After 30 years of doing such work, I have concluded that classroom teaching...is perhaps the most complex, most challenging, and most demanding, subtle, nuanced, and frightening activity that our species has ever invented...The only time a physician could possibly encounter a situation of comparable complexity would be in the emergency room of a hospital during or after a natural disaster. - Lee Shulman
Our first #TBT in the new year brings us to a 1987 Education Week article about Lee S.Shulman’s “wisdom of practice.” The article reports on studies undertaken by Stanford University researchers studying teacher-assessment. The study was to uncover the essential ingredients that inform a better professional evaluation.
We Knew This Years Ago!
What is it about our profession that has allowed us to sit back rather than take this glowing and scientific thinking and create a way to capture good practice and help improve the practice of our weaker ones? Shulman offers some insight. From the article:
...the exemplary-teacher studies address what he describes as a personal obsession: the field’s “professional amnesia.’' ... Most other professions have a natural manner in which they record, for purposes of later study and enlightenment, both the processes and the products of their practitioners...great teaching, just like mediocre teaching, disappears into thin air as soon as it’s completed...We don’t have a way of accumulating the exemplars of good teaching and somehow making them available for study,’' said the Stanford professor of education.
If we can accept what this well respected educational scholar knew then, we can stand firmly in a beginning place.
Any current evaluation tool based upon established teaching and leading standards, no matter how they came to be, can serve as architecture. They are the “what” of the process. Think of them as the steel beams of the process...and that is all. What happens as the floors, ceilings, windows, HVAC systems, walls, and furnishings are put in place remains a locally controlled issue. They are the “how” of the process. The “how” is most certainly a personal, and locally controlled, issue.
It should not be a surprise to our regular readers that we arrive back at the place where “how” the leader leads with integrity, openness, and compassion is the key on the journey toward success.
What Do We Do Now?
The requirement to evaluate exists. That is the “what.” How we accomplish that is the “how.” We are most certainly in control of that. Who we bring to the process, as ourselves, makes a difference. If we come with little value for the process, resentment that it is required, and communicate that, we are responsible for a colossal waste of time. There are stellar teachers, mediocre teachers, and poor ones. All can learn and grow with the times if led and supported. Taking Shulman’s description of teaching as gospel, then, we owe it to the children to commit to making it possible for learning and growing those teaching them...in a measurable and respectful process.
- Create a sense of urgency. This has been done for us through the implementation of mandated evaluation documents. Teachers are feeling uncomfortable and are ready for a leadership intervention.
- Form a powerful coalition. Bring teachers together to create a space where open and honest conversations can be held about beliefs and bias, concerns, and ideas.
- Create a vision for change. Together, begin to build a vision that includes the avenues to improved practice, behaviors and boundaries, targets and take-aways.
- Communicate the vision. Take care to be sure the vision is communicated to everyone, in writing in order for it to be memorialized and in person, in order for comfort and confidence can arise.
- Remove obstacles. Although obstacles can be intuited and planned for in advance, obstacles may also arise as surprises. A plan for listening as obstacles arise and meeting those obstacles with resolve to insure success is necessary.
- Create short-term wins. Monitor the progress being made in the evaluation process and share the results. Measuring how people are feeling as they are being evaluated, the value they are finding in the feedback, the support they are feeling as they address changes, all can be measured and reported.
- Build the change. Keep going. As each short-term win occurs, use it as the step toward the next one. If measuring something as simple as improved student attendance as a result of improved teacher-student relationship development, the next step could be a new and different teaching and learning design, like studying and implementing problem-based learning opportunities. Keep going.
- Anchor the changes in corporate culture. In order for this evaluation process to be seen as a value, it must be talked about. Stories are powerful. Be sure new faculty is invited through the stories and be sure successes are highlighted. Filling in the basic architecture of the evaluation system with dynamics that focus on the true complexities of teaching is paramount. An open, honest, compassionate, encouraging leader can make the difference.
Shulman, Lee S. (2004) The Wisdom of Practice: Essays on Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
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.