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With coming changes in the educational environment, legislators, educators and parents are trying to find the best way to serve students while also retaining teachers who can create a quality learning environment. While there are a variety of  methods to provide evaluations, one thing is for sure: ongoing, constructive feedback is crucial to the success of teachers and, in turn, their students.

In a previous post, we talked about a few districts that have incorporated a 360-degree feedback approach, where everyone—teachers, administrators, peers and students—is involved in the evaluation process. The 360-degree feedback approach has been used for years in the business world, but it wasn’t explored in education until about a year ago when some school districts in Hawaii, Pittsburgh and Washington D.C. implemented it.

According to a news report by American University Radio, a Washington D.C. pilot program required students to evaluate over 450 elementary and high school teachers and share their thoughts on how their teachers could improve in the classroom. Advocates argued that students spend more time in the classroom than anyone else (including principals); critics said that it could evolve into nothing more than a popularity contest.

In 2013, Hawaii’s public schools used student surveys to evaluate teachers. At first, the student evaluations counted for 10 percent of a teacher’s overall score. Now, that feedback only factors into those evaluations indirectly due to the pushback.

Corey Rosenlee, the president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, was not keen on using student surveys according to the study.

“It’s a bad idea, it doesn’t work,” said Rosenlee. “One teacher put it the best: ‘A 6-year-old shouldn’t be able to decide whether I could pay rent or not.'”

The student feedback holds even more significance in Pittsburgh Public Schools, where it factors in for 15 percent of the teacher evaluations. Student test scores also played a role in the overall evaluations.

The teachers union for Pittsburgh doesn’t consider the evaluation process ideal, but Bill Hileman, union vice president, says the student perception surveys can have merit but not for teacher evaluations. “It’s fabulous information about how students perceive their experiences in public schools,” he said. But it should not have anything to do with whether or not a teacher can keep his or her job.

How to Make 360-Degree Feedback Effective

Teachers are not alone in questioning the merit of 360-degree feedback where, in corporate America, it typically involves feedback from supervisors, peers and subordinates. In writing for Harvard Business Review, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman of Zenger/Folkman, a leadership development consultancy, offer four tips on making the approach as successful as possible:

  1. Measure the right skills. Determine which competencies make a difference to performance and invite comment on only those skills. Think about what students should be evaluating versus administrators.
  2. Properly explain the process. Inform participants and those providing feedback how the information will be used to help the employee’s (teacher’s) development. Without understanding the goal, respondents can’t help the cause.
  3. Create short surveys or evaluations. The feedback should only take about 15 minutes to complete to avoid survey fatigue and rushed answers.
  4. Focus on strengths. Use the surveys to identify strengths instead of weaknesses. Focus efforts on making it a positive process.

What do you think about the 360-Degree feedback approach? Do you think there’s merit to it or that it all comes down to a popularity contest?

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