Assessment Opinion

Evaluations: Exhausting Routine or Motivating Capstone?

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — April 09, 2017 5 min read
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Leaders become mired in the work of getting all of the required evaluations of faculty and staff completed. Once finishing becomes the objective, all potential value is in jeopardy. But at this time of year, that is the weight one feels, to finish. Evaluation is intended to serve two masters: one is accountability and the other is professional development. Some might think that is an irreconcilable duality. One might say it is an impossible one. But it is a fact of life in schools. So consider the possibilities.

The Peril and Example of Final Evaluations

As teachers are preparing students for their final exams, they are checking to see where students may still have missing work or missing understanding, offering tutoring sessions, writing or revising their exams, they review the progress each student has made, look for missing assignments, offer council and support. There exists an energy among teachers and students at this time of year. Teachers hope their students will take the baton being handed to them, and get to the finish line.This is the time of year also, when students show up to those tutoring sessions, because they too, want to be successful and move on to the next grade.

There is something to be learned from how teachers are working with their students at this time of year. The impending ending instills a sense of pressure in students and, with the offer of support, most of them tend to bring themselves to work. Those who tended to brush off their responsibilities at other times begin paying attention. This refuels teachers. The attention of their students in these final weeks allows teachers to help them come to the finish line with success. This is the dynamic learning relationship between teacher and student.

The design of curriculum, assessment and accountability merge at the end of the year and most often are reflected in a grade. It is frustrating for many that this positive energy between student and teacher does not happen all year long. Perhaps, it is the significance of the finality that energizes both. It is something to be figured out since when the hammer is about to fall, motivation appears.

Motivation and Engagement All Year Long

How to motivate students all year long is a long investigated question. We saw motivated students in each of our researched sites as we worked on The STEM Shift. In these environments students had choice, problems to solve, experts by their sides, encouragement, responsibility, training in collaboration, communication, and were encouraged as creative and critical thinkers. They were empowered by the knowledge that they were on the way to becoming experts themselves. So we know, and have witnessed, that changing the way teaching and learning takes place can change that end of year dynamic where students suddenly ‘show up’. It moves the motivator from pressure of an ending to excitement of exploration and discovery.

A difference between the evaluation of students and the evaluation of teachers and their leaders rests in the difference between what is being measured. For students, there are standards each year, expectations that have an end of year target. Too often, for teachers and leaders, the target remains the same. The rubric or the standards are static. Each year these targets are met or not. This can be an exhaustive process and for most it is. In some cases, at the beginning of the year, the evaluator sits with the evaluated and talks about how the targets will be met and at the middle of the year progress may be discussed. At the end of the year, the final grade is given and in many cases, disappointment or disillusion take hold, little may change, and the process begins the next year. For the evaluator, the evaluations were completed, the pile of work gone, the contract met; an understandable relief. For the evaluated, the grade has been given, they are either pleased or not, they move on.

Lots of Evaluations, Little Difference in Results

Perhaps it would be a better system if those leaders who are evaluating offered a better model. There are limits perceived within those rubrics that schools are using to evaluate teachers and their leaders. But limits in use are in the hands of those using them. The purpose of evaluation to hold people accountable to a common measure is being met. Many leaders do that by simply walking around, looking, listening, and being present. The recording of the accountability piece is important, especially for the good of the children and those taxpayers who support our work. Developing professional practice, however, may be overlooked. We know this because with these years of evaluation in place, improvement in student success has not been noted.

Change Evaluation Thinking

The needed change in the evaluation process can take a cue from the work being done in those classrooms, schools, and districts that have taken up the mantle of change and have discovered that students are motivated when the classroom is an empowering, dynamic place where learning and growing is expected, supported, encouraged, and achieved. We refer to this as 21st century teaching and learning. Consider the shift in practice from regulation, quantification, and evaluation to include a supported goal for growth and development. Professionals deserve this.

Three suggestions for shifts in thinking and practice about evaluations:

  • Make the leader’s goal to create a work environment where the adults are motivated by an empowering, dynamic environment where learning and growing is expected, supported, encouraged, and achieved.
  • Make the evaluation the product and try to make it one that is reflective of the efforts and the accomplishments.
  • Make the conversations, the support, and the encouragement what is important.

There is no getting away from the fact that the evaluation is the same each and every year and that for some the highest ‘grade’ may be unreachable. But if the efforts are focused on the standards and the standards are understood as important facets of the work of the organization and the evaluator balances their role as evaluator with coach and supports ongoing efforts, then hopefully, the relief at finishing and filing the stack of evaluations at the end of the year will be replaced by the celebration of the movement that has taken place as a result of everyone’s efforts to grow and develop.

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or Email.

Photo by jamesoladujoye courtesy of Pixabay

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.