Many of the current discussions around public school improvement have focused on teachers: How to evaluate them, and how to help them improve.
I had the opportunity to meet recently with the principal of my son’s school and ask her a few questions about how teacher evaluations are handled in a private school. My interview was with Merrill Hendin, head of Portland Jewish Academy.
Heather Penner: What is your general framework for evaluating teachers?
Merrill Hendin: It’s an evolving process, based on Charlotte Danielson’s “Enhancing Professional Practice”.
HP: How often are teachers evaluated?
MH: There are two official classroom visits per year, and two sit-down meetings per year in which we discuss a teacher’s professional goals for him- or herself for that year. But in reality, evaluations are much more frequent and fluid than that, as supervisors drop in and observe the classrooms frequently. It is important to find a balance between being organic and yet still being thoughtful and systematic.
The first three years that a teacher is with PJA, she is on the “observation track” and teaching performance is watched more closely. Beyond the third year, supervision is more focused on professional growth—helping teachers with their own professional development goals for the year.
At the end of the year, both the teacher and the supervisor each writes a narrative evaluation of the teacher’s strengths and challenges, looking forward to goals for the next year.
HP: Who does the evaluations?
MH: The teachers are divided fairly evenly into three groups, based on subject matter. At PJA, these groups are General Studies, Jewish & Hebrew Studies, and Specialists (music, art, dance, etc.) Each of these areas has a supervisor, although the other supervisors frequently drop in on other classrooms as well. There is a lot of overlap and cross-communication and collaboration between the supervisors.
HP: What if things aren’t going so well with a teacher?
MH: The important thing to remember is that the supervisor is there to provide support. Sometimes a teacher is having a hard time, and will request a classroom visit, and we ask, “What would you like me to look for?” The goal is to work collaboratively to help solve the issue.
If things really aren’t going well, a teacher may be placed on a “Plan of Assistance.” We have small meetings weekly and a larger meeting monthly to talk about how things are going in the classroom, and how a teacher can improve her practice. We usually see great results from these meetings.
Teachers are all on yearly contracts, so if things really don’t work out, then we part ways.
HP: Who else is evaluated?
MH: Everyone is evaluated.
Teaching Assistants are evaluated slightly differently than teachers, and the main classroom teacher is their Supervisor. But, they get the same goal-setting meetings.
Office Staff is also evaluated, and there are weekly 1:1 meetings between the Head of School and all of the office staff.
As the Head of School, I myself am evaluated by the CEO of the PJA/MJCC organization, and the CEO speaks to all of my direct colleagues to understand how things are going.
HP: Any final thoughts?
MH: I feel so supported. I hope that everyone can walk out of here feeling that way.
What do you think about these evaluation methods? Are they significantly different than those in public schools? What can we learn from them as we consider new statewide teacher evaluation methods?