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How Can Students Focus on Learning When Educators Only Care About Grades?

Teacher Rubric.jpgFull disclosure: I am squarely planted in the Teachers Throwing Out Grades movement. That being a given, it is glaring to me that the positive impact on students when offered feedback instead of grades during the learning process is out of synch with the manner in which those very teachers are evaluated.

Why not expect those supervising the faculty to use the same mindset and offer ongoing feedback rather than delivering a grade?

If it is asserted that grades do little to encourage students through development and achievement, then the same rule applies to teacher evaluation. How can satisfactory or unsatisfactory vs highly effective or ineffective possibly communicate what I know and can do in a meaningful way?

It's all about the feedback.

In 16 years of teaching, I almost never got feedback that actually helped me improve. Six years ago, I took it upon myself to apply for National Board Certification just to spend time focusing on my pedagogy and reflecting on what needed to change. Seventy pages of typed reflection later, after watching videos of myself in small groups and whole class discussion, I learned more than anyone has ever taught me about myself as an educator.

This reflective experience is something we owe to our students and administrators owe to teachers. It was invaluable to see that I had challenges with wait time that needed to be addressed. Diligently I worked on strategies to get more students involved in instruction so that they had the best chance of achievement.

My own drive to create the best learning environment possible continues to push me to keep trying until all kids have the learning opportunities they need to reach the same high standards. Turns out they just needed more time to get their thoughts together and opportunities to share ideas. Reticent students have things to say but they often don't' get the chance to say them.

How come none of my administrators never gave me that feedback? I could take it. It would have helped. Instead, I was told that I shouldn't address my class as "guys" and instead should address them as "ladies and gentlemen." One administrator even complained that I sat on my desk, citing my behavior as too informal.

Nonetheless, over the years, I have never received an unsatisfactory rating and the vast majority of my improvement has been a result of my own reflection and time, a de-emphasis on those meaningless ratings, and a deeper understanding of how to improve as a pedagogue and now, leader.

And now as a school leader for a very talented team, I understand and have experienced the inherent conundrum with the APPR and trying to make the evaluation process meaningful. I will NEVER waste the teachers' time that I work with complaining about silly things, only noticings and wonderings that will actually improve student learning.

When new teachers enter the profession, they need an actual mentor (which I was fortunate enough to have, even if she wasn't in my content area) and a coach. They require nurturing like students with regular, timely and specific feedback that addresses one piece of their pedagogy at a time. Too much is overwhelming and can be debilitating and too little can not help enough. Not specific isn't going to help and too late is going to be irrelevant.

Admin, spend time setting goals with your teachers. Agree upon what they want to work on and then visit frequently, looking for the specific areas the teachers set goals on. Provide them feedback beyond "that was good". Try to be specific in where they are applying strategies and if they aren't applying any strategies, provide some for them or put them in touch with another teacher who does it well already who can help.

As education continues to shift, we need to evaluate the long-held systems in place. Grading teachers doesn't make them more effective, constant conversations and snapshot observations will. We can only help improve educators if we take the time to get to know them. Admin, know your teachers. What are you waiting for?

Although time can be an issue, consider using apps like Voxer to provide immediate, short feedback after leaving a teacher's classroom. This walkie talkie app is faster and more personal than using email. Don't wait to write a formal observation. Reach out right after you leave the room. Then teachers can grow, develop, and improve... and in turn, so can students.

How do you provide excellent feedback for the teachers on your team, so they can improve student learning? Please share.

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