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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Multiple Measures Matter More When They Include Teacher Autonomy

By Peter DeWitt — September 12, 2013 4 min read
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In education, there are things we control and things that we don’t. There has always been some elements out of our control in our profession. The state and federal-led power and control piece is much larger than ever before, which is unfortunate, because we read research (Hattie, 2009) that tells us how important student control over learning is, which means that teacher autonomy over their own professional learning is important as well.

One area in our accountability system that must allow for teacher autonomy is the multiple measures piece of teacher evaluation. Too often it’s easy for administrators to include only the elements they believe are important in multiple measures. They look at student and parent surveys, or want to add in the committees that they believe teachers should join. And unfortunately, they want to leave out teacher goal setting or peer observations, because they think those elements allow teachers to get away with something.

It all comes down to trust. The trust that administrators have for teachers, and the trust that teachers have for their students. Just because we don’t watch someone working every second of their day, doesn’t mean that those moments we don’t see are filled with lounging around eating Bon Bons. Perhaps I’m an optimist but I always go with the assumption that adults (and children) are always doing the right thing...until they prove otherwise.

Teachers have spent years practicing their craft, they have advanced degrees, and they have a voice. We would be better to listen to those voices. True and authentic multiple measures allow for that.

What Are Multiple Measures?
Multiple measures are those pieces to teacher and administrator evaluation that I believe are most important, because they are the pieces that can provide teachers with important feedback. As an administrator I love evidence-based observations (probably more than my teachers!) because they give me insight into what is going on in the classroom. The unannounced observations give me a better pictures of the type of teaching and learning going on in the classroom.

The multiple measures are the list of items that teachers can choose on their own, which is why they really need to be relevant. The menu of items should be collectively agreed upon by both school leaders and teachers or else they will just be viewed as another thing, we, as administrators, are doing to teachers.

The following are the most important measures:
Goal Setting - The purpose of goal setting is to improve teaching and learning in the classroom. Anything else is a waste of time. We should all have goals that will provide continuous improvement but choosing a goal is not easy because it has to be something quantifiable that is worthy of our year-long focus.
Community Service - Most teachers, because they are already civic-minded, do this outside of school every year. However, there is a great deal of benefit to choosing community service. When teachers collectively share their ideas of community service, or work with one another to come up with a new event, the whole school community benefits.
Student Surveys - James Popham has done a lot of research on the importance of student feedback for teaching and learning. If teachers aren’t asking for feedback from their students, perhaps they are afraid of what students may say. When it comes to formal evaluation and multiple measures, I would prefer to stay away from state education created surveys and opt for something more authentic.
Parent Surveys - Many times schools ask parents for feedback but they don’t necessarily do anything with it. Clearly, you can’t change everything, but parent surveys provide teachers and school leaders with a better perspective on how (and what) parents are thinking. If a parent’s perspective is off, perhaps the school needs to change the way they communicate.
Peer Observations - When done properly, and with integrity, peer observations are so important to growth. When two or three teachers work together to openly discuss teaching and provide effective feedback, teachers will continue to grow.
The best teaching ideas that I used were shared from a colleague. Having someone, like a critical friend, can be so positive to our teaching experiences.
Committees - Let’s face it, schools have lots of committees. Some people just show up and don’t contribute, which is unfortunate. Committees provide the opportunity for shared decision making, and can help improve the school climate.

In the End
Many schools across the country have been using multiple measures long before accountability and mandates crept into our lives. It’s important that we continue to reflect and focus on how we have used those measures to improve our practices as leaders and teachers. Those measures take trust and collaboration.

When I leave the profession when I’m old, I will always look to the time I spent with staff and how I learned from them and with them. As I enter every year as a school leader I carefully choose the multiple measures that I feel are most important to help lead me to continuous improvement. When done with integrity, multiple measures will always lead us to become better in our field.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.