Educators. Students. Community members. Much more unites us than divides us, particularly knowing we all wear multiple hats. Building relationships. Thinking BIG.
Challenging and supporting one another. Developing engaged, empathetic citizens. Please join me in pondering how best to nurture these common ground connections.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Teacher Evaluations

What's the point? My district is spending a significant (rather exorbitant) amount of time discussing the evaluation process. Yes, we've adopted the Danielson Framework. Many of the conversations help me to learn the lingo, understand the mechanics, recognize the legalities and brainstorm potential standard operating procedures. This is all necessary for me. And others. But it's a rare occasion when we set aside the same significant amount of time to have in depth conversations about why we evaluate teachers, what we sincerely hope to gain, and—most of all—how we use best practice pedagogy as a part of our evaluative process to help teachers grow. I don't think any district does enough of this.

The majority of my teaching colleagues would tell you that being evaluated is a hoop to jump through, an annoyance, paperwork that needs to get done. And now, they would add one new twist. It helps districts end up with rankings. A condition that nurtures competition and isolation. How do I know? Because I've asked all of my former colleagues. And I was one of them...So we need to do better than these experiences.

The mechanical pieces of evaluations are necessary. I know that. However, there are so many parallels between teacher evaluations and student assessments that I hope we capitalize on them; I think they can help guide this journey. Concerned and effective teachers spend the majority of their careers trying to tip the balance for students from thinking about "points" to focusing on "learning." If students spend their time concentrating on points, they open the door to a number of educational traps—anxiety, ignorance, missed opportunities, and creative suffocation. But if they concentrate on learning, the appropriate grade follows and an unexpected world of adventure and connection surfaces along the way. The same is true for how we evaluate teachers. We need to tip the balance of focus for teachers from evaluations (ranks) to true professional development (pushing practice).

So as an administrator, I feel a self-prescribed, appropriate level of responsibility to help teachers do this. To grow, not just exist or survive. This requires experience, differentiation, risk-taking, presence, intelligence, time, joy and support. (That's all!) So I need to develop an "SOP" that uses what I want teachers to gain from the evaluative process as the foundation of the mechanics. Here's what I want for them:
  • To Enjoy Teaching
  • To Push Practice
  • To Stay Current
  • To Remain (or learn to be) Creative
  • To Nurture Connections
  • To Balance Personal and Professional Worlds
  • I want them to want to come to work and play...
If teachers focus on the above, any rubric used to assess their practice will lead to an appropriate evaluation. But if they focus on the rubric (grade), the prescribed outcomes (rewards) may surface, but all of the above will slowly die out.

So as I try to develop a means to tip this balance, I know for certain that one way to tap into the language of the above is to model the joy of being an educator. And I really do love this arena. I see the weight lifted from the shoulders of teachers who spend every daylight hour trying to nurture student growth when I simply smile.

So here's a suggestion. We want teachers to practice all of the above. Because in the end, if they do, what a singularly exceptional experience our students will have in their classrooms. So let go of the mechanics a bit. Practice the above as a leader. Let your hair down, so to speak. Vulnerability permits honesty to surface. And growth follows.

Develop a lesson plan. Together.
Make mistakes. Together.
Have a serious discussion. Together.
Write on the wall. Together.
Dance. Together.
Sing. Together.
Play music. Together. (I mean seriously...if you can sing or play an instrument, how are you NOT using this as a means to connect or create. Coming from someone who would give her right arm to be able to do this...)
Create an artistic piece. Together.
Perform. Together.
Get laughed at. Together.
Get yelled at. Together.
Share stories. Together.
Challenge each other's positions. Together.
Fall. And Rise. Together.
Protest. And Fundraise. Together.
Forgive. And Celebrate. Together.
More than anything else, break bread together. Often.

Then, and only then, will teachers feel the freedom to let go. And fly. (And yes, I'm still searching for the time to do a lot of the above. But I am doing as much of it as I can.)

We all know that every child deserves a champion to advocate on their behalf. We have those aplenty at my district. That's a given.

I contend every teacher deserves a champion too.


Anonymous said...

Relational leaders, the most effective kind, build loyalty and trust among those they lead. Your post not only begins to heal the brokenness in the relationship that has existed, but also begins to build trust as you relate to the teachers "who spend every daylight hour trying to nurture student growth" through many actions that you have taken, in particular your smile. Thanks for sharing!

J. Gallagher said...

Thank you! How kind. You just made my day! My year, in fact! I'll continue down this path. Not only because I agree with you that relational leaders are the most effective, but because 1) it's who I am and 2) you guys are phenomenal; it takes zero effort to see the magic in this department. :)