Professional Development Opinion

Be a Talent Coach, Not an Evaluator

By Starr Sackstein — October 10, 2017 3 min read
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I hated grading as a teacher and I can’t say I enjoy it anymore as a school leader.

Since teaching is such a nuanced profession, like learning, it is impossible to authentically evaluate it....

And yet, in this accountability world, we are forced to do something that has the ability to really put a strain on an essential relationship for growth. Like the teacher-to-student relationship, the school leader-to-teacher relationship must seek to promote learning through formative feedback and reflection.

What I like most about the evaluation process is that it requires, at the least, thoughtful reflection about the lesson. Whether formal or informal, the school leader observes a lesson and then engages in a post-observation conversation about what transpired.

(At least, when it is done with integrity and with the students' interest in mind.)

Because this must be done, I choose to look at the observation process as an opportunity to help grow talent in my teachers for the benefit of all students. I’m not in the business of making teachers feel badly about not knowing everything yet.

If we can see the process for what it should be, as we try to with students, we can really use this experience as a way to develop strong relationships and trust and grow together as a team.

Here are some thoughts about how to coach teachers through this process:

  • Set clear goals in the pre-observation meeting (when you have them), asking the teacher what areas they want you to focus on. This way, you will be looking to provide the teacher feedback in this specific area. Where possible, use the rubric that your school uses for evaluation. This way, teachers are always aligning their practice with the rubric and you avoid any surprises.
  • Rather than focusing on everything, focus on a few important practices and noticings. Remember, if you were sitting with a student paper, marking up everything you see that isn’t perfect will not get the student to grow any faster. Instead, working through a few challenges at a time, allows for more pointed feedback and growth. Make sure to prioritize in this way.
  • Walk into every observation with an open mind, looking for what the teacher is doing right.
  • Shed light on what you see, to help further develop those natural or practiced elements that are already benefiting the students in the room.
  • Remind teachers that we’re a team working for the kids, and since we need to practice and demonstrate a growth mindset, we all have to look to improvement all of the time.
  • Make sure all elements of the conversation are steeped in evidence and that when discussing areas of need, to have a strategy planned to help improve.
  • Be supportive to the teacher.
  • When having the post-observation, again, keep an open mind, ask a lot of clarifying questions and be ready to truly listen to the teacher. The teacher must feel heard. It’s not enough if we think we’re listening, if they don’t perceive we are.
  • Be flexible in your understanding of what you saw, but always bring the conversation back to what is best for student learning. No teacher will argue with a student-centered growth model.
  • Ask the teacher what he or she felt was the strength of the lesson and what could have been improved.
  • Review data together and set new goals as you go.
  • Be intentional with your language and cautious not to use judgmental language. Use growth language.
  • Start and end learning conversations with positive feedback and always stay open to helping teachers improve.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask the teacher for feedback on your observations. They need to be useful, so getting focused feedback goes two ways.

My ultimate goal as a school leader is to bring the most positive experience to all students and teachers I am working with. With that said, I continually ask myself, through my teacher lens, am I a school leader I would have wanted to work with as a teacher?

How can we rebrand the assessment process for educators, so that it isn’t dreaded, but rather enjoyed for everyone? Please share.

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