The “Reality” of Teacher Evaluations

We can all agree that there is no perfect teacher evaluation system. We also all have our own ideas about what essential elements should be included in the system that determines the impact of a teacher’s efforts on student learning. When you think about it, certain aspects of reality show television could have intriguing insight into the teacher supervision and evaluation system. 

Automatic outs. Real World (MTV): Participants in the show are not allowed to have physical contact with others. If there is, they are immediately kicked off the show, no questions asked. Obviously, physical violence has no place in a school on any level. However, the idea of “automatic” outs is important. There should be certain lines that once crossed result in teacher removal regardless of tenure. While there are certainly obvious things such as breaking laws or the inappropriate relationships that we hear about on the news, there are others equally important. A few would include; lying to kids, demeaning kids, or bullying kids.

Peer Feedback. Unless you live beneath your desk Constanza-style, if you’re a teacher, you are aware of the general strengths and weaknesses of your peers.  Teachers should be able to have a venue to express peer feedback and insight. Teachers often develop an awareness of peers’ skills and impact on student learning far stronger than any administrator’s due to the sheer proximity factor of working together day in and day out. What about including peer input as a portion of the teacher evaluation process? Should teachers have the opportunity to vote others “off the island” Survivor-style?  How would that process look? How could we keep it objective? This is where the processes of targeted learning walks with follow-up conversations and action planning, as well as collaborative learning elements such as lesson study become invaluable. How do we create an environment where teachers evaluate each other and have it not turn into a witch hunt or popularity contest? Is that possible?

Student and Parent Feedback.  Dancing With the Stars: On the show the “loser” is determined by a combo of America’s vote and judge’s scores. Another piece of evaluation should be combo of parent and student feedback. Parents and students are one of the most under utilized evaluation resources we have at our disposal. Kids know who is a good teacher and who is not. Just ask them. If they like a teacher because they hand out candy, that is not exactly what you want to hear. If they tell you a teacher makes them work hard and feel safe, then you know what is going on. Parents are also very well aware of what is going on in a classroom from a different angle. They know who is sending home busy work and low level projects to fill their child’s evenings. They also know who is calling home for things other than negatives and who genuinely cares about their child.

Admin Evaluation. - Undercover Boss: When scheduled observations are the only method of evaluation it loses value. Dog and pony shows are common place. Like the show Undercover Boss, admin should be in classrooms regularly and infiltrate classrooms often enough to know what a teacher is like on a daily basis. This might be the single greatest way for an administrator to truly see what is going on in a classroom. If it is a big deal when an administrator steps into a room something is wrong. It should be the norm and an expectation that administrators are common place in a classroom.

While these are far fetched ideas...are they really? Is it possible to implement a better system to determine which teachers are best for kids and which ones have room for improvement? Is it safe to say that some teachers just shouldn’t be in a classroom with kids?


*This post was inspired by a series of conversations with Principal Lyn Hilt (@l_hilt) about how to effectively evaluate teachers. 

9 comments:

Jason Markey said...

Josh,

I was intrigued by your take on this topic as I have been thinking about it a lot lately as well, with new state legislation here in Illinois and I'm currently enrolled in a Supervision & Evaluation doctoral class. However, more importantly I've been thinking about this tonight because we had our first meeting with our new teachers since school started and the topic was the evaluation process.

I think what often becomes difficult, is thinking only of a means to an end while losing track of the important process that is the professional development of a teacher. I really think the entire process should focus much more on engagement rather than evaluation.

As administrators, we should constantly be engaged in conversation with our teachers about students, content, skills, logistics, etc. These conversations should not be meant to evaluate, but to engage them in the process of reflection and professional development. I would much rather focus on this process, as I believe it will be more fruitful for students and teachers, and I realize the state is going to essentially prescribe a fairly systematic evaluation system.

Great post, thanks for making me think!
Jason
@jmarkeyAP

Lyn Hilt said...

Not really that far-fetched. I agree with Jason that too often these systems are designed solely with evaluation in mind, and they neglect to include genuine opportunities for teachers to grow and learn. Not to mention the fact that often the administrator is so bogged down with an exorbitant amount of required paperwork, which far exceeds what's needed to provide formative feedback to the teacher. With many states looking to formally publish teacher and admin evaluations, I am scared that the system will become even more standardized and not allow for the individual freedom that is needed to make the system truly work FOR the teacher and administrator.
P.S. Disappointing that The Bachelor/ette's rose ceremony didn't make an appearance. :)

Josh Stumpenhorst said...

When I was first teaching I instinctively thought of evaluations as just that...evaluations. They were something that determined if you were good enough to teach in the school. If you did not get a good evaluation then you would be let go. I think that is a feeling that most teachers have regarding the process. Even if you are not let go, a bad evaluation can mean your life will be made miserable by the administrator until you just leave on your own accord.

However, I have come to realize that teacher evaluation should be about making teachers better, not getting rid of them. Yes, some do need to go but most do not. Some just need some help getting on the right track and being better at what they do. It might just be the semantics of the word "evaluation" that people get hung up on. To me it should be part of teacher development and this is where administrators have an opportunity to make the quality of teaching in their building go up.

Mrs Ripp aka @pernilleripp said...

Josh, I am not sure we are at all able to evaluate our peers. What would we base that on? Our assumptions? Because unless you have been in their room while they teach more than once then you really don't know. I often get thought of as out there because of my philosophy and yet when people come into my room and see me teach they see that is not the case. Yet, if my job was hinging on their assumptions I probably would not be deemed effective because I don't mesh with their philosophies. Just a thought...

P

Josh Stumpenhorst said...

Pernille,

I hear you and get where you are coming from. I am looking from the perspective of my situation in a junior high where we do see each other regularly and are in and out of other classrooms. We also have a huge push to observe our co-workers on an informal basis. This is just something that we do to see how other teachers do their work and maybe spark some ideas of our own.

You do bring up a good point though in that if you are an outcast or different that could be trouble. In some situations some of the "good" teachers are not looked highly upon because they make others look bad. This would obviously result in a negative peer evaluation.

Do I think this could work objectively? Not sure. I just like the idea of multiple points of reference beyond just an administrator to determine how well a teacher is doing and where they can improve.

Thanks for the thoughts!

Mrs Ripp aka @pernilleripp said...

Josh,
I envy your environment, we often at an elementary level have no time left in the day to go see other teachers work. On Monday's I have 20 minutes of prep and a lunch recess, that's it. But yes I agree, I think colleague input would be incredibly valuable but that requires trust and openness as well from everyone included.

Josh Stumpenhorst said...

Pernille,

My wife is in the elementary school so I can totally understand where you are coming from. The time constraints on an elementary school teacher is a whole other topic of itself. You guys often don't have time to take a breath let alone see peers teaching! :) I am not sure I have the answer to that problem...but if I ruled the world there would be more time within the elementary teacher's day to do things like peer observation and collaborative work.

jessievaz12 said...

Josh,
What a timely post! I was just talking about this with some teachers at my school and thinking of ways to make our "evaluation" system better. I absolutely agree with Lynn that there needs to be an element of growth embedded in the system that is being used. In addtion, I've been thinking a lot about semantics lately (I just wrote a blog piece titled Do Names Matter?) and I think this is another case where it absolutely does. We need to consider another term for what teacher "evaluations" are. Perhaps we should be calling them Teacher Formative Assessment in the truest spirit of learning. We all agree that feedback is imperative and there needs to be an element of progress so I think it is a fitting name.

As for the reality show twist, I loved it and was thinking of a similar idea for a blog post! I would personally love to see a little be more Project Runway out there in the teaching world... a littl bit of creativity, mentoring, and honest feedback could really develop great teachers!

Marie said...

I love these ideas for teacher evaluation. As a mid-career changer coming from the business world, I am used to not only being evaluated on a regular basis, but also having had to evaluate my employees on a regular basis. No one was ever nervous when a boss attended a presentation or meeting because it was such a common occurrence. We were able to do reviews based on what we saw throughout the quarter and year and not just one time. I read an article in the April 2011 issue of Phi Delta Kappan and it discussed the importance of both multiple formal and informal classroom visits for every evaluation. I hope your ideas are not farfetched ideas because to me they would make a more comprehensive evaluation of teachers.