Monday, October 17, 2011

Evaluate Me!

Over the past several months, there have been a number of posts and articles about evaluating teachers in K-12 education.  And in just the last few days, the media in British Columbia has been floating the idea of yearly teacher evaluations.  Whether something like this happens or not in BC,  I find that I have many questions when I reflect upon the whole teacher evaluation process:
  • What is the goal of the evaluation? 
  • What makes an effective teacher?  What skills should they have?  
  • Who decides on this skill set?  Teachers? Administrators?  Students? Parents?
  • Do student results have a part in teacher evaluations?
  • What does the evaluation look like? 
  • Who does the evaluation?  If it is the Principal, when will I have time to do this?
  • How often should a teacher be evaluated?
  • What happens before, during and after the evaluation?
  • What happens if the evaluation shows the teacher to be highly effective?  
  • What happens if it shows the teacher to have a number of areas requiring remediation?
Teacher evaluations have many different connotations for people, depending on their particular context or district.  There are some districts that do very few teacher evaluations.  In other places, 'teaching evaluation' has an ominous tone for teachers as they can be triggered by concerns or complaints.  For administrators in areas where there is extensive teacher evaluation, it can be an onerous and time-consuming process that has a 'just finished one cycle of teacher evaluations in time to start another'.

I think performance evaluations can have a great deal of merit.  Four years ago, I had an evaluation of my performance as a Principal by my Assistant Superintendent.  Not only did I have a series of interviews, my staff, students and community members were canvassed about a number of different topics in various leadership domains.  I was excited, curious and yes, a little nervous, about the feedback that I would get from my school community.  I discovered that I the interviewees gave me some excellent and specific feedback on areas that I needed to improve.  Students, staff and parents also brought up a number of positive things that I was doing, some of which I didn't know that anyone had noticed!  I found the process informative and invigorating.

Thirteen years ago, I had a teacher evaluation done by an outstanding administrator in a former school.  It was a 'traditional' style teacher evaluation, with a pre-conference, lesson plan evaluation, lesson presentation, post-conference, and letter written about the qualities that my administrator saw in me with that particular science class.  At the time, I felt that the process was somewhat 'artificial'.   I knew when he was coming. I knew how the class would go.  I had it planned to a tee with an induction activity, an exciting demonstration (I think I synthesized water using hydrogen gas and oxygen to blow up a paint can--very cool, as it sounded like a sonic boom and rocked the entire school) and neat follow up activities before I checked for understanding.  The kids were engaged: they interacted with each other and with me.  In summary, it was the 'perfect' lesson: much like any of us could do given the appropriate amount of time and notice.

But to be perfectly honest, it was not indicative of every day life in Birk's Science class in the least:  that probably would have looked more like a review quiz, some mindless note-taking, a worksheet, maybe a video or a lab or some group work, and some follow-up questions.  Nothing so glamorous as the performance my Principal saw the day he observed me. Much like the high-stakes testing done with kids, I was judged on what I could bring on that particular day.  Fortunately, I had prepared well, and the lesson (and my subsequent evaluation) went off without a hitch.

This is not a criticism of my Principal--he was simply using the tool that he had been given by his district.  I felt completely supported through the process, and I also received some helpful feedback that changed my practice.  However, I think a process such as the one used in my class thirteen years ago is flawed.  Now I am sure that there are many jurisdictions that have excellent teaching evaluation mechanisms, and as a system, we need to look very closely at different models should we ever wish to look at more formalized evaluation in education.

Recently, I had a conversation with Greg Hall, a Vice-Principal here in School District 73.  Greg came to our district from Western Australia, where he was a teacher and then department head. He put me on to an interesting document that is used there for teacher evaluations.  The Department of Education and Training for the Government of Western Australia created a document called a Competency Framework for Teachers that has influenced my thinking about evaluations for teachers, administrators, and students.  And while there have been a number of other competency documents created in Canada and the US, I found the framework from Western Australia to be very appealing.

At first glance, there were a few things that I liked about the process outlined in this document;
  • it utilizes competencies and skills that are collaboratively developed by different partner groups, including those being evaluated
  • it strives to take into account different learning contexts and experiences
  • it has an emphasis on personal growth, reflection, and self-actualization
  • it allows for a personalized approach for presenting artifacts in each of the skill domains
  • it can enable a rich and meaningful dialogue between the person being evaluated and the evaluator
In talking to Greg more about this, he indicated that as a teacher, he would collect authentic pieces of evidence from his classes and his experiences in these different domains.  Subsequently, he would present the things that he felt best reflected these competencies to his administrator in a collegial and collaborative dialogue.  He would also present areas that he felt were a priority for his own personal growth, and the Principal and he would look to see how those areas could be supported through Professional Development.

A self-reflective model in which I get to present the evidence that I feel best reflects my growth in certain areas is one that has a great deal of appeal to me.  As a result, I am using the BCPVPA Leadership Standards document to help me develop a reflective and interactive tool in which I can store and describe different forms of evidence according to the standards of good practice that my peers have developed.  Once this tool is completed, I hope:

  • to find and prioritize areas that I need to focus on for improvement
  • to clarify areas in which I am more proficient
  • to get feedback from my school community partner groups and my PLN on my areas for growth
  • to have learned a number of new web technologies through the development of this tool
  • to share the tool with other administrators so that they may be able to use/adapt/improve the template for their own reflection
I expect that the development of this self-evaluation tool will take me some time.  Right now, I am looking at blogs and e-portfolios as possible jumping-off points/repositories where I can keep artifacts that describe my progress in certain areas.  I envision a site that anyone could click into and get the landscape of my educational values and beliefs on educational issues through the authentic pieces that are stored there.  I picture a site that, when it came time for my evaluation as a Principal, a set of evaluators could go to and give me specific and meaningful feedback on my strengths and areas for growth.

An evaluation based in collectively developed competencies that emphasizes self-reflection is something that interests me.  Such a process, in concert with a flexible method of presentation, would allow me to take ownership over my own evaluation and then direct a plan for my own professional development. 

I think this personalized philosophy to evaluation is something that could work very well not only for educators, but for students.  The more involved we have the person being evaluated in the process, the more meaningful the evaluation (and the feedback) becomes.

It would make me say "Evaluate me!".

5 comments:

  1. Cale, as long as the current BC gov't attempts to force these "transformations" onto the BC school system, with the usual silent support of BCVPA, these evaluations will go no where. You must realize this. This will not be the teachers' fault. The BC Liberals have a bullying approach to the system -- reminds me of how the BC Liberals tried to bully the HST onto BC. citizens. Perhaps the HST was the right tax, but guess what, the implementation was brutal. The tax was killed off.

    You'd think the BC Liberals would learn this lesson.

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  2. Hi Cale
    I like some of the thoughts you've shared. In my world teachers are evaluated on a 4 year summative cycle in addition to an annual formative growth plan. As principal I am responsible for overseeing this (I ask my VP's to assist as well)

    We have also recently implemented a 360 principals evaluation.

    I would welcome the opportunity to connect and share my experiences, challenges and hilights

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hey Pal,

    You raise a TON of great points here.

    Perhaps most importantly, if we want to create sophisticated feedback loops for teachers, we are going to need more time for the kinds of important conversations that those feedback loops are dependent on.

    NC has just tried to improve its teacher evaluation system. They created a 13 page, 156 point rubric that is used to judge teachers in 7 different domains.

    Teachers are supposed to save documentation to show their level of mastery of each domain. Principals are supposed to review this documentation at the end of each year.

    What do you think the chances are that either group will have enough time to do either of these things?

    Heck---I don't have ANYTHING saved right now. Once I tried to save something as documentation, but I couldn't find which of the 156 bullet points it represented the most!

    I gave up somewhere around page 7.

    Long story short: Feedback matters. We all know that.

    But meaningful feedback takes time that no one seems willing to give us.

    Rock right on,
    Bill

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