The Accountability and Credibility Problem
Resentment exists over the perceived lack of accountability in public systems and the protections and benefits extended to public employees. The news is replete with criticism of our current educational system. Reports on how our graduates fail to measure up globally, abound. Our system serves some better than others and it is expensive. Education is an accessible target. Public school systems are frequently the most local arena in which these feelings are revealed.
As leaders we have become spokespersons for “what’s right”, lest our impressive achievements get forgotten. Our need to do that has placed us in the position of defending the status quo. Too many of us are not good at standing in the middle of these truths: we are highly successful and we have failed some. Tenure is necessary and it has become an excuse to protect some who should not be in classrooms. We have lost our agility and too often our credibility. It undermines our ability to lead change. Others now reveal our systemic flaws and try for a simple fix to a complex issue. Not surprising.
Let’s force accountability through new evaluation systems for teachers and principals. Research has shown how critical principal leadership is, so, of course, they are included. However, the legislated requirement to use aligned observation and evaluation tools to improve principal and teacher performance will change the landscape of our system only if used properly.
Evaluation for Improvement and Accountability
Schools are institutions of learning. Those who lead and teach in our schools are products of, and are living in, those institutions. Where else do we demand change, immediately, without a comprehensive implementation plan? Even those institutions charged with making widgets could not survive if they implemented changes in manufacturing in the way our politicians are forcing upon us. This is not a statement against the evaluation as used for accountability. It is a statement about how the implementation process will guarantee a poor result. Who among us can say with confidence that they are prepared to understand the nuance, the time, and the process required to use this accountability process with fidelity? The evaluators need time to deeply understand how to use these evaluations as a vehicle for improvement. For years our evaluations have been used as a summative statement of value that has been filed and sometimes forgotten. And yes, concern that being too harsh will cause a response that is either fearful or obedient, neither of which are productive for motivating change and growth.
Since the implementation process is well underway, what can we do to be the transformers? How can we use this debilitating opportunity to actually improve our principals and teachers? This is worth doing. If we begin a new process and simply skim over it without honoring its value, its introduction may be accepted, but not attended to. We have to push against our institutional habit of clinging to the old ways. Finishing evaluations is not the goal, finishing good evaluations that promote development is.
Kim Marshall, in his November 2012 article for Kappan Magazine encourages the end of the dog-and-pony show method of teacher evaluation and recommends 10 shorter, unannounced visits “fortified with timely, valuable, face-to-face feedback” (p.19). Our first thought remains: “This takes so much time!” For the principal evaluation, we have even fewer opportunities for the evaluator to actually watch the principal do their work. This takes a shift in the use of time and planning as well.
A Reasonable Plan
We suggest a plan that allows for learning how and being true to the process. The accountability system for most of us is not about catching a failing teacher or principal, it can be about investing in continuous improvement. So, a conversation about what the focus should be for the initial years, while both the evaluator and those being evaluated can learn together. The school has strengths and weaknesses just as the district does. Come together and decide on the focus. Is it community connection? Is it academic alignment? Is it developing PLC’s among the faculty? Choose one or two major areas to place focus on while agreeing that moving forward more will be included. No one can do it all at once. Thank goodness they didn’t do that in the auto industry and thank goodness our doctors are not developed this way. Take hold of the moment, we must do the best we can, and have a long range implementation plan that honors the regulations but also honors those of us who have to implement this evaluation process.
Visit our February 5th blog post Evaluation Takes Time for more thoughts on the topic.
Marshall, Kim. (2012, November). Let’s cancel the dog-and-pony-show. Phi Delta Kappan, 19-23.
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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.