Thursday, August 25, 2011

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. 

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