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Virginia Journal of Education


 

Evaluating Your Evaluation

You've got to go through the process anyway. Why not make it constructive and useful for both you and your students?


by Daniel A. Heller
Evaluation and supervision are part of the life of a teacher, but they are too often a pro forma ritual. Now we are hearing about plans to take this process from 0 to 100 immediately by tying student test scores to teacher evaluations.

There are other ways to use evaluation and supervision productively. If you have to go through this process, why not make it useful? In other words, how can this process work for you, providing meaningful information to help you improve your performance, as well as offer useful information for the school and your students?

Imagine being able to design and build your own evaluation process. The first step would be for teachers to set professional development goals. The supervisor may add to this list, but there is no reason that the teacher should not take some ownership here. What better source for professional growth needs than the person under scrutiny?

In addition, the supervisor and teacher could discuss the methods for gathering the data and the final form of the summative document. Will there be video or audio recordings, observation reports, summaries of artifacts, or information from multiple sources? There might be self-reporting or collected perceptions from peers, students or parents. The limits are only those of one’s imagination.

When the teacher writes the goal, then he or she knows that it has personal meaning and is not just something that has to be done. Teacher and supervisor then further develop the goal by describing examples of what to look for in evaluating it and how the data specifically will be gathered.

For example, Ms. Jones wants to work on increasing the amount of on-task behavior of her writing students. After offering improvement in this area as a goal, she then describes what on-task behavior might look like. She may suggest that a student looking idle might actually be thinking about a piece of writing. Perhaps students talking to one another is a reflection of their sharing and revising drafts of their work. She generates several indicators of on-task behavior: quietly writing, reading and discussing each other’s work, and moving about the room to take advantage of such resources as dictionaries, benchmark pieces, or other samples of student work.

The next step is to determine how the data will be collected and reported. Most evaluation systems require direct observation, but the teacher can offer additional resources, such as videotapes of teaching or student artifacts. Finally, the teacher and supervisor agree on the form of the final report, if it is not completely defined by contract.

The crucial idea is to transfer as much control of the evaluation process as possible over to the teacher, thus minimizing the fear of the unknown. The teacher now knows what to expect, and consequently can be more assured and relaxed. In addition, the goals will be measured and reported in a form that will be defined by and useful to the teacher.

Allow me to offer an example from my own experience. I was charged with evaluating a high school band director. I know virtually nothing about music and absolutely nothing about band. I needed help if I were going to produce some useful information for this teacher. For this evaluation to be meaningful at all, the teacher would have to take a leading role in developing the process.

The band director wanted three observations, but with a twist. Each would deal with a different aspect of her work. I was to observe a class, a rehearsal, and a private lesson. In this way, I could more honestly address the full scope of this teacher’s responsibilities and talents.

The contract was fairly prescriptive with respect to evaluation. However, since the band director and I had developed a high level of trust, she offered some interesting extensions of the usual observation process, extensions I could not have used without her permission. This teacher wanted an official, comprehensive recording of her quality work. In addition to the three observations already mentioned, she requested two additional, nontraditional data sources.

Thus these unusual extensions were not only sanctioned by the teacher, but also actually requested by her. She asked that the band director from her alma mater (about a 90-minute drive from the school) be engaged to shadow her for a day. At the end of that day, he would have a post conference with the teacher and eventually file a written document about her skills. This report would be included, as written, in the final summative document. We found the money to compensate the college professor for the day.

Next, the teacher requested student feedback for inclusion in the summary document. She had developed her own questionnaire, which all of her students completed every year. These results would be summarized for this year’s students. Finally, she had her class videotaped without me present to approximate a more natural class environment. I viewed this tape.

This was an outstanding, comprehensive evaluation. It included expert input, student perceptions, and the supervisor’s observations. It made use of videotape in addition to direct observation. It went far beyond what was required, and gave the teacher information she wanted in a useful format. And the best part was that she was in control of the process.

We had taken a required task and developed it into a comprehensive, useful and helpful process. Contractual requirements had been satisfied, but this teacher took vastly more away from this evaluation than she would have ordinarily. She received a personalized summative evaluation.

A school might also look at using developmental supervision in addition to evaluation. Perhaps teachers would be evaluated every three years. The two years between evaluations would be supervision years. The process would be very much like the evaluation one described above, but there would be no formal documentation of the year’s activity in this area, only a record that goals were formulated, and that the teacher had worked on those goals through the year.

Again, let me offer an example from my own experience. The English Department of a high school was considering significant changes to its program. Specifically, the college prep and general track students were to be combined into one, more heterogeneous class, which would then follow what had been the college prep curriculum. Needless to say, teachers were nervous about this new approach, questioning everything from their ability to differentiate instruction to the “slower” kids’ ability to do the work.

The shift was to happen in a year, so one English teacher, who was on the supervision track, devised a plan to help prepare for the new structure. He piloted teaching college prep units of instruction to one of his general level classes. He kept his own records of what did or did not work, and what he learned over the year. He reported what did not work with the same honesty and detail that he used with what did work. There was no fear of evaluation, and all of the information was useful. This teacher could share his ideas with other members of the department at both formal and informal meetings.

By now you may be thinking that all this might be nice, but who has the time? I agree. This is a time-consuming process, but the benefits are large. The school or district will have to commit to the process and then make the time for there to be any hope of success. One argument for doing something like this would be to point out how much professional development time is used by outside presenters when what has been described here provides quality professional development without having to designate any special days or people. The resulting professional development would be individualized and focused. Supervisors could always include a goal about an all-school/district initiative as part of teachers’ plans whenever necessary.

In addition, if a supervisor saw something egregious, the teacher could be put back on the evaluation cycle or at least have a goal added to his plan which addressed the problem area.

Furthermore, approaching supervision and evaluation in this manner reinforces the professional status of the teacher. Professionals engage in the process rather than having the process done “to” them. It is no longer pro forma, now having significant meaning to both supervisor and supervisee. People who are treated as professionals, in my experience, rise to the occasion.

A few teachers could pilot this approach with their supervisors if there is sufficient trust. However, pairs of teachers might also pilot the program. One becomes the supervisor, the other the supervisee, and then they play out on a peer basis that which usually exists only in a superior/inferior relationship. In fact, peer supervision is a powerful professional development tool in its own right.

Whichever way you decide to approach the issue, starting small to develop some concrete examples of success might be the best course of action. You cannot guarantee that everything will work every time, but nothing ever does, including the mandated evaluation system you are using now.
Consequently, the more solid demonstrations of success you can muster for the powers that be, the better.

Evaluation should be a helpful, growth-oriented process. A professional should welcome it. If there is dread or boredom, then something is not right. Working together, we can make this mandated chore into something welcome and useful.

Heller (helrdan@yahoo.com), an education consultant and writer, had a nearly 30-year career as a classroom teacher, professional development director, college instructor and principal. He is the author of Teachers Wanted: Attracting and Retaining Good Teachers. For more information, visit http://educationalcapabilities.com.

 


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