Teacher Evaluation: WHY It Matters and HOW We Can Do Better
An in-depth look...
Public schools in America have a lot of new teachers.
That’s according to data from the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights. Education Week took a closer look at that data in an article published last week, and the results are eye-opening:
Anyone who has taught, or been close to someone who has, knows how difficult those first few years can be. According to the article:
New teachers face a variety of challenges all at once that can make it difficult to perform optimally, notes Roxanna Elden, a former teacher and an author who provides resources for beginning teachers. There are the practical challenges of the new job, such as managing grades for the first time, coordinating lessons, learning the school’s computer system and administrative processes, and developing relationships with colleagues.
Then there are the classroom-management and pedagogical challenges that, no matter how well-prepared a teacher is, crop up in the first year on the job…
With so many new teachers facing this kind of learning curve, here’s the Question of the Day: “How can you provide the support your teachers need?”
More and more leaders are looking beyond professional development workshops and summative evaluations, and they’re providing formative feedback through frequent classroom observations.
Beyond that, many are taking a fresh look at peer feedback and collaboration as a way to support new teachers.
In “Actionable Feedback for Teachers: The Missing Element in School Improvement,” Dr. Kevin Feldman writes:
It is impossible for a single person, principal or coach, to provide every teacher with the feedback they need to improve through formal personnel evaluation. Directly involving ALL teachers in the process of receiving and giving specific instructional feedback dramatically expands the opportunities for professional growth as well as helping individuals develop their own self-reflection skills.
There are many types of peer-to-peer observation to consider, and your district may be more equipped for some models than others. Some of the most common:
Mentoring for new teachers can be rewarding for everyone involved. Pairing veteran teachers with those new to the field is designed to enhance teaching practice — not serve as a glorified onboarding course. This relationship hinges on classroom observation, where a mentor sits in on a lesson and collects evidence, then follows up with a post-observation conversation. The idea is to ask open-ended questions so the new teacher can arrive at conclusions for herself.
These relationships can also include analysis of student work, in which a particular assignment — often related to a classroom lesson that is also observed — is examined and discussed. This can open a whole new realm of feedback, centering on work that students have done.
In a mentor/mentee relationship, teachers might also choose to visit someone else’s classroom and watch a third party teach, then meet afterward to analyze what they observed.
As professionals who serve all teachers in the district (not just new teachers), instructional coaches operate in much the same way as a mentor does for new teachers, giving feedback based on classroom observations and analysis of student work. One difference is that coaches may sometimes co-present lessons alongside teachers, while a mentor with a new teacher would typically avoid this scenario.
Once again, the main goal for an instructional coach is to encourage teachers in self-reflection, guiding them in asking the right questions about their own teaching practice — it’s not about simply providing all of the answers. After all, teaching isn’t simply about following a rigid set of steps. Laura Lipton explores this in her paper, “Transforming Information Into Knowledge: Structured Reflection in Administrative Practice.” “The non-routine and complex nature of teaching requires constant contextual decision-making,” she writes.
An effective coach doesn’t say, “Do x, y, and z.” Rather, she equips teachers through open-ended questions and self-reflection to make those complex decisions for themselves.
Like self-reflection, great coaching is an acquired skill, and districts would do well to invest in training for their instructional coaches.
In many ways, this approach is similar to doctors in a teaching hospital making rounds to see patients. A small group of teachers may visit different classrooms to observe instruction, then debrief afterward as a team.
When conducting learning walks, focus observations on particular criteria so each participant knows what to watch for.
Since learning walks are a group exercise, the emphasis should be on improving practice rather than evaluating any one individual. Dr. Feldman weighs in again: “Remember, the feedback is NOT just for the teacher being observed, but for everyone on the Learning Walk Team because we all see different things and/or the same things but through a different ‘lens’ of experience/knowledge.”
Mentoring, coaching and other types of peer collaboration may not magically turn new teachers into seasoned veterans overnight. But they’re powerful tools that make use of your greatest assets: your people and the experience that they bring.
This post was adapted from our white paper, “Feedback That Matters: Using Evaluations and Peer-to-Peer Observations to Grow Teaching Practice.” Download the entire paper today.