As a former teacher, principal and assistant superintendent, I know very well that educators can tend to have their own language that makes non-educators’ eyes glaze over. Differentiated instruction, common core, instructional rounds, etc. could all describe a range of activities that have nothing to do with teaching or learning.
Translating the education-ease for a public audience can be a tricky endeavor. We want the public to understand the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of the strategy or intervention, but we don’t want to oversimplify the work. Unfortunately, the term ‘educator evaluation’ suffers from an oversimplification. Whether or not the oversimplification is justified in many cases, it is important that we begin to redefine the term.
The term ‘evaluation’ often brings up images of an inspection or other high-pressure situations in which there is a black and white decision made: yes or no, thumbs up or thumbs down, raise or no raise, continuation of employment or lay-off. When the evaluation is put in the context of teaching, the assumption is made that teachers are being graded as good or bad. Evaluation can and should be something a lot more than a grade or ranking.
Chalkboard sees evaluation as an important tool for school districts because good feedback supports good practice. All educators want to be successful in their classrooms, but they are often on their own when it comes to identifying new strategies for engaging students or planning lessons that meet a wide range of learning needs. Educators who have been in the classroom for ten or fifteen years and are seen as “good teachers” may go years without having anyone visit their classroom or having an opportunity to talk through an issue that is relevant to their work with their students. Meaningful evaluation should be part of a system that gives all educators the chance to reflect on their practice and have the benefit of relevant feedback.
The districts we are working with through the CLASS Project and the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grant are beginning to implement comprehensive systems that prioritize personalized feedback to all educators, specialists and administrators included. They find this work valuable as a formative process that benefits teachers and students. As Bill Gates recently wrote in an op-ed in which he opposed the public shaming of educators, “Developing a systematic way to help teachers get better is the most powerful idea in education today. The surest way to weaken it is to twist it into a capricious exercise in public shaming. Let’s focus on creating a personnel system that truly helps teachers improve.”
Additionally in the CLASS and TIF districts, through professional conversation, educators receive the support and tools to act on meaningful feedback. As opposed to a one-day seminar where every educator in the district receives the same training, educators are receiving individualized opportunities to improve their work in the classroom or school building.
It will take a lot of work to ensure that all educators in the state of Oregon are receiving evaluations that help them improve their practice. But as we continue to advocate for effective evaluation systems, that is exactly the goal we are striving toward. Our hope is that the districts that are out in front developing meaningful systems will redefine the work. Educator evaluation should bring up images of respected professionals having important conversation about the complex work of educating students. These images may not be as dramatic as the inspection model or the ranking of teachers, but what will be dramatic is the sustained growth for both teachers and students.