teacher evaluations

When Teacher Evaluations Fail – Lessons Learned!

Last week we explored some common pitfalls of teacher evaluations. Now, let’s discuss how evaluators can avoid these pitfalls and turn teacher evaluations into an effective process for professional growth and continuous improvement.  Here’s how:

Problem: Incorrect Perceptions or Just Checking Off the Boxes – In this scenario, the evaluator placed dots on a page to track teacher interaction with students. The focus of the classroom observation was to “check the boxes” of the evaluation. The feedback – that the teacher needed more dots – was not meaningful. This teacher was left wondering why. In this case a dot only meant a teacher spoke out loud with a student, not whether it was meaningful. The requirement that every student should have a dot during the classroom observation was arbitrary and didn’t add any value.

Solution: Establish and Communicate a Clear Objective for the Observation – Classroom observations should have a clear objective that helps to focus the intent of the teacher evaluation: what do effective teachers do? How can this teacher be more effective? The evaluator should use the dots to jumpstart a conversation that leads to teacher reflection. He could ask and/or observe what kind of conversations were taking place and how they represented student understanding of the material. This type of reflective dialogue encourages the teacher to become more self-aware of his engagement level with the students.

Problem: Small Sample Size or Bad Timing – In this scenario, evaluators based their evaluations on one or two short observations, some of which were poorly timed. This type of evaluation also failed because it only took into consideration a small sample of the teacher’s work over the course of the school year with the students.

Solution: Flexible Scheduling, Video Observations, Supportive Artifacts – Obviously, a larger sample size is the ideal way for the evaluator to fully understand the teacher’s effectiveness. However, the reality is that evaluators have numerous demands on their time, too, so spending more time on observations is not always feasible. An efficient solution is needed to improve the quality and fairness of the observations. What might that look like?

First, it’s important to observe a lesson more representative of a typical day in the classroom. Ask the teacher for a list of days that may not be the norm (e.g., perhaps they are giving a test) and avoid those days. Sometimes teachers are forced to change plans for various reasons (e.g., moving a test because there was a fire alarm), so evaluators should be willing to change plans also. Evaluators can even start the observation with a simple question, “Is this a good time?” and come back another day if there’s a reasonable explanation why it isn’t.

The evaluator can also supplement a short observation by looking at a unit lesson plan and/or having a conversation with the teacher about where the observed lesson worked into a unit. For example, they might observe a lecture and then through a conversation with the teacher see that it was essential context for students to understand a historical event, which they would later analyze and connect to a current issue. Had the evaluator only seen the lecture, they would’ve missed the depth of learning and application that was taking place in the classroom. A bigger picture evaluation would lead to more conversation and purposeful feedback, and it would be a more reasonable representation of the teacher’s work.

The evaluator and teachers can also use video observations to increase the number of lessons and activities observed, which then increases the number of coaching cycles with each teacher. Imagine a teacher recording themselves on their tablet or phone and then reviewing the video with their evaluator for targeted feedback. This is now possible with iAspire Reflect.

Problem: No Immediate Feedback is Provided – In this scenario, a teacher was briefly observed numerous times throughout the year to get a “snapshot” of what he did in class. However, his evaluator did not give him any feedback regarding these visits. He was left wondering what the observers were looking for and whether they had found it.

Solution: Use a Digital Solution with Immediate Feedback Capability – To make short observations more open and efficient, the evaluators should know what they’re looking for during the visit and provide immediate feedback. Are they checking to see if a specific curriculum is being taught, whether a certain methodology is being used, whether differentiation is taking place, or whether students are actively engaged? After the observation, there should be specific feedback related to these objectives, to reinforce strengths and improve weak areas.

In every scenario there were issues related to inconsistent feedback over a seemingly ambiguous set of objectives.

This means evaluators must have clearly-communicated objectives and also get a complete picture of the teacher’s work, regardless of the number and length of classroom observations. The feedback should then be based on these objectives and include opportunities for reflective dialogue. Follow these simple solutions, and you’ll create a teacher-centric and teacher-driven process for nurturing professional growth.

~Dawn Knight

Teacher Evaluation, Teacher Coaching

When Teacher Evaluations Fail Teachers

I’ve been an English teacher for 23 years, so I’ve participated in numerous teacher evaluations. While some of these have encouraged growth and improvement, others have been what my students would call a “fail.” Educators today, like yourself, often voice frustration at their evaluation processes. I reached out to some other educators and explored their teacher evaluation experiences. A common pattern emerged from these experiences despite the varied approaches to the teacher evaluation process.

Sometimes, teacher evaluations fail teachers.

Below are some of the common pitfalls these educators shared with me regarding their teacher evaluation experiences:

Incorrect Perceptions or Just Checking Off the Boxes – One California educator described how his evaluator placed dots on a sheet of paper as the teacher interacted with students. When the evaluation was over, the evaluator pointed out a cluster of four dots missing; four students the teacher had not engaged in conversation. However, the educator had left the group alone on purpose. They were actively engaged in a rich discussion over the topic, and he didn’t want to interrupt the conversation. When he explained this to his evaluator, he was told, “Do it anyway.” Although this teacher understood the importance of interacting with his students, and his interaction with the other students in the room indicated that he was doing so, he wondered at the feedback. He knew if he inserted himself into the conversation, the students would’ve looked to him, the expert, for the answer. So, he chose to let them engage with the material instead creating a richer educational experience. He wondered why the dots were considered more important than observing quality peer collaboration.

Small Sample Size or Bad Timing – Sometimes, the frustration is that an evaluation is just one small snapshot of what a teacher does with his students. Picture this: a teacher has an evaluator who refuses to reschedule an observation when the class schedule that day has been abnormal. What if a student is struggling with a major life stressor, and the teacher deviates from the planned lesson to provide social/emotional support to the student? This situation probably occurs everyday in classrooms. Often, there is only one opportunity to impress, and the evaluator may only visit the last ten minutes of a class meaning timing is everything.  “In short, a lot of emphasis is placed on that one visit,” one teacher explained. What purpose could be served by a teacher evaluation process that accounts for so little of the daily happenings in the classroom?

No Immediate Communication or Feedback is Provided – Another teacher had the opposite experience, but he was equally frustrated. His administrators wore cardboard cameras around their neck for visits that were considered a brief walk through. The intention of the fake cameras was to eliminate the anxiety of a formal evaluation and to recognize, symbolically, the nature of the visit as a mere snapshot of what he does in the classroom. However, there was no feedback after the snapshot visit, no opportunity for reflective dialogue, and the cameras distracted the students. He wondered what the administrators were looking for and whether they had found it.

Lack of Consistency and Targeted Feedback – Other teachers also expressed frustration over a lack of helpful feedback on a more consistent schedule. A California teacher hadn’t been evaluated in five years, but her colleague in Florida had an evaluator in her room at least once a week. The Florida teacher receives a list of praises after each evaluation, but she is frustrated at the lack of targeted feedback to aid her professional growth.

The common pitfalls of teacher evaluations (listed above) and the related high stakes often frustrate teachers and their evaluators. The end result is a costly and time-intensive teacher evaluation process that fails both the teacher and the evaluator. Evaluators who avoid these common pitfalls can turn the evaluation process into an effective tool for professional growth and continuous improvement.

Do any of these common pitfalls sound familiar to you?  Would your teachers agree with some of these pain points shared by other teachers across the country? 

~Dawn Knight