Field Trip: Observations & Conversations


“You could have a great conversation with somebody, you could talk about [teaching practice] and then, all of a sudden: ‘Okay, what was my rating?’ ‘Well, you got a ‘2’ in this area.’ And that would defeat the entire conversation.” – Jason Smith, Principal, Anna Reynolds Elementary School

At Newington Public Schools, teacher evaluations look different these days. Rather than a process that focuses primarily on the nuts and bolts of generating a score, the district changed how administrators and teachers approach the observation process. They trained administrators to ask questions that help teachers reflect and be self-directed in their learning. This has made a huge difference in how teachers engage in the evaluation process and hone their practice as a result.

This is the story of how Newington turned around its evaluation process and built trust by focusing on growth-oriented conversations instead of summative scores.


More about trust in teacher evaluations:

Full Transcript  

Teacher evaluations have long been a source of contention, stress, and anxiety.


JASON SMITH: You can have a great conversation, and you could talk about things and then all of a sudden the end, “Okay, well, what was my rating?” “Okay, well, you got a two in this area.” It just now completely defeated the entire conversation.


I’d rather get in there when you’re trying something you’ve never done before and give you feedback on it and talk it through with you afterwards and have a great reflective conversation, then you not want me to come in because you’re concerned about what the rating is going to be in the end.


Performance evaluations of any kind, in any field, are rarely easy — it’s not really a comfortable process — not for the one being evaluated, nor for the evaluator. But teacher evaluations can bring a special kind of complexity. And doing them in such a way that teachers self-reflect and identify ways to improve their teaching in the process? That’s even harder. But…


KIM DAVIS: That’s where the magic, that’s where the learning happens. We were doing all the talking, we were doing all the thinking, and at the end of it, they agreed with your final rating or not. They were passive in this whole process, when the cognitive lift really needs to be on the teacher. And so we as administrators had to learn how to shift that.


From Frontline Education, this is Field Trip.


Today, we’re at Newington Public Schools — well, okay, we’re talking over the Internet with two people AT Newington Public Schools in Connecticut — because they’ve actually been doing that thing that so many districts and policymakers talk about: making teacher evaluations about growth, not scores.


KIM DAVIS: My name is Kim Davis. I am the Director of Talent Management for Newington Public Schools.

Kim has worked in Newington for seven years. She’s oversaw the development of middle school academy programs for biomedicine and aerospace & engineering. Big STEM initiatives. Career technical education programs, instructional technology, and worked closely with curriculum & instruction. Now she’s in the human resources area, she does a lot of hiring, and supports professional learning and mentorship for new teachers.


She also oversees their evaluation program, and chairs their Professional Development and Evaluation Committee — called PDEC. It’s made up of teachers, union leaders and representatives, and administrators. I mention this committee because it’s important to today’s conversation — they’re doing some groundbreaking work with teacher evaluations and professional learning.


See, about seven years ago, at the state’s behest, the district began rolling out a new evaluation program. There were strict criteria districts in Connecticut had to follow. And at first, it didn’t go the way they wanted.


KIM DAVIS: When we originally rolled this out in our school district, it was more about the process and less about the why and the purpose and the importance of moving to this evaluation. So the problem was that there wasn’t a lot of buy in, in our school district. They thought it was something that was being done to them, which I can understand why, and it became more of like, “I’m a two or I’m a three.” They just equated themselves to a number as opposed to, “Here’s where I am and this is where I need to get to.” Right? So regardless of if you were a one, two, three or four, which represents “below standard,” “developing,” “effective” or “distinguished,” right? So it wasn’t so much about the conversation, it was just what it seemed like, it was just about teachers being a number, and a lot of people were very, very unhappy about that.


There was a lot of distrust among educators and administrators. The plan wasn’t always implemented with fidelity, meaning folks felt like, “Oh, if I had this evaluator, it was so much, you know, I had a better experience than if I had this evaluator.”


So it kind of created a culture of mistrust. And it took us a couple of tries because what they wanted was, they really wanted to have deep conversations with their administrators. It just wasn’t happening with the process that was in place. So we had to scrap everything, build up our learning in how to have conversations, that put the thinking or the cognitive lift on the teacher versus the administrator. So there was a lot of change with that.  


Because before, even if a fruitful conversation did happen between a teacher and an administrator after an observation took place, a focus on the rating would often derail the whole thing.


JASON SMITH: So you would see somebody, you can have a great conversation with somebody with the old process and the old practices, and you could talk about things and then all of a sudden the end, “Okay, well, what was my rating?” “Okay, well, you got a two in this area.” It just now completely defeated the entire conversation. Everything you talked about or wanted to see or help and support and grow and put in place, it would not, and there was a level, you know, a lack of trust in everything.


That’s Jason Smith, principal of Anna Reynolds Elementary School, one of four elementary schools in the district.


JASON SMITH: Overall, we may be effective and good, but we all have our bad days or we all have our bad lessons, but then getting a two, you’ve just not had that good conversation.


So really looking at teacher evaluation and how do we provide that growth and improvement, that we all can get better and have these great conversations, without necessarily defeating somebody. Because overall, you can be a very quality teacher, and everyone has a bad day or a bad lesson. And we really want to embrace people, too, to bring you in for when you’re taking a chance or trying something different, trying something new and you want feedback on it. And that wasn’t creating the door for that to happen.


I’d rather get in there when you’re trying something you’ve never done before and give you feedback on it and talk it through with you afterwards and have a great reflective conversation, then you not want me to come in because you’re concerned about what the rating is going to be in the end.


RYAN ESTES: That mistrust that you mentioned, did that have any other effects that maybe you didn’t expect as you went about your day, your week, trying to lead your building, Jason? And meanwhile you have all this lack of trust in the evaluation process. What other impact did that have on your school?


JASON SMITH: You saw our morale data with the new teacher evaluation when things immediately rolled out across the district or in the school, took a toll and sank in a lot of the schools, so it really did have that impact.


And there was, like Kim has spoken to, there was a divide in many of the schools or many of the places and not necessarily that level of trust or wanting to come, and concerned over rating, concerned over an overall evaluation.


KIM DAVIS: I also want to share. I think sometimes as an administrator, and I’ll speak very specifically for myself, there was a lot of pressure for me that I felt as if I had to tell the teacher everything that they did right and everything that they did wrong, and I gave these recommendations and I felt like I was doing so much of the thinking.


When the teacher is sitting there during this, they’re just passive and they’re just listening to you. So I’m doing all the thinking. It didn’t help the educator grow in any way. And I had to kind of discover that, when we gave professional learning to our teachers, to say, “You’ve got to do less teacher talk and you’ve got to get your students to do the thinking and the talking and the discovery. That’s where the magic, that’s where the learning happens. It’s not when the teacher sits there and speaks for 30-45 minutes. We know you’re a good teacher, and we know you have all this knowledge. You’ve got to get your kids to do the thinking.”


So similarly in our old evaluation process, that’s exactly what we were doing, right? To our teachers. We were doing all the talking, we were doing all the thinking, and at the end of it, they agreed with your final rating or not. They were passive in this whole process, when the cognitive lift really needs to be on the teacher. And so we as administrators had to learn how to shift that.


RYAN ESTES: That makes a ton of sense. So let’s picture that a little bit. If you picture a teacher who is actively engaged in an evaluation process and becoming more self directed in their own learning. what does that look like? Help me understand both what that looks like from an evaluation process and how they approach observations as well as those reflective conversations, and then what impact does that have on how they approach professional learning and then ultimately in the classroom?


JASON SMITH: I’m looking at those that, you know, I can think of the teachers that come in and there’s opportunities where I sit down with them or they are inviting me in. They want me there. They want to come into a post kind of reflective peer visit. And I sat there and I probably didn’t say two words at all the entire time they spoke, because they were just so highly reflective and talking through things. And that’s what we are looking to really build and transition to. And I was lucky enough to be part of the pilot for the two years prior to our new teacher evaluation system and how we do things that’s been rolled out.


With this pilot, Jason is talking about when Newington Public Schools went back to the drawing board. They took 3 years to roll out a whole new plan for conducting evaluations that would address the teachers’ desire for a process that would help them actually grow in their practice.


JASON SMITH: And so that was a great opportunity, because I did know that, knowing my staff, I had a lot of very, very strong teachers, very effective teachers. And it was one year in a building, I said, “So let’s find a way that we can kind of build a bridge, bridge a relationship, and be able to have observations, have me come in and then sit down and let’s just reflect. Let me just have you talk to me about the lesson, and give you questions, and go in directions and give you ideas and give you suggestions.”


And then once we started doing that pilot and started seeing that, the thing that I loved the most, I never saw this with the old teacher evaluation system, was any ideas that came about or if I gave them two or three different strategies or two or three different pieces of research or different things I pulled out, always giving them multiple different points, that they could really decide where they want to go with it, versus me telling you to do this or me telling you to do that.


Then you’re going in one direction, but really involving them. “Okay, here’s a couple of different things. What do you think might fit?” And talking through things. And the best part about that piece when we switched to the pilot was, teachers are coming back to me now and telling me about the things that they were trying in their classroom and the impact and the effect it had on student learning. That was not happening with the old teacher evaluation, because when you got to some of those ideas and suggestions, if you went to a “developing,” there wasn’t that piece.


Now I’m actually seeing people with a growth mindset coming in, having conversations, being reflective, pulling out a couple of different ideas, sharing them, and having them see it and putting them into action and following through, and that’s the professional development, that’s the piece that we really want to see from our teachers and that growth piece.


RYAN ESTES: Give me an example, would you? If you think about a teacher you recently spoke with, what did that actually look like in that individual conversation?


JASON SMITH: We switched this year to a format of how we coach through our conversations. I’m really looking for them to summarize their learning, analyze their learning, taking some next steps with them where they’re going to construct some things. And so I’m walking them through what I observed and taking them through that process with these conversations that we’re taking, and then how are we committing and getting them to that next step of what they want to do with it? And then we reflect on our conversation at that last stage in this process. The biggest piece with that, and that I’m hearing from them is that these are reflective conversations and what we’re talking about is I’m making them commit, I’m making them talk to me about what are they going to do next and how are they going to make sure that they follow through on this and those pieces?


 They haven’t always had the opportunity to reflect every single day and what they did and what they tried. And so these conversations are really giving them the opportunity to reflect on it and plan some next steps and where they want to go from there.


KIM DAVIS: For me, what I do is, I go in, I do an observation, 15-20 minutes tops. I’m not going to be there for an hour. We’ve increased our number of times we go into the classroom. That was very important to our teachers. They felt that they weren’t seeing their administrators enough to have these conversations. So going into the classroom 15-20 minutes, providing observational evidence to that teacher within 24 hours, being very mindful of the evidence that I’m providing. So being very factual, being very objective, making sure I’m not using any judgmental language, saying, “Kids were well-behaved,” again, that’s a judgment, right? Just being very specific in what I’m seeing, what I’m hearing. So after providing that evidence within 24 hours, having a reflecting conversation with the teacher within three days.


And then sitting down to have that conversation, I kind of take it through a process. We’ve done a lot of work on learning-focused supervision, and being mindful of, you’re always supposed to come in and the coaching stance. And that looks like where you’re opening with inviting or questions that kind of promote inquiry and recall to begin with, so as you think back, what are some things that you’re recalling? Whether they’re some challenges or some treasures that you’re taking back and getting that teacher in the mindset, and then going into where you’re kind of exploring.


Staying away from vague language. Sometimes a lot of teachers will say, “Oh, that went really well.” Well, tell me, what does well mean to you? What are some things that you’re looking for, specifically? How do you know something was successful? And then maybe bringing the teacher to asking them, what are some of the things that they are mindful of their own teaching and where do they need to get?


And then, specifically, as you consider some strategies, what do you think would be the best fit for this group? So, again, getting the teacher to think about their own teaching, thinking about the strengths of their students, what they can use to get kids motivated or to get them to be successful. And then I think also staying away from questions that are yes or no questions, keeping it open, and then at the end of a conversation, concluding with, “How has this conversation helped you and what are going to be your first priorities after this?”


RYAN ESTES: You have described the “before” of what it looked like. “You gave me a two, you gave me a three.” You’ve described the “after” of what that looks like now as they’re having reflective conversations and really thinking through practice as a result of what you were able to see in the observation.


How did you get from point A to point B? How do you get teachers to be actively engaged in this process? I mean, self-reflection is never a comfortable thing for anybody really to undergo. It’s always a challenge. It always means you’re opening yourself up to critique, which doesn’t usually feel good.


How did you get teachers to say, “Yeah, I’m on board with this. I will jump in and be willing to enthusiastically undertake this process”?


KIM DAVIS: Working with our, our PDEC committee, they knew what they wanted. We weren’t sure how to get there. And we failed, I think, the first time we rolled out a pilot, because we didn’t change what we did, our own actions, right? We wanted things to change, but we just added more. We didn’t do anything different, really, if that makes sense. But the point of what I’m trying to tell you is that you have to educate yourself, you’ve got to be the change you want.


So we knew as an administrative group, we needed to educate ourselves on how to have reflecting conversations. We did a lot of practicing. We worked with the Danielson Group for two years. We brought in Thinking Collaborative for their Cognitive Coaching®, and we tried it on ourselves. We did a lot of instructional rounds. We did a lot of learning and trying and implementing until we felt comfortable. We’re still learning.


We had to be the change.  And like I said, we worked on many consultants from the Danielson Group and we started implementing again. We changed our pilot. We started implementing it small with a group of teachers. We got positive feedback. We did some surveys, we did some focus groups, figured out what was working, what wasn’t working, and then we rolled it out.


We were very intentional when we rolled it out. We talked about the purpose, the why are we doing this, and how it’s going to look different. And also were very transparent and said, “Listen, we’re also learning along with you, and you’ve got to understand here’s where we want to go and where we want to be.” And I think teachers were receptive to that.


Jason said that bringing teachers on board at the very beginning of the process — in the pilot stage — was crucial. As part of that PDEC committee, Professional Development and Evaluation Committee, teachers could provide feedback right away and help design the system, and that made a huge difference in selling it to the rest of the staff.


JASON SMITH: The PDEC was very strategic. Administrators co-presented with PDEC members when we rolled it out to the entire staff. So when I was presenting, you know, across the district to a group of teachers from all different levels, I was presenting with a second grade teacher at my school who was taking very much a lead in the presentation.


So it was not looking like this is coming from administration, but this is coming from PDEC. These are the people of your colleagues that have helped to drive this change.


RYAN ESTES: As you began having those conversations and making those presentations, did you face initial pushback or was that generally well received?


KIM DAVIS: It was very well received. In fact, it rolled out so well, and we heard nothing but good feedback. And we continue to receive good feedback from teachers. So far it’s been very well received.


RYAN ESTES: And to what do you attribute that to, that it was well received right off the bat? Was it simply because you provided that kind of information? Was it because you had people who had been in the pilot who then said, “Hey, I’ve been through this and it works, I’m excited about it”? Trying to get buy in is a difficult thing for many things, as you know.


JASON SMITH: It’s more of, as people are seeing conversations that they’re having, the ratings truly were… I think a lot of places I’ve seen it, that was not the purpose for those ratings, when Danielson and all them came out with them, to really be this rating and evaluating of a teacher for that purpose in that process. And so that really had such a negative toll on people , to really be able to see the conversations. I don’t really know what it’s like in the building because one piece that will come up is when you get to the mid year.


So teachers still by law have to have, in Connecticut have to have, a rating at the mid-year and the end of the year. So my teachers, there was some nervousness of what is that going to look like? In past years where I haven’t had ratings all year and now I’m going to come into the mid year and you’re giving me a rating? I’m going to be nervous. So that’s something that is going to come up, I’m sure, across the district, people being very nervous. And that was the one piece about being very nervous going into the midyear. But we really emphasized that if something really is developing or needs to be improved, you’ve got to, as an administrator, talk and have that conversation.


That’s not something that I will see this year really in my building, because 2/3, 3/4 of my staff were part of the pilot. So they’re used to not seeing a rating come until the midyear. And we know now the most  in those frequent conversations. So they’re not going to expect that.


But that’s something that we have to really be mindful of. And I think that’s going to create some nervousness for some staff and administrators just have to be very mindful when we get to that mid year. If you’re giving ratings that are not threes and fours, effective or distinguished, then you better have that conversation with teachers ahead of time and that they know that they’re getting a two, because that’s something that I just would be very, very mindful of. Because you still have to give those ratings at mid year and end of the year.


KIM DAVIS: Yeah. So as Jason was saying, when I was talking about criteria from our state in terms of the evaluation system, we are required to give people a number. I’ve got to report numbers to the state at the end of the year. So when we do observations, we did remove the rating because it was a distraction. It didn’t move the conversation or having teachers to be self-reflecting.


The other thing that we noticed is, as an administrator, we knew that teacher rubric like the back of our hand. We lived in that rubric because we had to give ratings based on the indicators within the Danielson rubric. And our staff was not very well versed in what that rubric incorporated. So one of the things when we were rolling this out is that we were very intentional about going over that rubric again and pulling out words that really resonated within the rubric. So looking specifically down the levels in terms of, what are some words that are sticking out?


“None. Never. Unsafe. Moving over to developing. General. Inconsistent.” Words like that, right, that teachers can get to understand what is the essence of that level of performance, so that when you get to a midyear, you can start using words like, “To what degree does the teacher __________? To what extent is the teacher _________? So you can start incorporating that conversation to say, are you whole group instruction versus individual instruction? Where are you on that level of performance? And I think, again, changing the way we approach conversations has been just key in this whole evaluation process.


RYAN ESTES: You’ve mentioned the reflective conversations being the key to all of this. How do the conversations you have around evaluations now look different from before? How did you restructure those conversations? And how do they contrast with before, when you were just giving a rating? When a teacher walks in and sits down with you, and you say, okay, well let’s take a look at the observation and the notes that the evidence you collected, what are the kinds of questions you’re asking, the kinds of observations you’re providing, to help them start generating that kind of reflection?


JASON SMITH: One of the pieces is that these conversations with our old teacher evaluation weren’t necessarily happening often because if you had an informal observation, which most teachers had, and you didn’t have frequent formals, you weren’t required to have a post-conversation. So prior to that, you would get just your ratings emailed to you within five days with the summary recommendation and different things, and never the conversation, never really talking about things. You were required to have one, if you had three informals, depending on what cycle you were on, if you had three informals, which most teachers did, then one of them had to have a reflective conversation, but the other two did not.


RYAN ESTES: So it felt like something that happened to them as opposed to something they took part in.


KIM DAVIS: That’s exactly correct. So it was emailed to them, “Here you go, here’s your rating, here’s your recommendations, here’s the accommodations. Let me know if you want to meet and have a conversation.” Do you think that teachers are going to say, “Yeah, absolutely. I want to meet”? Now yes, there were some, but the majority was like, “Nope, I’m good. Thank you very much.”


JASON SMITH: And as an administrator, we were spending hours to write up one observation. A formal observation that we were writing up would take more than a couple hours, an informal observation would typically take about an hour to write up, to read through, to make sure everything is clean, what are your recommendations, and then send it to the teacher. 


Most administrators, if you’re going to give a developing rating, then you met with the teacher, but you were never having those conversations with your effective or distinguished teachers and really being able to talk about things and push them further. You were just sharing some things. And the things you were sharing might not have made any sense to what they were doing be cause you weren’t able to ever talk through and really get a sense of things.


And so the biggest piece was switching with this, when we did the pilot and these conversations now, is that it’s a 10-15 minute conversation that I’m having with you. It’s 10 minutes. Sometimes I might just be actually in the hallway after your observation. It doesn’t even need to be that long. A lot of my teachers schedule it. I tell them, “I can come to your room if you want to have it in your room, just tell my secretary, let me know if you looked over the notes, where you want to have it, she’ll put it on my calendar and I’ll come and find you, or you can meet with me and we can talk about it there.” And they’re actually doing it for more than like 10 minutes. They’re going to talk and want to talk through things and want that feedback.


So I think there’s a piece to with the old evaluation system, they weren’t really getting the feedback. It was just evaluation and it wasn’t feedback and about improving learning. So now we’re always having reflective conversations. And as an administrator, most of my writing is done when I’m scripting things in the classroom, because I’m just sending simply their notes to them to look over. As Kim said, not having any judgements in there. I’m not making any assumptions about anything. I’m just simply telling you what I saw in the classroom.


 And now what I was gonna say was that my write-ups are only taking me about 15 minutes, 10 minutes, because I’m simply sending you, you’re simply getting the notes from me, and then I’m going back in and writing three, four sentences, a summary of the observations and our conversations in a sense.


KIM DAVIS: As we discussed, “You want to move on, you want to try this or you are thinking about doing this.” That’s basically what we do, is sum up the conversation.


RYAN ESTES: So let me get this straight. You’re spending less time on the evaluations, is that correct? And your teachers are more engaged and it’s more effective at advancing practice. That sounds like a win win win.


KIM DAVIS: It is. Yeah, it really has. I mean, we have increased our number of observations to get in, and we are requiring that you’re having a reflecting conversation, but that’s what the teachers wanted. You know, they felt like they weren’t seeing their administrators or having conversations.


I think the other thing that administrators are being more mindful of is, when you’re having a reflecting conversation with the teacher, you’re starting in a very specific stance, which is the coaching stance, right? So you’re asking open ended questions. It’s not yes or no. You’re engaging their thinking, right? Their thought process or their cognitive load. There are times that you have to be very conscious of your change in stance. So you may move to a consultant stance and come out of that coaching stance and say, “Is it okay if I give you some very specific strategies that you can implement?” Because sometimes teachers get stuck in their thinking. So we as an administrator have to recognize that, acknowledge that we’re coming out of that stance by asking permission if we can give some suggestions.


The other thing that there’s opportunity is for a collaborative stance, right? So where, again, you’re not saying, “Let me give you all the strategies.” What are some ways that we could think of , or some strategies that we can brainstorm together? So we’re doing it, we’re coming up with things together. We’re on equal plane. I’m not your administrator at this point. I’m your colleague. So we’re coming up with things together.


Or as Jason mentioned, there are some teachers that might be struggling. And now I’ve got to switch a stance and be on my calibrating stance and really say, “Well, if you take a look at this rubric right here, you are providing an unsafe environment for kids.” And you’ve got to be very direct and let teachers know where they are, especially those that are struggling.


So being able to recognize where you are, which stance you are in that process, I think has been really helpful too.


RYAN ESTES: Hmm. Can you tell me some of those stories of teachers that you have seen this really make a difference for? What kinds of feedback have you heard from them?


JASON SMITH: I think people are more open. One thing I’ve done is, even in this process in learning these conversations, I’ve been very open with my teachers that they know that I’m out for, you know, a number of days for Cognitive Coaching® or when we were doing reflective conversations, previously and learning this, and I’ll be right with them and say, “I have this here. I’m trying to talk through a new process. These are some things I’m working on.” And just really being open, they’re able to see that I’m learning these things. I’m learning to kind of have these conversations. You know, I found it very strategic to just share with teachers some of the things that I’m working on because that makes the conversation, they’ll understand the things that I’m purposefully doing in a conversation.


For example, in the conversations, I lead in with, “I’m going to be paraphrasing or sharing back some of the things that you say.” Because that was, I heard that feedback that the conversation didn’t necessarily feel natural. I say, “Okay. I’m working on that. But I’m actually paraphrasing because that lets you know that I hear what you are saying, or did I misunderstand something that you were saying?” So I make sure I really paraphrase and then you give me an okay. Or, I’m very strategically gonna pause, because I had a teacher too when I was waiting for them and they finished talking and I waited two seconds before I jumped in and they were like, “Hey, was that what you were looking for, is that enough?” And I was like, “Oh no. I purposely paused to make sure that you were done with your thinking and everything before I move on.” So I’ve learned that I’m doing different things in these conversations, just being upfront and honest with my teachers and sharing with them and letting them know that the different things, the different ways I’m leading this conversation and letting them know that this conversation is really for them to talk, and I’m going to lead their thinking through a little bit of a process.


KIM DAVIS: I will also share that a lot of administrators have called me in my office just to tell me how great a conversation went and some feedback they’re getting from teachers, which has never happened before w e moved to this. So I think administrators are feeling, you know, they’re building more confidence in their ability to have conversations, and being just more aware of their intentions going into a conversation and really thinking about how they want to approach difficult conversations, and helping to grow people. So it’s been good.


Jason told the story of a veteran teacher, very well-respected within the district, had been teacher of the year at Newington. And one day, he sat in on her classroom for an observation.


JASON SMITH: And I went in and observed a lesson that just kind of did not go well. And she walked into the post reflective conversation and it was probably one of the best reflective conversations that she had because she came in and said, “Oh man, that lesson was horrible.” And like every single thing that she was trying, that just did not work. This and that and what she would do differently and why she did it that way and what she was able to talk about the different things that had happened with students the year before when they did it and how part of it a different concept, but it was a new program. And so she was really trying to do it with some fidelity and stick to how it was being introduced and it completely bombed. And this is a veteran teacher who’s been a teacher of the year, who is going to, at the end of the year, be effective or exemplary in her rating, and then we have this great conversation about all the different things that she’s going to do. And I’m going to now turn around and say, “Okay, and I’m going to give you a two in this area and this area and this area,” that’s kind of like going to defeat the whole purpose. Right?


We were stuck living within the framework that was kind of created and laid out for us. That was a teacher in the pilot and the reflective conversation, like I said, it was a great reflective conversation with one of the most reflective ones. And just letting someone talk through the different things and asking for feedback and never feeling threatening because of a number.


RYAN ESTES: Do you feel like teachers are more likely to take risks and try new things under this new system than they had been previously?


KIM DAVIS: Yes, it became, again, I cannot stress this enough. It became more about the rating and less about the teaching and the growing. Right. So, yeah. I think teachers were afraid to take risks because, to Jason’s point specifically, this teacher was trying something and it bombed. But she was able to be reflective work through what it was she needed to change without the fear of, “Oh gosh, you know, I’m a developing teacher.”


No, you’re not developing. It was a developing lesson. It didn’t go well. But let’s talk about how to get back on track or what were the elements that weren’t successful, and what do you need to do now to change that? And there was no conversation or worry about it being developing. It just, they talked about what happened and that was it.


JASON SMITH: We talked just about teaching and learning.


One question I often like to ask is whether there’s anything I haven’t asked that my guest is dying to answer, or is there something important to highlight that we haven’t yet touched on. And Kim said yes, and that is something called a peer reflective visit.


KIM DAVIS: And that was kind of modeled after something that I read in a book called Better Not Bitter, which was sort of my motto for a couple years as we were going this evaluation process. But this reflective peer visit was a way for teachers to recognize something or an area in which they wanted to grow in and go visit a colleague and see how he or she implemented whatever it was, a strategy, you know, how they did their Reader’s Workshop model, whatever it was, and then kind of think about ways in which they can incorporate some of those strategies into their classrooms. So it had nothing to do with the person that they were visiting. It was really about themselves, but they needed to get out of their classroom and see what other folks were doing.


Because again, it’s all about that cognitive lift and really thinking about teaching and learning, and sometimes you can’t do that if you’re stuck in your own head, right? Or your own world. You really got to see it in action. So that was something that we incorporated this year, which quite a few people have taken advantage of and that replaced an informal observation, but everything that our teachers are doing, it still requires a reflecting conversation. So that again, the evaluator can have that conversation with the teacher, again, to build self reflection and self directedness, and that’s really the goal of this evaluation process.


RYAN ESTES: Kimberly Davis is the Director of Talent Management at Newington Public Schools in Connecticut, and Jason Smith is principal of Anna Reynolds Elementary School in the same district. Kim and Jason, thank you for speaking with me at the end of what I am sure has been a very full day.


KIM DAVIS: Thank you, Ryan. I appreciate this opportunity.


JASON SMITH: Thank you very much. Have a good day.


Field Trip is a podcast from Frontline Education. Frontline is the leading provider of school administrative software, with solutions like Frontline Professional Growth, making it easier to manage teacher evaluations and to connect professional learning opportunities to evaluation results. For more information, visit


New episodes of Field Trip are released every two weeks, and you can find them wherever fine podcasts are served. Don’t forget to subscribe — a lot of work goes into these, and knowing that you won’t miss any of them would make my day.


For Frontline Education, I’m Ryan Estes. Thanks for listening, and have a great day.