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Evaluation Season: Do You Calculate or Motivate?

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Teacher and principal evaluation season arrives with springtime. Evaluation season, unlike springtime, is rarely a time of excitement and color and new life. But, it is important to remember we can make a choice about how to approach the evaluation season. Perhaps, that choice may change the way the season is experienced, moving from a deficit model that focuses on what isn't, to one of what is and what can be.

The objections to one time standardized tests being used to evaluate a student's achievement parallels the objections to one time standardized measure to evaluate a teacher's or principal's performance.  The combination of coaching, feedback, and formative assessment is a sure way to improve student performance even on the standardized tests. A growing group of teachers and leaders are even piloting replacing grades with coaching and feedback. Author Mark Barnes has written Assessment 3.0  Throw Out Your Gradebook and Inspire Learning. He also manages a Facebook page and a Twitter chat (#TTOG) Teachers Throwing Out Grades, dedicated to this idea, bringing professionals together to share their thoughts and experiences as they work to move away from a focus on grades towards a focus on development and growth.

It seems upside down to move forward with the assessment of students if we remain in the frozen past with our teacher and principal evaluations. No matter the mandate, how the evaluation process is approached and used is what makes the difference.  The tool may remain the same but the approach can change. Changing from measuring and reporting using methods that have worked until now is not easy. Education is at an important juncture. The attitude with which learning and evaluation take place will contribute to the impact on success. Encouragement, focused feedback, with targeted interventions work with students, teachers, and principals all.

Is the purpose of the evaluation to measure a place on a continuum of professional achievement on which one resides OR to identify strengths and areas for improvement that result in more successful learning for students? Is the evaluation process focused on what is missing OR what is possible? Is the evaluation process meant to set a mark OR inform the direction of the journey toward higher capacity and success? Is the focus on where folks stand or in how they can improve? The decision is a local one. The attitude with which evaluation is approached is a personal choice.

The difference is not found in the evaluation tool.  It is found in how the leader and the evaluated, whether principal, teacher, or student, feels about the process as it is implemented. There is a difference between a focus on standing as opposed to encouragement.  At this time, who would accept a student receiving a mark at the end of the year that had no evidence to support it?  And if it were a grade less than expected, wouldn't we wonder why there wasn't help along the way to make the goal of mastering the learning more attainable?  These expectations also apply to the work done with the professionals in the building.

This may be a time of frustration and rushing to finish observations and complete evaluations, but if it is, let this be the last time that is so. Evaluation time can become more like springtime, if the seasons of the school year are learning seasons. Springtime can be a time of assessing the field and planting the seeds for next year's crop of new learning.  The summer can be a time of rest and professional renewal while new thinking and learning may develop in a less pressurized setting and in personal way...if chosen.  The fall becomes the time where some reaping begins as new thinking or practices appear. And as the winter takes over, conversations, reflections, encouragement, ongoing learning, and interim measures are key as the new practices take hold. As winter fades, and springtime begins again, everyone knows where the bulbs have been planted and expecting them to pop up in the colors everyone knows, because they are the ones who planted them. No surprises. Spring arrives and the garden of professional practice is viewed as it is and celebration and planning begins its natural cycle again.

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