We are in the first year of a new evaluation model, with Charlotte Danielson's Framework for Teaching as the centerpiece. A group of union members and administrators crafted a plan that was designed to be...well, better than what we had before.
For example, one of the first things our tenured staff have to do at the beginning of their 2 year evaluation cycle is identify a professional goal. Furthermore, each person has to come up with a plan articulating how they're going to work on that goal and describe the criteria they will use to determine whether they've achieved it. This includes teachers, counselors, social workers, librarians, instructional coaches, instructional facilitators, and speech pathologists.
By the way, I'm going to use the term "teacher" to include all of these groups from here on. It's less cumbersome than listing them out all the time, sounds better than "certified staff member," and I believe if you work in a school and you work 1-on-1 with kids, you are a teacher in one way or another
Anyway, this is not something we've explicitly asked of our teachers before. As with anything new, it's causing some concern among our staff. Some concerns I've heard are:
- What is a good goal?
- What goal am I "supposed" to set? What goal do "they" want me to set? What's the secret code that the administration is using here? I didn't get my decoder ring.
- What if I don't achieve the goals I set?
- Is this meant to be a "gotcha"?
Although I may have added some exaggeration for effect, you get the point. I also totally understand these concerns. This system is new, it's big, it's complex and it matters.
The point of requiring professional goals at the beginning of an evaluation cycle is not to play "gotcha", it's not to set up some arbitrary hoops to jump through, and it's not for you to tell administration what you think we want to hear. It's to ensure that you think --really think-- about the following question:
What do you want to work on?
That's it. Nothing more. We all have things that we can work on; none of us are perfect at what we do. It's pretty open, and it should be based on what is important to you as a professional. Better yet, it should be something that interests you and you're passionate about working on.
Setting these goals is a really critical part of the process. If it's to be valuable, evaluation cannot be a one way street: that is, teachers should be self evaluating their progress constantly. (Just like students in class, right?). That starts with setting a goal, developing a plan to work on it, assessing progress periodically, and constantly working at it. Ultimately, if you don't meet the goal you set? That's OK too. Figuring out why your plan didn't work is important professional learning.
Why Do We Evaluate?
In a 2010/2011 article in Educational Leadership, Charlotte Danielson wrote an article titled "Evaluations that Help Teachers Learn." It's definitely worth a read. In the article, she identifies the two reasons why we evaluate teachers:
1. To ensure teacher quality: Listening to politicians and pundits, you'd think that it's acceptable to have the attitude "I can't really tell you what good teaching is, but I knows it when I sees it!" It's not acceptable, because we know the elements of good teaching. I fully believe that it's an art in many important ways, but it is also a science. We can actually articulate what the foundations of good teaching are. This is not a mystery and there are elements that are not subjective.
Not that everyone has to robotically teach the same way, but a shared definition of good teaching (and counseling, social work, instructional coaching, facilitating, speech pathologizing...?) ensures we are all speaking the same language. My hope is that it actually helps teachers identify what evaluators are actually looking for. Depending on who's been evaluating, that has not always been clear.
2. To Promote Professional Growth. Here's the point of the "Professional Goal" piece of our evaluation plan. I'll just take the easy way out and use Charlotte's own words:
A commitment to professional learning is important, not because teaching is of poor quality and must be "fixed," but rather because teaching is so hard that we can always improve it. No matter how good a lesson is, we can always make it better. Just as in other professions, every teacher has the responsibility to be involved in a career-long quest to improve practice.
This should include administration, right? I think it should, and I'll share my professional goal. (One of them anyway, as I have many: Writing a blog post with a point and clear purpose. That should obviously be a goal)
My Professional Goal
Although we're not evaluated based on the Danielson rubric, we are held to the Illinois Professional School Leader Standards. Our evaluation consists of our performance in these six standards.
So my goal is based on my responsibilities articulated in Standard 2: School Culture and Instructional Program. In order to be better at what I do, to evaluate and help shape the instructional program, I need to visit classrooms more.
It's pretty simple, almost trite. I hear about all the amazing things that are going on and what teachers and students are doing together. Sometimes I see these things, but usually I get info secondhand and thirdhand. That's not enough, and I need to be better about getting out of the office more see firsthand what's going on in our district. I have a plan and a way to determine if I've meet that goal.
That's about it. I think we're off to a good start, and I hope we can make this a collaborative, valuable process. (New Goal: ending a blog post elegantly. Working on it)