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

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


SMART Goal Setting Teacher Education

6 Best Practices for Professional Growth Goals

“A goal properly set is halfway reached.” – Zig Ziglar

For many of you, another school year has come and gone.  Have you reflected on what professional or organizational goals you and your staff accomplished?  If you haven’t, you’re not alone.  A study in 2016 found that only 8% of people set and achieve their goals.  Yes, you read that correctly! 92% of us don’t set and achieve goals.  We want to help this number grow, starting with you!

The truth is, setting and reviewing professional growth goals is a rewarding process and is necessary to achieve professional growth.  Fortunately for you, we’ve condensed this process into 6 best practices for professional growth goals as outlined below.

  •  Professional Growth Goals should be collaborative, but teacher-driven.

In their 2010 book, Advancing the Three-Minute Walkthrough: Mastering Reflective Practice, Carolyn Downey and colleagues emphasize the importance of professional growth goals grounded not only in self-reflection, but also in reflective dialogue with administrators, coaches, and/or fellow teachers.  

  • Professional Growth Goals should be individualized.

This is pretty straight-forward. No two teachers should have the same professional learning goal. Boston Public Schools has some good examples and templates for professional growth goals and professional learning plans.

  • Professional Growth Goals should be based on information from various tools/processes.

When most people make big decisions, they seek information from a variety of sources and a variety of trusted people.  Professional growth is no different.  Professional growth goals should be derived from  a combination of self-assessment, walkthroughs, observations, student data, and reflective dialogue to name a few.

  • Professional Growth Goals should be written as a SMART goal.

In case you’ve never heard of a SMART goal, here is a general article about SMART goals and how to use them.

Check out this specific example of a SMART Professional Growth Goal.

Professional Growth Goals

  • Professional Growth Goal progress should be reviewed mid-year.

This moves the process from primarily summative to more formative. Nobody makes goal adjustments on information they don’t have! The review should be face-to-face, productive, and focused. Specific recommendations should come out of the meeting to help achieve the professional growth goal by the end of the school year.

  • Professional Learning Goals should be tethered to an individualized professional learning plan.

The professional learning plan should outline intentional activities designed to support learning of the educator in accordance with their individualized professional growth goal.  Think of it this way: The professional growth goal is the destination, and the professional learning plan is the roadmap to get there!


If you use these 6 best practices to guide professional growth goals, you’ll join the 8% of people who set and achieve their goals!


“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” – Yogi Berra


Best Practices for Classroom Walkthroughs

5 Best Practices for Classroom Walkthroughs

Of all the different components to the various teacher evaluation frameworks out there, the most misused piece is often the classroom walkthrough. It’s no surprise given there’s much less discussion and research on classroom walkthroughs compared to formal observations. In fact, if you googled walkthrough right now you’d get results mostly about video games! In her research, Carolyn Downey and colleagues offered this definition for a classroom walkthrough, “short, informal visitations to classes followed occasionally by reflective questioning.”. In this way, classroom walkthroughs are quite different than short classroom observations which are formal and evaluative.

When used correctly, classroom walkthroughs provide the observer with key information they can use to build reflective dialogue with teachers and customize professional development opportunities for teachers. If you follow the 5 best practices outlined below, your walkthroughs will transform your performance evaluation processes into something more meaningful – a framework of self-reflection and self-direction to drive the cycle of continuous improvement.

Here are 5 best practices to follow for classroom walkthroughs:

  1. Classroom walkthroughs should be informal.
    This means that minimal data are collected. Any data that is collected is not shared with the teacher directly, rather the information is used to generate reflective questions.
  2. Classroom walkthroughs should be short.
    Most walkthroughs should be no longer than about 10 minutes – just long enough to gather information on how curriculum and instructional decisions are made.
  3. Classroom walkthroughs should be non-evaluative and nonjudgmental.
    This means no checklists with performance descriptions, and no feedback! The focus isn’t on judging the actions of teachers, but to gather information about decisions teachers make. This allows the observer to take on more of a coaching role with the teacher.
  4. Classroom walkthroughs should be tied to a model of collegial supervision, not conventional supervision.
    This puts the focus on teacher development rather than teacher conformity. Conventional supervision will result in substandard results and even lower job satisfaction. Walkthroughs make supervision practices more collegial and encourage collaboration and ongoing reflective inquiry.
  5. Classroom walkthroughs should be tied to a reflective dialogue process.
    The overarching purpose of walkthroughs is to create high quality reflective questions to guide reflective dialogue with teachers. The goal is for the reflective questions to nurture teachers into deeper self-awareness and self-reflection of their teaching practices. However, dialogue with teachers is not necessary after every completed walkthrough.

At the very core of these best practices is trust. Remember, trust is the foundation upon which all teacher observations and classroom walkthroughs are built. If you stick with the core best practices listed above for classroom walkthroughs, your school will build a cycle of continuous improvement focused more on self-reflection and professional growth instead of mere conformity.

Best Practices for Teacher Observations

Best Practices for Teacher Observations

With so many different frameworks and models for classroom observations out there, it’s no wonder why a large number of educators expressed confusion and frustration with classroom observation and teacher evaluation processes in a 2016 report from the Network for Public Education.  The U.S. Department of Education also indicated as much in their 2015 report on classroom observations to improve teacher practice. Evidently, some educators even need a support group!

Surviving Teacher Observations and Evaluations

The truth is that best practices for classroom observations can be condensed into a concise and practical list of core features essential for reaching the intended outcomes.  This is not a one-size-fits-all approach, but rather a core set of practices to ensure your time is well-spent and delivers results.

  1. Streamline your observation domains and rubrics to your state teaching standards.
    • Domains and rubrics should use clear, observable, and explicit language.  The rubrics/forms should be concise, or they will be cumbersome to both the evaluator and the teacher. Clarify vague content and eliminate redundancies or indicators that are not related to student outcomes.
  2. Observations must be anchored to a strong conversational process such as reflective dialogue or cognitive coaching.
    • The observations must engage evaluators and educators in dialogue that strengthens the knowledge and skills of professional educators in a culture of trust and support.  It’s all about professional growth!
  3. Consider differentiating your observations for entry level teachers and experienced teachers.
    • One-size fits all approaches will not work. Entry level teachers and experienced teachers are in different phases of their professional journey as educators. The types and number of observations for these groups should be different to reflect their different professional needs.  For example, consider more peer-based observations for an established, highly effective teacher.
  4. Develop a variety of observation forms and tools from which to choose (formal, informal, long, short, walkthroughs, co-observations).
    • Every situation is unique, so you need to have a fluid process with a variety of observation types to be flexible and adaptable to the unique professional needs of your staff. Maybe a co-observer is needed at times, especially for ancillary staff (e.g., school psychologists, speech and language pathologists, special education teachers, social workers, guidance counselors).  Maybe frequent, informal walkthroughs are needed to complement the longer, formal observations.
  5. Ensure classroom observations are used for both formative and summative feedback in teacher evaluations per the recommendation of the National Education Association.
    • Formative feedback should be ongoing and assist teachers in real-time regarding their goal-setting and professional learning.  Observations should also contribute to summative feedback to help determine whether standards of practice have been met and to help guide employment decisions.

To the extent that different states allow it, picture your district as a center of innovation to try new observation strategies, produce observation forms that benefit observers and teachers, and even create new observation frameworks.  Remember, your classroom observation and teacher evaluation process shouldn’t make your evaluators’ and teachers’ heads spin causing confusion and frustration.  Stick with the core best practices listed above, and you’ll develop a culture of meaningful and manageable classroom observation and teacher evaluation processes!

How Do You Measure Teacher Effectiveness?

As educators, we have a lot on our plates.  Somewhere among best practice, student relationships, responsive instruction, 21st century skills, and our own families/personal lives we need to find time to reflect.  What is going well for you and your teachers right now?  What is not?  How effective are your teachers?  And probably most importantly, how do you know?

There are a myriad of ways to measure teacher effectiveness.  Rubrics and walkthroughs are the most common ways, but some schools and districts have also included student assessments into the teacher evaluation mix.  Personally, I am a huge fan of the word ‘balance’.  Relying on any one tool to measure all aspects of teacher effectiveness is short-sighted and may result in faulty data or incorrect conclusions being drawn.  Instead, looking at several data points can increase the credibility and validity of data.  This is the concept of data triangulation.

When thinking about data triangulation, consider multiple data points collected in various methods (qualitative and quantitative) and sources, such as:

  • Rubrics: rubrics are powerful and communicate to teachers their performance based on a continuum of effectiveness.  Typically 3 – 5 different descriptions of teacher performance are described with specific teacher actions in each rating category.  Ratings could range from ineffective to highly effective, basic to distinguished, and other categories.  Observers can give very specific feedback to teachers when using rubrics.  Rubrics are typically used for longer observations and final teacher ratings (when applicable) but can also be used for formative feedback throughout the school year.
  • Walkthroughs: walkthroughs are typically meant to be used during shorter classroom visits.  Walkthroughs have the ability to collect big-picture data to determine trends among things like teachers, grade, subjects, buildings, and observers.  Walkthroughs usually have a specific list of possible selectable options in various categories, such as student engagement, types of questions, or instructional strategies being use by the teacher.  Walkthroughs are highly customizable and provide flexibility for organizations to collect data that matters most to them.
  • Short observations: short observations can be very simple in design and are typically used for narrative observations and feedback.  This narrative feedback communicates to teachers what was observed and the observers’ own reflections after the lesson.  Within the feedback could be questions, comments, commendations, and recommendations.
  • Student assessment data: Ultimately the goal of education is for students to do well when taking some form of an assessment.  The assessment could be a performance, creation, reflection, discussion, test/quiz, state assessment, portfolio, etc.  When the assessment itself is valued and reliable, the student data can be a very important part of the teacher effectiveness equation. On the other end, though, if the assessment itself is not valued (think state assessments…) or reliable, perhaps it’s better to consider other assessments for teacher evaluation data points.

There are a few other data points schools could consider when thinking about teacher effectiveness: parent input, student input, and peer input.  All must be carefully considered before deciding to include within your teacher evaluation program.

This leads me to a few questions: what’s best for you and your unique situation?  What information do you want to be able to measure and track?  How do you know that your teachers are performing well or not well in certain areas?  Each school/district/organization will have specific indicators of success based on the the unique community the organization serves.  There is no one-size-fits-all approach that will work for all organizations.  Instead, consider what your collective goals are, what your vision of success means, and align your teacher evaluation program to your goals.

How do you measure the effectiveness of your teachers?

Sped Teacher

5 Considerations When Being Observed

Last week we looked at the teacher evaluation/observation process from the eyes of the observer.  Today we’ll look through the lens of the person being observed, the teacher.  When being observed, it is natural to feel anxiety, for the entire observation to go by in a blur.  Oftentimes when the observer leaves the classroom the teacher will instantly start to consider all the things he/she did “wrong” instead of the many great things that happened.  Every class period and lesson is unique, and this observation is just a sliver into what you do on a daily basis.

When thinking about how to approach the evaluation/observation process, keep in mind the following five considerations for teachers:

5 – If you were observing this lesson, what feedback would you give yourself? – Truly reflect on your actions, the actions of your students, and the words being used throughout the lesson.  Think about your lesson plan, its purpose, its execution, and how you responded to your students.  If you were a student in your class, would you have wanted to attend this lesson?  What went well and what didn’t?  Why?  What would you do differently if given the opportunity to reteach this lesson to these students on this day?

4 – Approach the observation process from a learning perspective –  It is natural for teachers, or anybody who is being evaluated, to be defensive when receiving feedback or while in a face-to-face observation debrief meeting.  You are being critiqued, analyzed, and judged (or at least it feels this way!).  Instead of instantly defending your actions, listen openly and think about what you could learn from this process.  There are times when you may feel the need to defend your actions and/or words.  Advocate for yourself if needed, but try to learn something at the same time.

3 – Seek clarification – Ask questions and seek exemplars.  You will receive feedback that you either agree with or don’t.  When you don’t agree, ask questions!  Try to figure out why your words/actions came across the way they did, and figure out what you can do about it.  Are there teachers in your building/grade/department that you could observe?  Exemplars are a great way to learn!  Sometimes teachers receive feedback such as “Great job!” and not much more.  In these instances, ask for clarification.  Try to figure out exactly what about the observation was great so you know what to repeat.

2 – Think critically, but don’t be critical –  While thinking critically about the lesson, it’s easy to be critical of yourself.  Don’t be.  You became a teacher for a reason, most likely to make a positive difference in the lives of others.  Your students and colleagues need the very best version of you possible, and you can’t give the best of you when you are being critical of yourself.  This can be done by remembering consideration #1.

1 – Separate your role as a teacher from your identity – You are a teacher, but that does not define who you are as a person.  You are also a mother, father, sister, brother, friend, learner, colleague, etc.  There are many different roles you take on during a typical day, week, month, and year.  As much as possible, especially for those observations and evaluations that didn’t go as intended, remember this is one of your roles.  Don’t bring down the rest of your roles, and remember – who you are, your identity, is much more.

Teachers, what do you consider when somebody is observing you?

Eric Bransteter


Special Education Teacher

5 Considerations For Teacher Observations

For many educators (both administrators and teachers), the teacher observation/evaluation process can be stressful!  From a teacher’s lens, somebody is coming into your classroom, the place you spend 8 hours per day plus countless extra hours, and evaluating you.  This observer is looking at everything on your walls, hearing everything you and your students say, seeing all the work completed by your students, and critiquing you.  There’s nothing quite like being put under a microscope, huh?!

And from the evaluator’s lens, he/she typically wants to get into classrooms each and everyday to give constructive feedback, sincere commendations, and better understand all that is happening related to instruction and learning.  This is on top of lunchroom duty, car and busy duty, parent/community relations, student discipline, planning professional development, keeping up with best practice, building maintenance, safety and security of all, and the list goes on…

Is it even possible to balance all aspects of education in the 21st century and keep a healthy life/work balance?  Maybe not, but we can sure try!  One way of balancing all that is required of administrators related to observations is to keep in mind the following five considerations when completing observations:

5 – Long-term goals – There are two mindsets when working with teachers: short-term and long-term goals.  You (either in isolation or with your faculty) will create the long-term goals for student learning, growth, achievement, etc.  Effective instruction is the key to reaching these long-term goals.  Be sure your staff knows exactly where you are going as a building/district/organization.  Only with this clarity can we achieve the next consideration.

4 – Short-term goals – What teachers actions are necessary to reach your identified long-term goals?  Is there a particular set of teacher actions that are lacking in order for you to reach your long-term goals?  If so, do your teachers know this?  Keeping in mind your long-term goals, short-term goals can be created per grade level, subject area, teacher, building, or district.  Perhaps this is a hypothesis that clearly articulated lesson objectives (purpose) is required for students to understand what they are doing or why.  Or maybe you have found that checks for understanding need to be improved so that your teachers can better modify instruction in real-time.  Short-term goals should align and push you to your long-term goals and be based on evidence collected during your observations and the various assessments given in your building.

3 – The Platinum Rule – Each teacher has a unique set of needs and preferred way of communicating.  While it might seem impossible, administrators need to understand the best way to communicate to each teacher.  We’ve all heard of the Golden Rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.  The only problem with this is I respond to things differently than you do.  Instead, think of the platinum rule “Treat others the way they want to be treated.” (from Dr. Tony Allesandra).  I was the type of administrator that used questions to guide teacher improvement.   However, there were times when the teacher I was talking to would rather just have it straight.  Consider the recipient of your message and how he/she would best receive your message.

2 – Collaborative Conversations – While leaving a post-it note or sending an email after an observation is important (critical some would say), try to find time to schedule time to meet with your staff soon after an observation/walkthrough.  This is especially true of longer observations.  Immediate feedback sent to the teacher shouldn’t replace real face-to-face conversations with your teachers.  These conversations will help you better understand consideration #1

1 – Your observation is but a snapshot – The time you spend in the classroom observing is just a snapshot, a window into the classroom.  There is always much more to the story of instruction than your short time in the classroom.  When meeting with a teacher, or sending feedback through your favorite app/software, be sure to ask questions to better understand what you saw.  For example, why did the teacher choose to teach today’s lesson, and where does it fit into your short-term and long-term goals?

What do you consider when completing teacher observations?

Eric Bransteter