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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

Teacher Evaluation

Using Videos During Teacher Observations Part 3 – Helping You Get Started

The reflection that I did myself, when I videoed, offered me more opportunity for growth than anything an outsider could do for me. Watching my kids, what went on in my room, how I handled it, and things I said—that was more important than any sit-down that I could have with anybody [else]. ” Best Foot Forward teacher, North Carolina (2013)1

In this third installment of our Using Videos During Teacher Observations series, we will dive right in to what the research says with regard to using videos to support teacher observations.  Our previous two posts can be found here: My Own Struggles and Creating an environment where teachers self reflect.

I’m guessing most of you don’t formally use videos during your teacher observations.  Coaching?  Maybe.  The observer sitting down, watching the lesson on video, and providing feedback specific based on what was seen on film?  Probably not.  There are a lot of reasons why schools are hesitant to use videos.  According to Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research and their Best Foot Forward Project, these reasons may include but are not limited to:

  • Compliance Culture
  • Rudimentary Reflection
  • Inflexible Time
  • Inadequate content area feedback

I’ve personally had conversations with several administrators who had various other reasons why they aren’t using videos for teacher observations.  These reasons include their Union won’t allow it, they don’t have the appropriate technology, there is not a simple way to do it, and they are afraid of teachers putting on the proverbial “dog and pony show”.  Others had concerns about students being recorded and what would be required from a policy perspective to allow for recording in the classroom.  However 95% of these administrators rated the potential of video reflections/observations as having a major impact in their school.  In other words, most (95%) think using videos during observations would make a positive difference for them and their teachers.  They just aren’t doing it.

The aforementioned Best Foot Forward Project from Harvard University does a fantastic job providing specific suggestions to break through these barriers.  Their toolkit is simply amazing.  If you haven’t reviewed their toolkit, you should download it now.  The Toolkit provides support in the following areas:

  • Leveraging Video for Learning
    • Video for self-reflection, peer collaboration, virtual coaching, evaluation, and building a video library
  • Cultivating Trust in Video Observations
    • Create a safe environment for teachers and communicate with parents and manage student privacy concerns
  • Turnkey Technology: Setting up Schools for Effective Implementation
    • Choose the right technology, set up your infrastructure, train teachers and observers
  • Measuring Readiness and Assessing Success
    • Ensure readiness, Assess Success
  • Appendix
  • References

Speaking of the dog and pony show, The Best Foot Forward project addressed that directly in its Leveraging Video for Learning section: “If teachers control the camera, they are able to choose a videotaped lesson that they believe represents a comprehensive view of their best work.  Not only does this process increase teacher agency in evaluation, but it also encourages teachers to rewatch several lessons and contemplate what constitutes effective, evaluation-worthy instruction before choosing what will be submitted to the administrator.”  Later it reads “…teachers put their ‘best foot forward’, but this did not fundamentally change the distribution of observation scores between teachers.”2  For a more detailed quantitative review, please see the Best Foot Forward research brief.

The Best Foot Forward Project also includes a self-guided module for analyzing videos of your own instruction, a self-analysis noticing rubric, coaching conversation scripts, and many other worthwhile resources.

If you are considering using videos to support teacher reflection, coaching, and/or evaluation, the guidance from the Best Foot Forward project may help you map an implementation schedule and feel comfortable doing so.  There are definitely logistics to consider, timing issues, collective bargaining disagreements, and other barriers you will face, but best practice suggests using video can have a positive impact on your entire observation process.

Next week we will take a look at how a professional athlete uses video to improve his game, and you may even learn a little bit about Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle.

 

Have you used videos during any of your observations, coaching cycles, or evaluations?  If so, how did it go?

 

1Fullerton, J., Greenberg, M., Kane, T., Le, L., Quinn, D., Thal, D., & Zelaya, S. (2015). Leveraging Video for Learning: Strategies for Using Video Observations for Professional Growth [PDF]. Center for Education Policy Research. p. 2

2Fullerton, J., Greenberg, M., Kane, T., Le, L., Quinn, D., Thal, D., & Zelaya, S. (2015). Leveraging Video for Learning: Strategies for Using Video Observations for Professional Growth [PDF]. Center for Education Policy Research. p. 11-12

Video Self Reflections

Using Videos During Teacher Observations Part 2 – Teacher Self Reflection

Last week I spent some time talking about my own personal struggles when completing observations.  As a quick recap, these difficulties included an inability to notice, and capture, everything that happened in the classroom, the difficulty in remembering and recalling the specific details of each lesson when in an observation conference with a teacher, and the teacher’s own self-reflection of the lesson.  You can read last week’s post by clicking here: Using Videos During Teacher Observations Part 1 – My Own Struggles

Today I want to focus on the self-reflection aspect of the teacher observation/evaluation process.  Many researchers have proven the power of creating an environment where employees thrive, one which:

  • Challenges employees but provides appropriate support.  The Pygmalion effect suggests that people will reach the expectations that are placed on them.  If you expect a lot from your employees, but not so much that you consistently discourage them, your team will rise to your expectations.  Consequently, if you expect very little from your employees, guess what you will receive in return?
  • Values employees and their contributions.  Teaching is a tough job, as we all know.  Your teachers are impacting dozens, if not hundreds, of students each day.  Teachers are world-changers – let’s treat them as such!
  • Encourages both collaboration and autonomy.  Teachers have a lot to learn, and a lot to share.  Encourage your teachers to continually learn from each other, yet create an environment for teachers to practice and implement their learning in their own classrooms.  In the words of Daniel Pink, “Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.
  • Allows for risk-taking.  For teachers to improve, they must try new things.  Allow your teachers to take risks and see what happens (of course the risk needs to be legal, ethical, thought out, and fits within the vision, mission, and beliefs of the organization…)  Setting up an environment where risk-taking is “allowed” will provide encouragement and motivation to teachers to improve, even if there are stumbling blocks along the way.
  • Supports teacher self-reflection.  See below:

To get the most out of any professional development, initiative, or strategy, the ownership must lie in the hands of those on the front line.  The best book study or workshop will not positively affect your teachers, and therefore students, unless and until your teachers actually practice the actions.  Studying is not enough.  Learning is not enough.  You must actually “do”.

Being the owner of a company that specializes in employee evaluations, I fully support the effective use of observer feedback.  After all, sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know.  Having an outsider provide perspective, suggestions, and questions can go a long way to improve teachers’ instruction and implementation of the studying and learning.

However, sometimes I think we miss the boat and provide a little too much observer feedback.  Many times I had observation conferences with teachers, and the teacher was WAY harder on him/herself than I thought was necessary.  The teacher would have an entire monologue prepared with things he/she would change.  This is great self-reflection, but as we discussed last week, I question what the teacher was using to reflect.  It was solely based on memory of what she heard, saw, and said as well as what she let through her own filters.  Additionally, how many days had passed between the lesson and this reflection?  Again I question if this is the absolute best way for teachers to self-reflect?

I wonder how this teacher’s thought process would have been different if he/she had reviewed the lesson on video first?  I wonder what this teacher would have noticed and how more meaningful it would be to watch the lesson, or a portion of it, on video?  Perhaps the teacher is so in tune with his/her own teaching the reflections would have been identical.  I’m guessing not though.  I’m guessing this teacher would come prepared to show, not just talk about, what she noticed and what she would do differently.  As a former observer, this is the kind of self-reflection I would want my teachers to participate in.

Next week we will dive further into the research and discuss the Best Foot Forward project from Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research.  Here’s a little teaser to think about between now and then:

“The reflection that I did myself, when I videoed, offered me more opportunity for growth than anything an outsider could do for me. Watching my kids, what went on in my room, how I handled it, and things I said—that was more important than any sit-down that I could have with anybody [else]. ”

Best Foot Forward teacher, North Carolina (2013)1

1https://cepr.harvard.edu/files/cepr/files/1._leveraging_video_for_learning.pdf

The Art of Effective Feedback

The art of giving feedback is just that – an art.  It takes purpose, planning, and practice.  I remember the very first time I emailed feedback to a teacher after observing a lesson.  I wish I could have a mulligan!  Sure I did the best that I could, but I’m not sure the feedback I sent had a purpose, other than to send it, or was well planned.  It certainly was practice though!

One difficulty I had, even with a lot of experience, was balancing being thorough with the feedback and not taking too much time when writing it.  I wanted to be sure the recipient of my feedback clearly understand what I was trying to say, why I was saying it, and how my observations led to what I communicated with the teacher.  However I also didn’t want to write too much time writing because both the teacher and I were busy and had a plate-full of work to do at all times.

According to Grant Wiggins, “Feedback is information about how we are doing in our efforts to reach a goal.”  (Educational Leadership) The key here, in my opinion, is reaching the goal.  This reinforces the importance of setting goals, having measurable criteria, and shaping a clear vision for the future.  Mr. Wiggins goes on to explain 7 Keys to Effective Feedback, including the feedback being tangible and transparent, actionable, user-friendly, timely, ongoing, and consistent.

A separate publication from ASCD Express reinforces many similar characteristics of effective feedback, including being goal-oriented and giving bite-sized chunks while focusing on big-picture learning goals. While this article is focused on teachers giving feedback to students, these same qualities of effective feedback also work from observer to teacher.

Marzano gives fantastic tips about effective coaching which includes many applicable strategies when providing feedback in either a coaching or supervisory role.  These include descriptive feedback, providing teachers with choice, emphasizing growth and learning, and focusing on one goal at a time.

Other great feedback resources include the following:

Keeping in mind the above tips will help when writing feedback for your first, four hundredth, or four thousandth time.  It does take purpose, planning, practice, and time to provide meaningful feedback.  However, there are very few things that make as big or bigger of an impact on teaching, and therefore student learning, than helping teachers grow.

What have you found to be most helpful when providing feedback?

Co-authoring Student Narratives Daily

Two books by Peter JohnstonChoice Words and Opening Minds, are the foundation of this reflection on the impact we have on children.

Every child walks into school each day with much of their story already written. The perceptions and comments of others have already begun to shape their self-image. As educators, we must engage, inspire, and empower children to continue writing this narrative, and in many cases, revising and editing it. The language and words we use with children change their lives. Over time, their experiences with the language of their parents, teachers, peers, and selves begin to become reality and define them.

How can we promote a positive narrative during the short time we have them in our care on a daily basis? We must provide a democratic, dialogic, and positive learning environment filled with opportunities to think, imagine, collaborate, and challenge one another respectfully. Such conditions welcome voice, choice, change, and growth. This environment removes the authoritarian presence and allows students to be co-creators of learning, which in turn breeds a positive and productive learning environment.

Remember, being positive does not always mean complimenting the learner but rather the learning! Most commonly used forms of praise are actually counterproductive. Praise is most productive when used in casual processes. Feedback like “Good job!” or “You are so smart!” implicitly suggest that a student is either good/bad or smart/dumb, and you become the judge. Prevent using stems such as “I like how you…” because this puts children in the position of being the pleaser while other children listen in and wonder why their work is not valued. Again, you become the judge. More productive language would be “I noticed that you…,” or “How did that make you feel?” The focus becomes less about the result and more about the effort and process. By doing so, we develop children with dynamic learning frames who view learning as an opportunity to grow rather than children with fixed-performance frames who believe intelligence is inherent and outcomes are predetermined.

It is critical to remember that you are a co-author in the personal narratives children write.

How do you use language to inspire, empower, and NOT judge your students?

~Jered Pennington