By Jim Szewc
The late, great Stephen Covey once said, “Find your voice and inspire others to find theirs.” The following success story shows how lending your voice to issues that are important within our school walls and communities, such as teacher evaluations, can lead to equity and positive change. If you take away anything from this piece it is that banding together and getting others to follow your passion whether you are sitting at the negotiating table, or sitting in the faculty lounge, leading and supporting change, your voice has infinite value – use it!
I was fortunate to have experienced the implementation of a new teacher evaluation system from the classroom teacher perspective and have watched it develop as I transitioned into my current role as a new teacher mentor within the Hillsborough County Public School system (FL). This evaluation system was designed by various stakeholders both inside and outside of our school district, supported through a grant awarded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that gave our district a financial advantage to start developing such a system before most other districts were required to by state mandate. What makes our story so unique is that the development and implementation of this system included teacher union involvement and classroom teacher input at every step of the journey. Although I was not as involved in this area of the district five years ago, I was able to speak with several people who were both within the district and outside over the past year and was pleased at what I found. This collaborative relationship with school board members, the superintendent, various district personnel and the teacher union and its members was paramount in making such a massive systematic change possible. I have no doubt as to why, five years later, we are continually viewed as a model district for others in the same position. As with most major paradigm shifts within systems as large as this, there were definitely hurdles to conquer in order to accept and successfully adapt to the changes. However, it was evident that collaboration and equity of voice were the keystones in developing a fair and efficient system. If you are involved in the same process within your district, I encourage you to find a seat at the table so you can help raise the volume of teacher voices from the first conversation through the final negotiation and invite others to do the same. We are always asking our students to understand and design how they should be evaluated, so it is vital that we do the same when the opportunity arises.
As the new evaluation system was being introduced, I was a 4th grade classroom teacher, and like everyone else I was hungry for as much information and details about this new framework, developed by researcher, Charlotte Danielson. As a participant and spectator during the early months of the roll-out, I observed my colleagues showing signs of concern, trepidation, and even fear in some ways. This fear derived from the knowledge that several new faces would be in the classroom throughout the year and each time, they’d be critiquing the instructor’s every move. In some ways, I shared this same fear as it was an early stage of my career, but also, having come from the business world in my first life, the thought of being evaluated based on my performance was not something that was new to me. In addition, within this observational component would also include feedback from school administrators and seasoned veterans of the classroom, so how could this be a bad thing? In making this my personal stance, I was able to undergo the first two years of implementation with a positive attitude and willingness to listen and help my colleagues do so as well. This is where I lent my voice, in helping others see the value in feedback and how it could change how you taught and how much the students were learning. If I were in that position again, I would have tried whatever I could to be a bigger part of the development process, and would have tried to share my sentiment outside of my school walls. Whatever stage of the process your district is in, I whole-heartedly encourage you to do the same, keep an open-mind and be receptive to feedback and help your colleagues see that same value!
Throughout these last five years, welcoming teacher voice and representation in the implementation or adjustments to this evaluation system has been a priority of our district and a mission of our teachers and union representatives. It has been fundamental toward creating this evaluation system and will be a vital foundation for the long-term success of our district, our teachers and our students.
How loud will your voice be when the time comes in your district to make a monumental change?
A Closer Look at HCPS’s Teacher Evaluation System:
- The observational component makes up 60% of our overall evaluation “score” and of that the principal’s observations and peer evaluation are weighed equally, although some professionalism components are observed and rated only by the principal. Depending on previous year’s performance, teachers may be observed multiple times both formally and informally within any given school year.
- The remaining 40% of the overall evaluation consists of a value-added score calculated based upon annual student gains in various academic assessments both state and district designed. What students and assessments that are included in this calculation depend on the educator’s role in the school and what students are officially assigned to you and therefore are impacted by your teaching.
- Although the formula itself was not designed by teachers, as a component within our overall evaluation system, it was agreed to and voted on through the adoption process, which involved teachers and the teacher union every step of the way.
Links and Resources:
- Building It Together: The Design and Implementation of Hillsborough County Public Schools‘ Teacher Evaluation System
- Leading Change in Hillsborough County Public Schools
- Multiple Measures of Teacher Effectiveness in Hillsborough County Public Schools
- Multiple Measures of Teacher Effectiveness in Hillsborough County Public Schools: The Roles of Peers and Mentors
- Multiple Measures of Teacher Effectiveness in Hillsborough County Public Schools: Implementing Value-added Measures