Teaching Profession Opinion

Follow-Up: Learning Communities as Teacher-Evaluation Systems

By Ryan Kinser — December 19, 2011 2 min read
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Ryan Kinser

It’s Oscar season, and during these long winter evenings, I’ll be renting some Academy Award contenders. This month’s Roundtable posts and discussions prompted me to grab a past favorite, A Beautiful Mind, because it shaped the view of teacher evaluation I described in my first post. I’m thinking of the bar scene in which John Nash has his epiphany about the incomplete theory of governing dynamics. He and his friends try to decide who will approach an attractive blonde who keeps glancing at the group. To paraphrase Russell Crowe’s Nash, “What if each of us does not what’s best for himself, but what’s best for himself and the group?”

What if the future of teacher evaluation gave us a system that followed Nash’s advice?

I’m talking about evaluation systems mirroring professional learning communities. In my future utopia, I am evaluated as an individual and a team member. Isn’t this part of the fabric of highly effective PLCs? They meet often, look at group and individual data, and then reflect on how to better instruct students. Doesn’t this also describe the philosophy behind effective evaluation?

Teachers are concerned about the credibility and motives of their evaluators. We disagree over answers to several questions like, should that evaluator be a peer, a stranger, or a self-selected partner from another state who might teach under similar conditions? How can an observer get an accurate, objective picture of one’s teaching from snapshot visits? One answer: Take information from that snapshot back to your PLC.

We don’t need teacher evaluation systems hindered by cronyism, arguments over evaluator credibility, or the clouded judgment of a friend observing us. We need to simply reflect on shared goals like those Jessica Hahn described in her post. Impressed by her school’s sense of “collective responsibility” regarding low test scores, she notes, "...action and reflection rather than punishment should be the motivation behind any kind of teacher evaluation.” If we can find a way to establish positive interdependence among teachers observing each other, then it doesn’t matter as much who is conducting the observation.

It seems like Alpena Public Schools in Alpena, Mich., wants to prove this point. The district allows teachers to forgo a formal evaluation in favor of a PLC learning goal.

If this is a step towards the future I envisioned, where else is this an emerging reality? And more importantly, is it working?

Ryan Kinser is a 6th grade English teacher at Walker Middle Magnet School for International Studies in Tampa, Fla.

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