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Improving Teacher Practice Through The Evaluation Process

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When it is time for teachers to be observed and evaluated far more than the teacher's performance is under consideration. The observing and evaluating leader has to consider the scope of their own knowledge about what they are observing. Aside from understanding and using the evaluation tool, the observer has to know how to ask open and honest questions, reflect on the answers and offer targeted feedback that aims to improve a practice of the teacher. What further influences the processes are the circumstances that few discuss and yet are at play.

Teacher Morale is a Concern

Schools are in a precarious position when it comes to hiring and retaining teachers.  In some geographic areas around the country it is extremely difficult to find new teachers. So in the back of a leader's mind there lingers a concern that, if a teacher receives a less than stellar evaluation, morale can be diminished or worse, they may choose to leave. Morale is important in a learning environment and there is much that contributes to its becoming diminished including public opinion, continuing disrespect for the profession, criticism of the lack of progress and regulations that sometimes are felt as weighty burdens.

Avoiding courageous conversations is never the antidote for slipping morale. The rubrics that were designed to express the standards that teachers must meet are comprehensive. They are well-rounded, inclusive tools. However, using all of the dimensions, each indicator, or whatever the rubric calls its descriptors, to capture a snapshot in time is truly a challenge.. It takes skill and willingness to successfully engage the teacher in a reflective dialogue about what is done well and how student success can improve if certain teaching behaviors change.

Change is difficult and most humans hold fast to behaviors and patterns. Educators are no different. So the leadership challenge is to understand the tool being used and more than that, to nurture an environment in which the process of observing and evaluating can be spacious enough to include risk taking, honest conversation, and a cultural value for improving practice on behalf of student learning. 

An Example

Things are not always as they seem.  An observer can note that a teacher speaks too quickly, doesn't wait long enough after asking a question, and has their back to the class often as they work on the black or whiteboards. Two types of feedback can follow. The quick one raises the three issues as in need of correction.  That is the morale trouncing type. The other takes more time from the observer. Reflection and thought about what the source of these behaviors might be. That wondering can open a healthy dialogue between the observer and the observed. And a video can help. Watching one's self and doing so with another who is invested in the improvement of your practice is extremely effective. It will be beneficial to the process when videoing the lesson becomes a common practice.

The Power of Good Questions and Courageous Conversations

Absent video, the next available transaction is an observer with the ability to ask questions that contribute to the already established atmosphere of trust in which the effort to improve is a shared value. Questions about the choices made, in this example, about reasons behind choices about teacher talk, wait time, and where the teacher faces can uncover answers that the observer may have no idea about until her questions are answered. Or it can awaken awareness in the teacher about considering the manner in which they act in relationship to their learners.

In the End

Avoiding honest engagement with teachers about their practice, even in an attempt to protect fragile morale, is never the best answer. Yet, it is no small task for a leader to develop the knowledge, skill, and ability to manage the weight of the observation tools while nurturing a healthy learning environment where everyone is growing and students succeed.

Knowing what will make a difference and how to encourage others to engage in the change process is the leaders' responsibility. Side stepping that responsibility in order to maintain the status quo or avoiding a conflict or a downward slide in morale ends with an observation and evaluation process that takes untold hours for no purpose other than accountability. Doing it to improve student achievement in a culture of active learners, children and adults, where encouragement and support are the partners of observation and evaluation, can make the time spent well worth it.

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or Email. 

Illustration courtesy of Pixabay

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