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2 Professional Learning Elements Essential for Teacher Evaluation

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Stephanie Hirsh

In the rush to develop tools to support new evaluation systems for teachers, let's not underestimate two professional learning designs that are critical to the process.

#1 Feedback

It is important that observers are well prepared to capture data on educator performance accurately. It is more important, though, that they are skillful at providing feedback that will help educators to improve their performance. Quality feedback is essential in conversations about goal setting, instruction, planning, student work, and staff and parent relationships. School systems that allocate resources to data collection should also invest in developing the knowledge and skills that observers and evaluators need to make the data useful for their teachers.

I have overheard too many conversations describing the development of teacher supports that are aligned to teacher evaluation criteria without feedback. Perhaps it is merely so obvious it is overlooked, but it belongs on top of the list. Teachers seeking quality feedback is one of the most important reasons states are investing in new educator evaluation systems. Teachers have reported that they did not receive feedback on their performance and, as a result, did not have accurate information to guide their improvement efforts. Additionally, sustained attention to building high-quality feedback processes into evaluation is a visible reminder that these new systems are clearly about improvement rather than punishment. 

#2 Team Learning

The second often-overlooked source of support is an individual's collaborative learning team. When all educators are members of collaborative learning teams, data and feedback from new evaluation systems are interpreted by and used to support improvement for individuals and teams. Collaborative learning structures ensure that new knowledge and skills are passed from teacher to teacher and classroom to classroom. Educator evaluation data then become one source of information to guide the development of individual and team goals and the learning agenda for the school year.

Within high-functioning learning teams, educators feel comfortable sharing observation data and seeking feedback from colleagues on how to use it to improve. Using student performance and observation data, team members can openly share expertise in areas where they excel and look to others for help in areas where they want to improve. There will be times when educators will require resources beyond what exists in the school, and a professional learning cycle of improvement will help them know when it is the right time to look outside and exactly what they are seeking. Guided by these processes, educators build their collective responsibility and group intelligence, and more students benefit as a result.

While educators will need external support at times to continue their growth, be aware that a powerful resource — the expert resident in your buildings — is already working in your schools and classrooms today. Make sure your systems are focusing on how to leverage that expertise, and your educators will have what they need to respond to new student assessments and new evaluation expectations, embrace opportunities for growth, and demonstrate continuous improvement day by day.  

Stephanie Hirsh

Executive Director, Learning Forward

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