Lets me ask:
What is the purpose of your school’s teacher evaluation model?
- Make sure teachers are doing what they are supposed to be doing.
- Make sure your school is in compliance with the law.
- Keep administrators busy with formal observations and paperwork.
- Inspire and empower professional learning.
While no-one will state that the purpose of their teacher evaluation model is A, B, or C, the reality is that the old clinical supervision model (Goldhammer, 1969) reigns supreme and it effectively achieves all three. It mainly includes five key steps:
- Pre-observation Conference
- Classroom Observation
- A Supervision Conference
- Analysis of the Analysis
In theory, this approach seems simple enough. Follow the steps and — Voila! — professional growth! However, it has the problem of being almost entirely worthless.
As Kim Marshall points out in his article, “The Truth About Teacher Evaluation” in the American School Board Journal (Marshall, 2017), “The traditional approach, which takes about four hours per teacher, has these design flaws:
- The process is so time-consuming that supervisors can evaluate only one or two of the 900 lessons teachers teach a year – far from an adequate sampling and way too little feedback to affect performance.
- Most formal evaluations are announced in advance, which means that supervisors are seeing an optimal performance, not what students are getting every day. All too often this is part of a collusive deal with mediocre and ineffective teachers: I’ll pretend this is how you teach all the time and write it up, you’ll pretend that’s true and sign, and we’ll put the evaluation in your personnel file and move on.
- The detailed feedback teachers receive on formal observations is often overwhelming, poorly timed (April or May), and unhelpful. When I ask audiences of educators if formal evaluations ever helped them improve their practice and their students’ learning, the answer is usually NEVER.
Because of these built-in problems, traditional teacher evaluation is generally inaccurate, ineffective – and dishonest to parents and stakeholders.”
This begs the question, if not this, then what?
Q.E.D. Foundation’s Transformational Change Model looks at Assessment through three lenses: Traditional, Transitional, and Transformative. Traditional assessment is “Assessment OF learning.” Transitional assessment is “Assessment OF and FOR learning.” And Transformative assessment is “Assessment OF, FOR, and AS learning.”
Achieving the transformative assessment of professional educators requires leaders to rethink the cycle of learning as it is applied to evaluating teachers. The evaluation model needs to be one that fosters learning in and of itself. The clinical model does no such thing.
For teacher evaluation to be “of, for, and as learning” it needs to cultivate reflection, empower teacher’s voice, and allow for differentiation to meet educators exactly where they are in their development as professionals.
Four Steps to Implementing an Alternative Model
- Cultivate a developmental constructivist mindset
- Utilise a reflection tool
- Co-establish professional goals
- Provide Frequent Feedback
- Cultivate a Constructive Developmental Mindset
Developmental constructivist theory is built on two main ideas. 1. People grow over time. 2. People make sense of their world based on “how we take things in and put things together” (Drago-Severson, 2012, p. 29) in our minds.
This is easy to see with children. How a toddler makes sense of the world is significantly different from how a teenager does. Developmentally, they are in two very different places. However, it can be more difficult to see with adults because the developmental stages are not as distinct.
Eleanor Drago-Severson, author and professor at Columbia Teachers College, is the current leading scholar in this work. Her book ”Helping Educators Grow”, provides a systematic breakdown of adult learning development, complete with ideas, suggestions, and strategies for communicating with teachers at each stage.
The four key stages she identifies are Instrumental, Socializing, Self-Authoring, and Self-Transforming. These ways of making sense of the world require leaders to tailor their feedback to be best received and leveraged. In their 2014 Learning Forward article, “Tell Me So I Can Hear,” Ellie Drago-Severson and Jessica Blum-DeStefano provide the following chart:
|Ways of knowing||Feedback Supports||Feedback Challenges|
|INSTRUMENTAL||• Concrete suggestions, models, and examples.
• Recognition of what went right and wrong.
|Encourage consideration beyond “right” solutions for teaching and leading, and scaffold abstract thinking.|
|SOCIALIZING||• Appreciation for effort and contribution.
• Validation of progress and personal qualities.
|Invite expression of own beliefs about practice in safe contexts. Model and role-play conflict that does not threaten relationships.|
|SELF-AUTHORING||• Acknowledgement of competence and expertise.
• Opportunities to discuss own ideas, develop personal goals, and critique and design initiatives.
|Encourage exploration of new and different ideas, values, and approaches — both professionally and personally.|
|SELF- TRANSFORMING||• Opportunities to collaboratively reflect on practice and explore alternatives, contradictions, and paradoxes (internal and systemic).||Gently support management of the implicit frustrations and tensions of transformation and change.|
- Employ a Self-Reflection Tool
Teacher evaluation must be a two-way street if it is to be effective. Sustaining conditions that stimulate authentic dialogue does not happen on accident. Trust building communication and establishment of emotionally and intellectually safe space can be (partially) facilitated when participants share a common language and knowledge base.
Teacher evaluation rubrics can help establish a common understanding of the expected standards of professional practice in an objective way. (Marshall, 2013) They do the work of standardising the process while simultaneously providing an ecosystem for differentiating.
The New Teacher Project (TNTP.com) has a page with a quality sampling of teacher evaluation rubrics that can be used by both the teacher and the leader. (They also have some tools for developing a comprehensive teacher evaluation model on the same page. Well worth exploring.)
Teachers use the rubric to self-assess and reflect at the beginning of the year before having a goal setting meeting. Doing so early in the year can benefit the discourse and the students in a couple of ways.
Firstly, the rubrics clearly state lofty expectations for teacher outcomes through the use of pedagogical best practices. This helps the teacher clearly see areas where they already have strengths as well as areas where they might improve. Such understanding of their training can plant seeds for future constructive conversations without the instinct of defensiveness on the teacher’s part. Or at least help minimise the defensiveness.
Secondly, a rubric can help point out practices the teacher is employing without realising there are more effective teaching strategies. Many teachers will make changes to their practice when they learn new techniques. In this way, the rubric is a professional development tool and can immediately improve the student learning experience.
- Co-Establish Professional Goals
Using the rubric as a jumping off point, the teacher and the instructional leader work together to develop goals that, if met, will make the most positive impact on the student learning experience.
At our school, we start by identifying three areas of empowerment (strengths) and three areas of inspired growth (weaknesses). From those designated areas we work together to establish two goals based on areas of needed growth and one target based on their strength. This third goal gives the teacher the opportunity to drive their own learning in a passion project. For example, teachers exceptionally talented at using educational technology might push themselves to learn and implement new tools. Or might strive to provide a workshop for other teachers during a teacher planning day. Including a strengths-based goal gives teachers a steering wheel in their professional growth and helps to create buy-in.
Once the goals have been established, we list the metrics by which we will know the goals have been met. We then record the resources and supports necessary to achieve each goal.
Usually, the teachers arrive at the meeting with primary goals already established. We tweak them based on the analysis and discussion around the areas of strength and growth. It is essential at this stage for the leader to listen, hear, and seek to understand, rather than doing one of two extremes: rubber stamping the teacher’s written goals or completely disregarding them and creating different purposes altogether.
- Provide Frequent Feedback
In many cases, administrators make rare appearances in classrooms and rarely do unannounced observations. (Marshall, 2013) This results in the clinical evaluation approach where the admin will show up later in the year, go through the checklist, and look for evidence of the goals being met.
Kim Marshall, a leader in the field of teacher evaluation, argues for frequent, unannounced mini-observations with quick follow-up feedback meetings. He calls this mini-observation cycle a “keystone habit.”
He identifies four critical areas benefited by multiple low-stakes 10-15 minutes unannounced observations throughout the year:
- Continuously improving teaching.
- Building relationships with teachers and students.
- Encouraging teacher collaboration and reflection.
- Demonstrating Leadership.
In his and Dave Marshall’s article (2017), “Mini-Observations: A Keystone Habit” in School Administrator, they expand on these areas and discuss the payoff. They write, “Policymakers should give serious thought to shifting from the traditional teacher-evaluation model, which focuses mostly on compliance and has a remarkably weak track record, to mini-observations. Principals, teachers and students will reap significant rewards.” (p. 29)
One benefit of more frequent visits is that feedback can be specifically targeted to meet teachers where they are while ensuring it is specific to the needs of the students. Also, decoupling the formality of the planned observation with a discussion on pedagogy decreases unnecessary stress associated with the clinical model.
A Few Considerations:
- Take the time to really learn about the developmental levels of adult learners. Eleanor Drago-Severson’s work is the key. However, you might also consider looking at Pete Hall and Alisa Simeral’s work on the continuum stages of teacher reflection. It might provide another angle for meeting teachers where they are in their professional development.
- Trust is essential. Sustaining a larger professional learning cycle depends on the intentional practice of nurturing trust. At every touch point, teachers need to feel heard, to know their voice matters, and that their input is valued. Taking a servant leadership stance can help to demonstrate support and compassion while helping to elevate teacher practices.
- Celebrate when goals are achieved, either privately with the teacher or publicly.
Teacher evaluation is an opportunity to deepen professionally learning and inspire educators as agents of growth and student success. Giving teachers a voice in the process helps ensure they are more likely to find value and purpose in the work of developing their skill base. Threading reflection and mini-feedback loops throughout the year fuels the learning cycle and has the added benefit of eliminating the artificial formality of discussing pedagogical practices.
But best of all, leveraging evaluation as learning itself helps ensure the end of the year’s, final evaluation accurately reflects the work is a teacher is actually doing builds trust. That trust enriches the culture of the whole school, and that is good for student well-being.
An evaluation system that respects teachers as professionals is a system that can transform a school into a learning community.
About the Author:
Jason Flom is the Director and a founding faculty member of Cornerstone Learning Community, a PreK-8th-grade school in Tallahassee, FL. He also serves as an ASCD Faculty member and is an affiliate of SRI. He received his undergrad and masters in education from the University of Florida. He taught in the classroom for 11 years and is currently the Head of School. He was selected as an ASCD Emerging Leader in 2010 and joined ASCD’s faculty in 2014.
He received his undergrad and Masters in Education from the University of Florida. When not exploring topics in education, he can be found in the woods on his bike.
Drago-Severson, Eleanor. (2012). Helping Educators Grow: Strategies and Practices for Leadership Development. Harvard Education Press.
Drago-Severson, Eleanor, and Jessica Blum-DeStefano. “Tell Me So I Can Hear.” JSD: The Learning Forward Journal, vol. 35, no. 6, Dec. 2014, pp. 16–22.
Goldhammer, Robert. (1969). Clinical Supervision: Special Methods for the Supervision of Teachers Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Hall, Peter A, and Alisa Simeral. (2008) Building Teachers’ Capacity for Success: A Collaborative Approach for Coaches and School Leaders. Alexandria, Va: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Marshall, Kim. (2013). Rethinking Teacher Supervision and Evaluation. John Wiley & Sons.
Marshall, Kim, and Dave Marshall. “Mini-Observations: A Keystone Habit.” School Administrator, Dec. 2017, pp. 26–29.
“Teacher Evaluation.” TNTP, The New Teacher Project, tntp.org/teacher-talent-toolbox/explore/teacher-evaluation.
“Transformational Change Model.” Q.E.D. Foundation, www.qedfoundation.org/transformational-change-model-2/.