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. 

Losing the "Twinkle"

Getting ready for Kindergarten
This week my oldest son starts kindergarten and my youngest is starting preschool. My wife and I have spent the summer talking it up and getting them pumped for school. However, none of that was needed. They are both beyond excited for school. They literally cannot wait to start going to school. Their backpacks have been loaded with supplies and sitting at the ready for weeks. My kindergartner has been reading picture books about kindergarten every night all summer while my youngest keeps asking me when he can go to “my classroom”. The pure joy and excitement they have is just simply amazing.

As I reflected on their feelings it made me wonder about my own students that I teach. I teach in a junior high and I see the faces of the kids as they come in that first day. They are excited to see their friends or get started with intramurals or sports. However, I don’t see that “twinkle” in their eye like I see with my sons. When thinking about this I have a few questions that I am not sure I have any answers for.

When does the twinkle go away? When do students stop wanting to go to school? When does that excitement and joy for school fade? At what point is school something to get through in order to get back to summer break?

While those questions are important I think there is a more important one to consider. Why do kids lose that feeling? Are schools to blame for this loss of love for school? What are teachers doing to combat the loss of love for schooling?

As I sit in my class I wonder how many of my students were excited about coming back to school after their summer. I hope that those who were not excited soon rediscover that feeling. My goal is to make learning relevant, fun, and worth their time on a daily basis. What are you doing in your classroom or school to excite students and rejuvenate their passion and love of school? 

Klout is Krap

Many people on Twitter and Facebook have posted their Klout score or other comments about their score going up or down. I will admit that I even went to the site and entered my info to see what my score was. Once I got my score I looked at it and moved on. Am I missing something here? Why is this something educators would or should be interested in? Isn’t this just another way of saying one person is better than me or that I am better than someone else?

When you look at their site it indicates that it measures your influence based on three pieces.
  • How many people you influence (True Reach)
  • How much you influence them (Amplification)
  • How influential they are (Network Score)

As an educator I have little problem with the Klout score but rather that people keep focusing on it. Isn’t the Klout score the same as awards and a bit of self-promotion? Are we trying to get a high score? Is that why we are doing what we are doing? Let’s keep Klout as it is, just another number that has no meaning on our value as educators. In one conversation it was tweeted that Klout was “something you died from on The Oregon Trail video game?”

For those educators still in favor of chasing a high Klout score, I would suggest we revise the Klout parameters and create a Teacher Klout score.

Teacher Klout:

How many people you influence (True Reach)
This would be based upon a number of elements. How many students have you inspired to do great things with their lives? How many students develop a love of learning while spending time in your classroom or school? How many parents have a renewed sense of pride and confidence in their children as a result of your work? How many teachers see your work and are inspired to be better?

How much you influence them (Amplification)
To what level is your impact on a child? How many students leave your classroom still talking about and spreading the lessons you taught? What life and content driven lessons will your students remember 5, 10, or 20 years after they leave your classroom? How many colleagues are learning from you and implementing your ideas in their classrooms? How many students outside of your classroom are benefiting from your resource or idea sharing?

How influential they are (Network Score)
How many of your students will become the next big thing? Which students will become teachers, doctors, lawyers, politicians, farmers, or engineers? Which students sitting in your class will have profound influence on society due to your work with them?

Klout in a classroom would be very difficult to measure because teachers often never see the true impact of their work. There is no way to effectively measure how much influence a teacher has on a student, family, or colleague. Even though I will never have an actual Teacher Klout score, I think I will keep chasing that high score.