it is difficult to have feedback accepted as a route to improvement. Coaching, encouraging, and even prodding teachers toward a new practice, ending in a rating, is counterintuitive.  Even without the rating, it has been found to be less that effective. Bob and Megan Tschannen-Moran's write, "Although it is tempting to tell people how to do things better, to make them practice, and to reward their progress, such "tell-and-sell" approaches fail to inspire and leverage the best of human learning and functioning" (p.9).

So what can change this spring?  Consider having different conversations, at least with some of the faculty, and set the stage for the upcoming year. There are two of you in these conversations, after all, since feedback is a two way exchange. And doors may open, if not for the teacher, maybe for the leader in the conversation.  Perhaps, while meeting with the faculty and revealing to him or her our summative evaluation of the year, we asked them what facets of teaching and learning they think needs to be a focus in all classrooms next year in order for the all students to show improvement. In so doing, we are calling their attention toward all students and away from their classroom if only for that moment. Listening is empowering. The collection of that data will help to inform your focus for the year ahead. It will help nudge the evaluation meeting ever so slightly toward becoming a conversation in which both parties are listeners and share an investment in the work.

This is a time to remember that the call to accountability, through the evaluation process has its roots in the belief that we can do a better job at improving instruction. The improvement of instruction has its roots in wanting students to be better at learning. The intent is accountability and improvement.  Our intent is to do that better than we have, and to do it with heartfelt honor for the work being done.  Just as those who have tried to improve education by throwing money at a problem and have failed, we will fail if we simply try harder at doing the same thing...or trying new things in a perfunctory fashion. We can make this our "glorious opportunity" even if there are no shoes.

Resources:
Tschannen-Moran, Bob & Megan (2010). Evocative Coaching:  Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time. San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass
Zander, Rosamund Stone; Zander Benjamin (2000). The Art of Possibility:  Transforming Professional and Personal Life. Boston:  Harvard Business School Press

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