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Teacher Evaluations: The Conversation Has Changed

Teachers across the nation are being transformed into instructional leaders, in part due to the new evaluation methods being put into effect in multiple schools and districts. In the past three years many states have made changes to their teacher evaluation systems to incorporate multiple measures of teacher effectiveness, including: classroom observations, student performance information, timely feedback and opportunities for professional growth. At this time, more than half of the states require annual staff evaluations. With the majority of states allowing local development of the evaluation plan, teachers are allowed to have a say in policy and practice.

According to a report released by The National Council on Teacher Quality, “As of September 2013, 35 states and the District of Columbia Public Schools now require that student achievement is a significant or the most significant factor in teacher evaluations. To date, only Alabama, California, Idaho,Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Texas and Vermont have no formal policy requiring that teacher evaluations take some objective measures of student achievement into account in evaluating teacher effectiveness.”

Based on the idea that it’s time to treat teachers like the professionals they are, many states are going through this change. Unfortunately, the real outcome of this new evaluation process won’t show up in teacher effectiveness scores. It won’t even show up in student achievement scores immediately. The outcome that has become clear is the fact that conversations have changed.

Administrators and teachers are talking about instructional strategies, procedures, student learning styles, classroom management, and most importantly, student data to drive instruction. The need for teachers and administrators to be the instructional leaders has allowed the conversations to change from last night’s sports scores to “What ways are you using to check for understanding?” and “How are you engaging students in the academic content?”

Teacher effectiveness performance ratings have resulted in teachers and principals meeting regularly to discuss not only areas that need improvement, but also successes and how they can build on those successes; how they, as a team, can set professional goals, ultimately affecting the success of the student. Timely performance feedback is an essential component of a teacher evaluation plan. Transparency within the system is also a necessity. Those two factors provide the platform for conversations between administrators and teachers, teachers and other teachers, and even teachers and parents.

The conversation about teacher evaluation has resulted in continued dialog on improvement. Without this change in communication and transparency, we are moving from “if they would stay out of my room and just let me teach” to “my administration is welcome in my classroom anytime.”

Just as we have collected student data for years, we are starting to collect teacher and administrative performance data. We must be able to analyze, implement, reflect, revise and act on the data collected.

As many schools have now collected up to two years of data, they are asking “now what?” The “now what” is using the detailed individual, department, school and district data to drive professional growth and student achievement. The real-time data available has allowed schools to identify strengths and weaknesses early to adjust policies, procedures and instructional methods in a proactive manner. The adjustments have not only been in the classroom, but also in administrator training and the evaluation process as well. The conversation has definitely changed to a “proactive” dialog instead of a “reactive” dialog.

The purpose of teacher effectiveness laws is not to be punitive, but to improve instruction and ultimately student achievement. When looking at data like that below, we allow those that are doing something well to share and, for those needing improvement, to ask a peer for suggestions. Teachers freely admit that before this process was put in place, they would not ask a peer for suggestions. Never before has a teacher been able to go to their administrator and ask “Who is good at explaining to students the learning target in a student-friendly manner and easy to understand terms? I am struggling with that.”

SFSThe evaluation process is slowly moving to a professional growth process and finally shying away from being an annual activity. Not only are teachers being held accountable, administrators are being held accountable in completing evaluations and being evaluated during an on-going process as well.

The conversation changes are not just happening between administrators and teachers, but also between administrators within a building, administrators within a district and schools within a district. Principals are asking others about strategies, programs and policies that are impacting positive teacher performance and student achievement. Never before would you hear at a principals’ meeting a discussion on “what are examples of evidence in scripting?” Or “who do I need opinion out of my scripting?”

Throughout the evaluation process, specific behaviors have emerged. School districts are seeing teachers making suggestions, giving peer feedback, modeling effective instruction, seeking opinions on best practices, providing resources, supporting collaboration and holding each other accountable. Teachers have begun to take on a wide range of roles within their school and district, lending themselves to support school success and student success. More and more, teachers are becoming instructional leaders, sharing the vision of the school and district. Since evaluation plans are utilizing school-wide or district-wide learning measures as a part of the teacher evaluation, teacher leaders have started sharing effective teaching strategies, creating common assessments and are ensuring consistent curriculum implementation. Teachers are setting high expectations of themselves, their students and their peers, leading to overall school improvement.

As instructional leaders, teachers can lead conversations that engage their peers in analyzing strengths and weaknesses and analyzing student achievement and growth to facilitate continuous improvement. Educators are committed to being life-long learners. If nothing else has been learned throughout this evaluation change process, the key seems to be that education must keep the conversations going.

We must remember, in all the complicated procedures of designing evaluations of teacher effectiveness, that appraising/judging performance is an activity that involves professional judgment. Teacher effectiveness policies are meant to improve the practice of every teacher in every classroom so that all students and teachers have the opportunity for success.