Most agree that grades alone mean little. Everyone who grades or has been graded knows the snapshot effect leaves so much out. They are single moments in time measures. They can, however, impact students in big ways. They affect how students see themselves and in the choices they make going forward and in how others perceive their strengths and skills. Grades cannot be the whole conversation between a teacher and a student. The same is true for teacher observations.
Observations and evaluations for teachers became attempts at the use of multiple measures, using rubrics that take place before, during, and after lessons are delivered. Skills and behaviors are included. But for accountability reasons, they were combined to become one score, a number and/or a word that summarized their performance. In an industry as large as public education and where learning is our business, one might think we’d lead the way in measures of accountability. While much is written about and said about these single measures and scores, we have failed, systemically, to shift to a set of measures. Assessment and evaluation, ratings and standing in relation to others is reduced to easily communicated word or number. It neither motivates nor changes the actions of the students or their teachers.
We recall, years ago, using the back of a baseball card as the way for assessment. The concept today can still makes sense; use measures of all the facets of the baseball players skills as the categories for evaluation. None are combined. How one hits, runs, catches, their accumulated successes, are all there for the reader to interpret. Although the reporting of teacher evaluation continues to be a summary number or letter or word, what happens within schools is far more robust than one word or number. Focusing on the parts, and not the sum can actually be more valuable and important in the view of the teachers and their leaders.
For all teachers, effort, focus and commitment are important to best teach and learn. Planning successful lessons, being expert in the subject(s) being taught, establishing and maintaining effective relationships with students, parents, and colleagues, using formative assessments and offering effective feedback, how well their students achieve, serving on committees whose aim is to help students or to improve the school, are only some of the abilities teachers work to master. It is the gathering of the results of all of these and more, that reflect the work of the teacher. And in a school where students need the comfort and direction a safe learning environment provides, first and foremost, behavior management may be valued far more than in a school where that is less urgent a need. How does it make sense to add up the separate attributes and come up with a single value when those single values mean something different in each situation?
Bring Value to Evaluation
The environment of a school is the sum total of the knowledge, behaviors and values of the adults leading the children through their educational journey. The environment may be measured by the achievement levels via test results of the students, but that is not fully revelatory of the work of the teachers. Our guest blog author Thomas Guskey recently wrote about how to think about the use of grades for students. We believe that no matter the accepted practice of teacher evaluation how it is valued and used within each school can be focused on the needs of the professionals and the needs of the students.
Many schools use the Danielson Framework For Teaching to evaluate teachers. Others have their own. Most have adopted the use of the rubric. And most feel overwhelmed by the level of detail these rubrics hold. There is value in those details albeit their girth. But making sense and taking the time to revisit how they are viewed and used can be useful.
The old baseball card model may be useful in rethinking how evaluation is viewed with the school. For example, discuss and decide:
- what kind of parent contact is valued and expected by a kindergarten teacher vs. an AP physics teacher, a special education teacher vs. an art teacher, a physical education teacher vs. an English teacher
- what good planning looks like in each subject area
- what good lesson execution looks like
- what good feedback looks like
- what good assessment looks like, etc.
Each subject, grade level, school has different needs for levels of expertise and different teachers making the mark. Beginning with the opening of conversations about strengths and areas for improvement, and bringing forward the value that some are better than others in some ways can open the door for more sharing of expertise and personal growth that is of greater value than receiving an evaluative statement at the end of the year. This can provoke personal growth based upon one’s own desire to change the back of their own baseball card. It does not need a speaker from the field or a book for everyone to read. It is a conversation about the value of these behaviors that can only improve the successful work of teacher with their students.
Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into becoming 21st century schools. Ann and Jill welcome connecting through Twitter & Email.
Photo by Danny Kosmayer courtesy of 123rf
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.