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Teacher Evaluation Systems Based on Trust, Transparency, and Growth

Note: This week's guest posts will be written by members of the YES Prep Public Schools team. Head of Schools Kari Thomas is today's guest poster.

Teacher evaluation is a hot-button topic across the nation, to say the least. The stakes are often high and the results can be contentious. As we addressed our share of teacher evaluation challenges at YES Prep, we realized that, although we needed a way to evaluate teachers, what we really needed was a system that developed teachers in a meaningful, respectful way so that they could effectively serve their students.

Our current teacher development and evaluation system is anchored in our Instructional Excellence Rubric (IER). Our IER serves as the foundation for all of our teacher training and development and represents what we believe about quality teaching. And because we are a mission-driven and values-based organization, it also includes the mindsets and behaviors that we believe are essential for success as a professional in our organization. It is our central tool for teacher growth.

Evaluation is now just one part of a much more comprehensive process focused squarely on teacher development. What has allowed us to get consistently stronger teacher satisfaction results each year is focusing on trust, transparency, and growth in order to ensure that our teachers feel valued and enriched instead of judged.

The following principles for successful teacher evaluation have guided our recent work:

Leaders are coaches. If leaders are swoop-in evaluators a few times per year, teachers are most likely nervous about the experience and rarely grow from those observations. To be truly impactful, evaluators should serve more as instructional coaches.

All leaders at YES Prep who work closely with teachers - school leaders, deans of instruction, instructional coaches, content leaders - are trained on how to coach teachers effectively. For our deans of instruction, the primary evaluators on our campuses, this coaching relationship is essential to the growth of our teachers. Their frequent, often weekly, coaching interactions transform classroom observations and follow-up conversations into valuable growth experiences for teachers rather than rare and impersonal evaluations.

Consistency builds trust. If a teacher doesn't feel that his or her evaluations are fair or if different leaders evaluate differently, the integrity of the process is broken and teachers won't trust the system. For an evaluation rubric to work, all leaders need to understand and apply it in the same way. This is no easy task and requires commitment and resources.

Our approach to creating consistency across YES Prep has been two-fold: district-wide norming and campus-based norming. Leaders across the district gather to participate in co-observations on various campuses and come to an agreement on where a teacher's performance falls on certain indicators on the IER and how they would coach that teacher to improve. We also norm by content area, led by our content leaders, to ensure that evaluators and leaders know what a concept like rigor, for example, means in a middle school math class versus a high school English class. And campus teams, in collaboration with our district's instructional coaches, regularly observe classes together to make sure they are evaluating and coaching teachers consistently.

Open communication is key. We have had many rough patches as we've rolled out new versions of our IER and implemented new pieces of the system, like linking salary to evaluations. (We'll cover this in Friday's post.) The lesson we continually learn is that we have to be completely open about everything and invite our teachers to be completely open in return. If our teachers aren't happy about something, we need to know that, and for them to be happy, they have to know everything - every step, every change, every calculation, every nuance. We also have an online tool that houses teachers' observation and evaluation data, so that the final evaluation data isn't a surprise, but a culmination of the personal progress they and their coaches have been tracking throughout the year.

The common thread linking all of these principles is the idea of building trust with teachers. Whatever your district's system, programming should focus on building relationships between teachers and administrators that provide both the space and the tools for teachers to develop. The result is powerful momentum that pushes teachers, students, and schools forward.

--Kari Thomas

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