Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Teacher evaluations: So soon old, so late smart

The old adage - so soon old and so late smart - seems oddly appropriate as the conversations continue to swirl around how to evaluate teachers.

It seems as if the conversation has been raging for years - so soon old.

But it also seems that we are no closer to deciding how to evaluate teaching and what characteristics we should see in classrooms - so late smart.

In teacher evaluation, school administrators have played a large part in bringing us to where we are today. For many years, we allowed a system to be created that did not honor teachers. It was a system that looked for minimal compliance then rated almost everyone as satisfactory. Satisfactory was seen as excellent by many. We allowed this perception because we, the school administrators, were not willing or able to have deep and meaningful conversations about teaching and learning with teachers.

That is not to suggest that we have a host of teachers who are incompetent hiding beyond public view in our schools. Quite the contrary. the vast majority of our teachers are effective. A smaller subset of those teachers are very effective.

To be honest, and fair, teachers have also been complicit in our old teacher evaluation system. Teachers, in my opinion, were hesitant to be singled out as exceptional or above average and settled for the "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory" rating system. Less turbulence in a system such as that.

Many teachers also rightly pointed out that the evaluation system needs to be more robust since judging teacher performance on just one or two hours out of a whole school year does not really give a well rounded picture of a teachers' talent.

Now, we have entered a new era. Now, thanks to legislation and changing perceptions, teachers must be rated. We must also use student data as a piece of evidence. In Michigan, 25% of a teacher's evaluation will be based on student growth during the 2013-2014 school year. The next year that increases to 40% and the year after that to 50%.

I am still not convinced that these changes will significantly change teacher evaluation. If a principal has been unwilling to have deep and meaningful conversations about teaching and learning in the past a new system will not change that. Administrators need to have the courage to do the job that they have been hired to do. The most important job of an administrator is to make sure that high quality learning environments are created in classrooms everyday. In order to do that an administrator needs to be in classrooms, talking to teachers, having conversations with students, and monitoring teaching and learning experiences.

That is not because the teaching and learning experience is poor. In my district good things happen everyday in the schools. But we can be better. We can be more reflective on what is working and what is not. We can be more reflective on how we use, or waste, time. We can be more reflective on what the student data is telling us about what students are or are not learning. We can be more reflective on if our students are engaged and interested in what is going on.

Teaching and learning is important. If we can use teacher evaluations as a way to elevate the conversation between administrators, teachers, and students about what is going on in classrooms then we will create the classrooms that we need to educate the students who show up in our classrooms every day.

Then we will not feel old and we will find ways to be smarter about the most important thing that we do in schools - teaching students.