Rethinking Teacher Evaluations

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So it is that time of year again. That stressful time where you must demonstrate to the admin from a school that you are in fact a competent teacher and improve student learning. I have probably gone through the process a dozen times and also been on the other side of the coin in leadership roles where I was an evaluator as a team leader (more on that later). I still go through the hoops, get my observations done, schedule the meetings, do the paperwork and attend feedback post-observation meetings on one or two lessons that are planned to the minute detail so that everything runs smoothly. This seems like an awful lot of time and energy for a brief snapshot into a day and the life of my classroom. So the important questions remains, does all this actually improve my teaching practice? Perhaps, early on in my teaching career but at this stage, I would argue that very little of this actually improves teaching and learning. So why on Earth are administrators and teachers wasting all this time to begin with? Historically, research in this area has shown that the two main purposes for teacher evaluation are to:

1. Assure that teachers meet a minimum competency level

2. Promote the professional growth of teachers

So assuming a teacher achieves the minimum competency level, do formal evaluations by principals actually improve or encourage growth of teachers? I would argue no.

Much of my growth as a teacher has not been through these feedback sessions but through watching others teach through co-teaching or collaborative planning. I still remember my first year as a teacher when my principal observed me and I was barely learning the ropes. The feedback she gave me, although informative, did not lead to any direct change in my teaching practice. Only through experience and working with phenomenal teachers as role models, did I alter my practice.

At my last school, we actually had a very effective teacher evaluation/appraisal system. Administrators did no formal observations. Instead, they were done through grade level leaders who were often your friends or colleagues who often co-taught lessons with you. They did give written feedback but I also learned an incredible amount through watching them teach, planning with them and reflecting with them. We did meet with our administrators to discuss goals and identify professional development opportunities that supported these goals. This freed up time for administrators to actually do what they are paid to do, administrate. The assumption was that 99% of the teachers at the school, were extremely competent teachers (that’s why they were hired) so why waste valuable time having administrators confirm what they already knew? After all, teachers are truly the experts when it comes to teaching and learning.