The best teacher evaluation should look like good teaching: knowledgeable, well-prepared, flexible, collaborative, and reflective. It should result in the growth of all involved and consistently produce significant benefits for student learning. It should be professional.
I spent two years engaging with some of the best teachers in the country about what teaching should look like by 2030. We fully expect, and our students deserve, an expansion of the learning environment beyond the 19th-century structures we have inherited. These changes have already begun: Learning extends beyond classroom walls, beyond brick and mortar buildings, beyond the 55 minute period, or the seven-period day.
As part of this evolution, teaching must change also, and, fortunately, evidence that it is in fact changing grows daily. Teachers are using a broader range of mediums and tools with increasing levels of sophistication; they are working in increasingly effective teams that multiply the talents and resources available to their students. Some teachers have already distinguished themselves as trendsetters in digital pedagogy; others have an intricate understanding of a range of cultures and social conditions from which our students now come. Still more teachers have demonstrated strong competencies as coaches and mentors to colleagues; others are developing curriculum, software, assessment tools, and networks. And there is more to come that we can’t even describe yet.
How can we evaluate such rich complexity with all the varying levels of performance and experience they represent across the largest profession in America—with a few five-minute walk-bys and a checklist? Hardly. The old factory evaluation model, which was never a good fit for education, will be even less so as we move further into the potential of immersed learning and interconnected teaching. One principal trying to evaluate an entire faculty whose members practice a dizzying variety of pedagogical skills will be painfully ineffective. Like our students, teachers need assessment of our work based on a combination of measures and reviewers, with teachers taking responsibility for our own professional growth based on mutually established, student-centered goals.
To get there from here will require transformed thinking and some significant power shifts, neither of which, history reminds us, come easily. But I believe we are on the verge of such a shift as teaching finally morphs into a true profession. One of the trademarks of a profession is peer review of each others’ work against high standards established by the profession.
The necessary components for this transformation are already in place. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has painstakingly created rigorous performance-based standards for almost every area of teaching, as well as counseling, media specialists, and now principals. Soon, we will have a critical mass of highly accomplished teachers as measured by those standards (we’re at nearly 100,000 now). Meanwhile, the two national teacher-education accreditation agencies have merged, and have put their support behind the sweeping recommendations for overhauling American teacher preparation put forward by the Blue Ribbon Panel on Clinical Preparation and Partnerships for Improved Student Learning. That panel represented a broad cross-section of education stakeholders, including parents and teachers.
Most recently, a commission made up of outstanding teachers and teacher leaders gathered by the National Education Association has laid out an ambitious, but doable plan to move our profession to the next level, including how to create and maintain a highly effective teacher evaluation system.
American public education is at a critical juncture, and it will be our shame and our children’s loss if we don’t complete the journey.
Renee Moore has taught English and journalism for 20 years in the Mississippi Delta region at both high school and community college levels.
The opinions expressed in Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable 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.