It’s Evaluation Day, 2021. And I’ve never felt more relaxed. In my district and many others, the negative stigma attached to high-stakes evaluation has abated. Peer evaluation is now a finely tuned process—fair, equitable, and catalyzing teachers to reflect upon and improve their practices.
My next peer evaluator arrives in a few minutes. Each period, I will be observed by another 6th grade Language Arts teacher. Our principal has assigned one substitute to rotate through their classes as they each take a period to act as my evaluator.
My peers already conducted a pre-conference where we discussed my lesson. How do my strategies address our year-long department and team goals? Which rubric domain did I select as my individual goal? Our department has decided to focus on student engagement this year. I explain my cooperative learning strategies to the team and point out my individual area of need: higher-order questioning techniques. I ask the team, “Will you focus on how many of these questions are student-initiated?” We schedule a post-conference first thing tomorrow to debrief and suggest next steps for me.
A small 360-degree camera films the lesson. In our post-conference, the peers and I will discuss our findings, pointing to specific video evidence. While I initially found the camera intimidating, I’ve grown to love reviewing the tapes, seeing myself as the students do. The peers isolate student responses and point out where I could have helped them probe with higher-level questions. It’s transformative, not punitive.
We have built mutual trust. We will be evaluated as a team and as individuals. Once a week our school conducts instructional rounds, where my teammates and I check out best practices in the upper grades language arts courses. During our planning period, we spend about 10 minutes in each class. Then we debrief about the positive things we saw. Finally, we identify some possible next steps for our group. We submit demonstration lessons via video to a shared workspace when schedules tighten.
By 2021, these practices are aligned with school improvement goals and will culminate in a cooperative National Board-style portfolio reviewed by a panel of district mentors. Our evaluation system now includes more financial incentives, which we earn in up to three categories: school, team, and individual teacher performance. All three are still based on student achievement, with student test scores as one component and teacher performance assessment scores as another, but our final project includes multiple authentic measures.
What else has changed over a decade of honing teacher evaluation? I invite you to ignore bureaucratic obstacles for a moment and imagine: How would you like to be evaluated in 10 years?
Ryan Kinser is a 6th grade English teacher at Walker Middle Magnet School for International Studies in Tampa, Fla.
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