Spring is a time of renewal. Leaves open into lime green brilliance. Perennials pop from the earth and spread an array of color. For educators, the chapter called 2015- 2016 is racing to a close. The next year comes into focus with budgets finalized and assignments made. Students and teachers and principals will be evaluated and next year’s decisions will be made.
It may well be the time of year when educators feel most accountable. But is it motivating? Paid with public dollars, we must be accountable to our taxpayers and measure of success with fairness and integrity. But if all these evaluations were just for accountability purposes, the story would end at the signature on the evaluation or the report card. It is the use of the accountability that becomes a problem.
In traditional settings, students have been receiving grades all year; grades on tests and quizzes, homework, projects, and presentations. All through the year, students and their families receive feedback from teachers in the forms of grades. Some will remember those for a moment and others for a lifetime. Since grades have been given, teachers have heard students utter these words... “You gave me an A” or an A- if it is a high achiever speaking or a “C” if it is the voice of a struggling student.
Traditionally, teachers develop in-school assessments and students receive grades. The teacher decides the basis for the grading. That said, students rarely enter the springtime without knowing where they stand. End of year grades are rarely a surprise. Their purpose is for students to know how much of the course they learned, if they will be moving ahead; and for school leaders to gain a sense of the success the teacher is experiencing with their students.
Teachers and Principals
For teachers, it is not as clear. Although in many places the rubric used to evaluate teachers and principals is shared, reviewed, and understood, ratings during the year, if they take place at all, may be in the form of discussions that indicate where the teacher stands in relation to the standard. Then, at the end of the year, there is a rush to finish all the evaluations and meet with each teacher or principal, or at least try. This takes a whole lot of work with little or no evidence of an effective outcome that results in improved practice. Does it motivate? It is unlikely that it does.
Accountability vs. Growth
Accountability is important. Although there are many in education who are successfully taking steps away from grades with students and investing in giving feedback and coaching their students, teachers, and principals toward success, grades remain the basis of communication about achievement and accountability overall.
In New York, the tying of student scores to teachers’ and principals’ evaluations caused an uproar that has recently ended by a step away and a disconnection of those two, at least for now. The connection of the actions of the children in a testing situation to the teachers’ or principal’s work can, on the surface, appear to be an accountability measure. But the complication added by questioning the accuracy of those assessments to measure what is actually happening in the classrooms and schools raised ire as it raised the stakes from accountability to a measure that was questionable.
Of course, the success of students should reflect on the teachers and their leaders, but what about all those students who come ready to learn, are good at learning, want to learn, and can learn? Why should we get credit for those students who are on automatic pilot? And what about those students who come less ready to learn, who move from district to district, who have distractions like poverty, disabilities, language, challenges in the home, stress, and emotional problems, even if only temporary...we expect them to learn in spite of that...and we hold them and their teachers and leaders accountable for that. But how do we weigh their challenges?
Motivation is Important
While accountability is necessary, more important than accountability is stimulating the motivation to grow as learning students and professionals. Motivation is rarely the result of receiving a grade. From the Carnegie Foundation:
Evidence is mounting that academic mindsets are extremely important to student success. Students’ sense of belonging in their learning environment, their perceptions of how or whether “kids like them” succeed academically, and the extent to which they believe that hard work and persistence pay off--all of these have a powerful effect on student motivation.
In the End
Evaluations will be part of the educational process for children and the adults who learn and work in our schools for the foreseeable future. But, the system ought not rely on the evaluations to motivate. No matter the requirements for assessments as a measure against some standard, educators know that they and their students grow and learn from support, encouragement, engagement and good feedback. Whether involved in developing feedback as a tool that motivates learning, or simply trying to minimize the impact of administering the end of the year tests, leaders have the opportunity to find a springtime opening. What if we simply wondered what was the best moment for each child and each teacher this past year? What if we asked each student what excited them most and what they hoped for in the next year? We have given over to testing, but perhaps some gathering of 2015- 2016 stories might teach us also ...and maybe more. If spring as a season offers leaders a lesson, it may be to notice where life appeared, newly and naturally. Those are the places where our hearts sing, in the stories of the year, the personal ones where differences were made. In the race to the end of the year we can become effective motivators when we notice those little surprises and acknowledge them and the children and adults whose work made them happen. Spring should be about joy, don’t you think?
Photo by Vadim Guzhva courtesy of 123rf
The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 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.