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

What is the purpose of your lesson? Did your students actually “get it”?

Why, exactly, are students spending time with you today?  What is it you want students to know, understand, and be be able to do as a result of this lesson and unit? Great teaching starts with a great reason to teach!

My favorite analogy to describe learning objectives (or lesson objectives, learning targets, learning goals, etc.) is to think about a GPS system.  Unless you are on summer break, it is not often that you get in your car and just start driving.  It’s even less often that you get in your car and the car decides to take you somewhere.  Instead, you take about 30 seconds and type in your destination.  Magically, the GPS system gives you turn by turn directions, and you can even look at the route in advance to know why the GPS system is taking you in a certain way.  Is there an accident on your typical route?  Perhaps a road is closed?  And what happens when you miss a turn or make a pit stop?  You receive specific and targeted feedback on how to stay on course.  Voila, you are at your destination!

How does this translate to the classroom?  Clear and specific (measurable even?) lesson objectives, teamed with effective checks for understanding and modifying instruction as needed, allow for students to know where they are going and when they have arrived.  Without a “road map” giving directions and feedback along the way, there is no ending.  Students will never know if they’ve gotten anywhere, let alone their destination. What’s just as important is the why.  Do students also know why they are spending time in school learning this?  Do they understand the significance and real-world application of the concepts being taught?

As simple as this sounds, the magic of these clear and specific lesson objectives comes from the teacher communicating them to the students.  Make it no secret – the students should know precisely what they are doing and why it is important.  Be explicit, and your students will take ownership of the learning themselves.

One simple and effective way of gauging how well students understand the purpose of the lesson is to ask them!  As an administrator, I made it routine at the end of each observation to ask a few students what they were doing and why.  I typically wrote the students’ answers in the feedback I sent teachers so they could read their students’ comments.  The student comments became an important part of my post-observation conversation with teachers.  If students are able to articulate the day’s learning, its impact, and its importance, there was clarity.  If students could not, it was time for me to ask more questions of the teacher to better understand why this might be.

Teachers can ask the exact same question at the end of a lesson, either as a quick exit slip, a short dialogue, or in some other way.

Are you allowing your students to know their final destination before even beginning the lesson, or are you having your students jump into the car without any idea of where they are going?

~Eric Bransteter