It has taken me awhile to write this blog. I've pondered about it for quite some time now, and today, I have spent several hours, attempting to put my thoughts down.
As we approach the ending of our school year and the practice implementation of an evaluation system tying teacher practices and student growth to pay raises, I can say unequivocally that this has been a very challenging year. Recently, a group of principals met with the leaders for the Department's teacher evaluation team. We were informed that this was the first time a group of principals had been given an opportunity to provide feedback on this important work. Whether our comments make a difference in revising the evaluation system remains to be seen.
The concern for most of us who attended the meeting is the increased workload for administrators and the lack of opportunity to provide input before the system was created and implemented. Additionally, the poor rollout of the plan caused confusion and more-than-a-little stress amongst teachers and administrators as we scrambled to make sense of what we were expected to do: two observations with pre and post conferences as well as documentation of evidences to justify our ratings for all classroom teachers; meetings with teachers to discuss progress on their Student Learning Objectives, Core Professionalism evidences, and Working Portfolios (for non-classroom teachers); Tripod Surveys twice a year so students can rate their teachers on 7 components; and monitoring student growth on the statewide assessment.
The one task that is taking up much of our time - during school, after school, and in the evenings and on weekends -- are the observations which account for 25% of a classroom teacher's evaluation score. (Educator Effectiveness System Manual, page 25). I agree that teacher observations are necessary and that ALL teachers should know the four domains of the Danielson Framework because they define the attributes of effective teaching and learning. The Danielson Framework is useful as a coaching tool, to help new and struggling teachers to plan, implement, and reflect on their lessons to set goals for improvement. I believe, however, that when we assign an evaluative score to each of the components, we devalue the true intent of the Danielson Framework as "the foundation for professional conversations among practitioners as they seek to enhance their skill in the complex task of teaching." (http://danielsongroup.org/framework/)
In an EdWeek blog, Are We Learning from Evaluations? the writers make some good points: "This moment, the one in which the adults are suddenly in a similar position as the students, can be the moment for compassion and empathy to fuel some serious thinking about how we use evaluation. Do we use it to motivate? Do we use it to report? Is it used to inform instruction or professional development? Is it used to label a period of performance with a number? This is a time to ask ourselves what we truly know about good assessment and evaluation and how we are using it."
So how can we improve the EES so teachers and administrators view it positively, as a way to more naturally embed what we are already doing into an evaluation system that truly recognizes a teacher's commitment to the profession?
I feel that Student Learning Objectives and Professional Responsibilities (Domain 4 of the Danielson Framework) are the two most important components of an effective teacher evaluation system. SLOs are collaboratively agreed upon between the teacher and the administrator and are personalized according to individual/class data. These SLOs are global and "acknowledges the value of high expectations for student achievement and the process of linking planning, classroom instruction, and assessment with student outcome goals." (Educator Effectiveness System Manual, page 5) Teachers are adjusting their instruction to address concerns after reviewing the data, and we are seeing improved student work as well as student accountability for their own growth. SLOs have made a difference at our school in how our teachers and students are taking responsibility for their own data.
For this school year, "Core Professionalism" in the EES is component 4F of the Danielson Framework. However, 4F is just a small part of "Professional Responsibilities." We want educators who will be reflective, who contribute to our school community, who communicate effectively with parents, and who continue to grow professionally. Just as we want students to set their own goals which would be reflective of their strengths, needs, and interests, teachers need flexibility to set their own professional goals for the year. Duty 5 of PEP-T (Professional Evaluation Program for Teachers, page 9) provided this opportunity in the past, and I always enjoyed these conversations which revolved around a growth area which the teacher selected. The reflective conversations and sharing of student work centered around something the teacher wanted to work on, and the administrator could support the teacher through professional development opportunities (workshops, classroom observations, virtual resources, professional learning communities, etc.). Perhaps we can go back to Duty 5 as the primary component of "Core Professionalism" and create a rubric and score that could be agreed upon collaboratively between the teacher and administrator.
The most effective teachers are continually learning and striving to improve. They review data and adjust lessons based on strengths, needs, and interests of their students; they network and collaborate with others to share research or best practices; they provide honest feedback and conference with their students so they can improve as learners; they seek opportunities to grow professionally; and their students know that they are engaged in meaningful work which will help them in the future, not just in school, but in life. Students of the most effective teachers are confident learners who are willing to take risks, make mistakes, and learn from them. Formal classroom observations by administrators will not necessarily measure these attributes of effective teachers. I propose that administrators use informal observation data to monitor tenured teacher performance for Domains 2 (Classroom Environment) and 3 (Instruction) of the Danielson Framework. If evidence indicates that a tenured teacher is struggling, a formal observation can be recommended. For non-tenured or struggling teachers, mentor teachers or instructional coaches can use the Framework as a formative assessment tool to provide support. One classroom observation cycle per year by an administrator would be required as an evaluative or summative assessment until the teacher earns tenure status.
We know that teaching is an art ("Good Teaching is an Art, Not a Mathematical Formula"), and our best teachers never stop learning. To relegate their performance to a score using percentiles and formulas is an injustice to all of the teachers who are truly committed to doing their best for the students and their families.