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With a few exceptions, employees in every industry undergo performance evaluations in some form or another — with the process ranging from quarterly to annually; informal 30-minute feedback sessions or lengthy meetings requiring employees and their managers to fill out forms.

This ritual of evaluating employees as a way to improve performance, productivity and employee satisfaction is nothing new. The process dates back to the 1950s, when governmental officials introduced the Performance Rating Act and the Incentive Awards Act. Under this system, employees who were rated above their peers received incentives — including bonuses and other types of recognition.

For the most part, the whole matter seemed routine until teacher evaluations increasingly came under scrutiny as the government focused on boosting educational outcomes for students. In the midst of criticisms, lawsuits and other legal action, it’s important to maintain a focus on the desired outcome of teacher evaluations — including recognizing outstanding teachers as well as addressing gaps in teacher performance.

Here are 4 ways you can get the focus back on the original purpose of these employee evaluations:

1. Set the stage. The way you initially communicate about teacher evaluations can set the stage for a positive experience or one rife with anxiety. Take the time to clearly outline the purpose of the teacher evaluations, the expectations, the process and the employee’s involvement in his or her own evaluation.

2. Focus on the progress, not process. With all the debate raging about teacher evaluations, it’s hard for anyone in an education profession to think of anything but process when performance evaluations are mentioned. As human resources professionals put it, focus on the progress — not the process. As puts it, too many reviews fail to include discussions on advancement opportunities for the teachers undergoing evaluations — or what they need to do to advance in their careers.

3. Make it a conversation. Part of the reluctance to undergo teacher evaluations can be attributed to processes that only involve the evaluator giving feedback. Give the employee opportunity to give input on how they perceive their own performance, as well as the chance to respond to the evaluator’s feedback.

4. Be direct. Clearly state where the employee needs to improve in his or her performance. These points should be actionable — not vague. Outline a plan that will help the employee understand the measures that needed to be taken to improve performance.

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