Teaching Profession Opinion

Teacher and Principal Evaluation for Improvement or a Score?

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — December 12, 2013 4 min read
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New principal and teacher evaluation systems are being implemented. Their intention is to guarantee that the best educators are in the profession and are continually improving. They do this by clarifying high standards of performance and the steps necessary to get there. Products developed by professional consultants and researchers in the areas of leadership and teaching had their products vetted and then approved for use. The evaluation tools are in checklist or rubric format, on paper and/or in digital format. Whichever the design, the intention is the same, to improve teaching, learning, and leading.

But in practice, their application has become to rate an educator’s performance. Accountability. Districts are required to keep track of the ratings and report them. The requirement to use these instruments in this way has turned potentially valuable tools that could help faculties and leadership colleagues grow together toward an understood goal, using common language and rubrics into a stratifying rating system.

One simply has to read the newspaper or an educator’s blog post to know that there are three schools of thought on this evaluation process. There are those who think our system is failing, needs to be changed, and the evaluation system is one answer. Others believe the use of the tools is an improvement process and feel uncomfortable reducing performance to a number. There is, of course, the third group...those who think things were fine as they were.

No matter how skillfully the leader handles the implementation of the evaluation process, at the end of the day, there is a number to be assigned to leading or teaching behaviors. Leaders are working hard to prevent this process from damaging morale and ignoring the human element so essential in our schools. Reflecting on what one is doing is an important practice for any professional. Even accumulating evidence of that practice is worth the effort because it can provide the opportunity to discuss what one does from multiple perspectives when speaking with one’s peers and supervisors.

A fracture has occurred. It is ill conceived to believe that the same instrument can improve practice and publically rate the adults in our buildings. A number is assigned to the human factor of teaching, leading, and learning. Teaching and leading are behaviors and require human interaction. The rush to implement has diminished the potential value of the process. It takes time to reflect on practice and have discussions about changing behaviors. In some cases, teachers may need more information about a subject or topic. In others, it may be far more difficult...a change in practice or behavior or values. The same exists for leaders. It may be that one must learn more about a specific practice, but even more difficult, there may be a need for a change in our interactions. Getting rated on how much one knows about developing a master schedule is a different experience than being rated on how well one facilitates relationships within a community.

Here, we think poet David Whyte has insight into our challenge. What follows is from a 2003 recording entitled Life At The Frontier: Leadership Through Courageous Conversations.

Organizations are asking for qualities of adaptability, vitality, creativity, passion; all of these incredible qualities that human beings have actually wanted for themselves since the beginning of time. We are in this astonishing conundrum now where people outside of ourselves are actually asking for those qualities. And the astonishing thing is you can’t legislate or coerce any of those powers. You cannot...invite anyone into your office and say, “Sarah, I need an increase in your creativity quotient this week of 8.9%, rising to a plateau of 9.2 in the coming quarter. And can we have adaptability up into the high 7’s, vitality at least above 6. And passion? There is far too much of it. It’s very hard to get work done around here Sarah with you bringing this passion thing in. Can we have it down in the low 4’s?”

Are we allowing for the creation and protection of environments that encourage people to develop their creativity, adaptability, and passion? This moment, right now, seems unbearably stressful and confusing. But, it offers the opportunity to discover courage. Perhaps, what is making this present struggle so difficult is it is not a right vs. wrong struggle, but a right vs. right one. Rushworth Kidder discusses this:

Neither civic policy nor personal endeavor typically presents us with choices where all the angels are on one side. What makes these topics so complex--what turns them into issues requiring moral courage--is the fact that they present us with not one but two powerful moral arguments (p.251).

So here we are. Some will yield to respectful compliance. Others will be focused on the public battle against what is perceived to be wrong. All can take hold of the moment and engage the courageous conversations. Having conversations framed by right vs. right rather than right vs. wrong, and acknowledging that while measuring creativity, adaptability, and passion, knowing "...you can’t legislate or coerce any of those powers” the leadership moment will be seized. Compliance is better coupled with truthful and courageous conversations that lead to understanding. Yes, these are difficult times, with challenges galore. No challenge is greater than the one to stay true to integrity in the face of adversity.

Kidder, Rushworth M. (2006). Moral Courage. New York: Harper Collins Publishers

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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.