By Lesley Hagelgans
Now is the time to flip the script on teacher evaluations. Teachers can no longer afford to be passive in the receipt of their evaluations – both literally and figuratively.
The livelihood of 3.1 million people – teachers – will be affected if they don’t become active in this process. More importantly, according to the Institute of Education Sciences, the 49.8 million students enrolled in public schools this fall will not receive the best education their teachers could provide for them. Time spent pulling together data reports and documenting every accommodation for every child takes time away from the art and craft of good teaching, including connecting with kids, finding research to improve one’s craft, and planning for more effective instruction thus ultimately hurting student achievement.
Change in Policy
Over the past four years, the process of teacher evaluation evolved faster than the Common Core and State Assessments. Teacher evaluation, the vital instrument intended to organically improve student achievement, has eroded while debates over a nationalized curriculum and high stakes testing distracted educators and administrators alike.
Students and parents have become customers. Administrators have become little more than retail managers trying to improve sales from the year before as demonstrated by test scores. Teachers have become clerks trying to retain their customers while meeting the quota. Republicans and Democrats created a role for themselves as upper management dictating corporate policies.
But students and teachers are not cogs in a capitalist machine.
Time to Take Action
Teachers need to find their voice in the process and coach others as well. While some administrators seem to sadly enjoy wielding the sword of evaluation, they are a minority.
Principals cannot be everywhere at all times and see everything. They can only document what they observe and what the data shows them. They need help from teachers to provide anecdotes and data if something doesn’t appear quite right.
An evaluator might see a messy classroom and note the teacher does not adequately provide an orderly learning environment. What that person cannot see are the relationships an educator was building with students all day long with no time to tend to the mess. The teacher can bring anecdotes, video footage, student reflections and data to explain the messy classroom and effect on student achievement.
The evaluation process and the game of baseball have a lot in common. Administrators and evaluators are like pitchers, and when they document a concern on an evaluation, it’s like sending out a pitch. Teachers need to practice swinging in order to be able to hit a pitch. Is the educator going to score a homerun, hit a foul, bunt, take a walk on balls or strikeout? Many teachers have become complacent in the process by striking out or taking a walk without even swinging.
START SWINGING FOR THE FENCES
Educators need to start swinging for the fences. Here are some warm-ups:
- Never sign an evaluation the day or even week it is presented. Take time to let it resonate.
- If you are not given your written evaluation prior to your meeting, ask to reschedule the meeting until you have had time to carefully review the document.
- Read ahead. Know the evaluation tool and process before the year starts.
- Do your homework. Once you have received your evaluation, carefully examine it looking for anything punitive. Then gather your data, anecdotes, video footage or whatever you can to support how your actions have improved student achievement.
- Focus on the information in the evaluation and the evidence to back it up – both good and bad. Staying focused helps to keep emotions at bay.
- Reach out to parents and elected officials. Let them know what’s going on. Seek reforms where the evaluation process is created and calibrated by experts in the field not politicians.
- Share. It’s time for meaningful professional learning communities. Educators who are christened highly effective can share what they are doing with others. Teachers who are pegged as minimally effective seek the expertise of fellow teachers to mentor you.