As a educational technology coach teacher evaluations do not fall into my jurisdiction.
But the way evaluations are used in a school impacts my role as a coach.
And this makes it important to me.
For this reason and because I recently read Teacher self-supervision: Why teacher evaluation has failed and what we can do about it by William Powell and Ochan Kusuma-Powell and participated in a Twitter chat with the authors this topic is at the forefront of my mind. (You can look up our Twitter chat with the #teacherbookclub hashtag.)
The Powells bring to light many points worthy of consideration by every person who conducts evaluations. And they jump right out on the first page and state, “It [traditional teacher evaluations] doesn’t improve student learning; it is immensely time and energy consuming; and it destroys the culture of trust in schools” (p.7).
I feel like this drives a central point home.
How does traditional teacher evaluation impact our students’ learning in a positive manner?
I don’t think it does.
And if it doesn’t, as the Powells state, then why do schools continue to utilize such a traditional system?
Then the obvious next question is if the traditional system doesn’t work, what should we be doing instead?
Through the book and the Twitter chat, here’s what I’ve come up with.
There is a need to establish a culture of professional growth instead of a system of appraisal that causes feelings of anxiety and reduces trust.
Bill and Ochan “advocate for an approach to teacher professional learning that capitalizes on teacher strengths” (p.25).
As adults, most of us are aware of our strengths and weaknesses. Acknowledging those helps us set goals for our own learning.
The Powells stipulate that “we should be focused on adult learning: professional learning that is self-directed” (p. 21).
When it comes to the learning being self-directed, school administrators must expect that teachers will participate in their own professional learning (Powell, p. 17).
In addition, the book reports, “The answer to the quandary of improving learning for students lies squarely in improving learning for teachers. As a result, teachers have a sacred obligation to become architects of their own, on-going professional growth” (p. 18).
As a tech coach, I believe that this professional learning is something that I should model for our teachers. And I believe that this is something administrators should be speak to and model as well.
This is why I’ve been trying to get back into writing this blog, documenting my professional reading online, and sharing what I’m learning with our staff through emails and PD.
When designing professional development, this is something that I take into consideration. I’ve recently shared my experiences trying both speedgeeking and unconferencing instead of a traditional whole group PD approach.
I want to have our teachers leading professional development. I want them to share their learning. Sharing your knowledge with others empowers you and helps you grow and reflect on your own teaching. I think that this is a valuable piece of the teacher evaluation component.
This self-directed learning of teachers drives a new look at teacher evaluation. As teachers reflect on their learning needs, they should have meaningful conversations with the evaluator about what they’d like to focus on and how the evaluator can document and collect appropriate data. With data in hand, post-evaluation, the teacher makes her own judgment about his/her performance and the next steps moving forward.
These conversations can be meaningfully held using strategies from the Powells’ Cognitive Coaching seminars I’ve recently written about. Cognitive Coaching was developed by their mentors, Art Costa and Bob Garmston.
In this methodology, the evaluator does not pass judgment, either positive or negative. They simply gather data, listen carefully, paraphrase and offer questions that allow the teacher to continue to reflect on their observation and plan for the future.
“Praise is, after all, just as much judgment as criticism” (p. 46).
This is a change from the traditional line of thinking by most teacher evaluator approaches. According to the Powells, “The ability to refrain from evaluation and stay in the descriptive mode promotes deep shared understanding and, even more importantly, separates the observation from the person being observed” (p. 61).
This concept of feedback is written about in detail in the Powells’ book.
Speaking about feedback given to students, they write, “Teachers are often much better at providing feedback to students than they are at ensuring that students use it. Giving feedback that isn’t acted upon is arguably one of the single most wasteful uses of teacher time” (p. 65).
The same is true of feedback given from administrator to teacher.
So by changing the way administrators evaluate teachers, we can shift the dynamic between these two parties, and create a real culture of growth and learning in our schools.
This is why I believe that everyone working in schools could work on our skills at having meaningful conversations. We are often too worried about ‘playing nice’ with each other and not encouraging each other to push our thinking forward to really engage in reflection that can be an agent of change.
The same is true for me as an educational technology coach. How can I have meaningful conversations with my teachers that helps them reflect on their use of tech in the classroom? Does this have to focus just on technology or can it be more widespread across the curriculum? How do you successfully implement these ideas across your school?
Charting a new course. flickr photo by Martin Hricko https://flickr.com/photos/martinhricko/8230723408 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license
These are the questions I’m pondering.
And how can I take these pieces and create a concrete plan for myself, independent of the methods my school chooses to implement for evaluation?
Time to consider the next steps!
Are you a tech coach? What is your relationship like with your teachers? What are your best coaching tips?