Saturday, January 10, 2015

Teacher Evaluation Systems: How to Excel and Retain Your Sanity

Note: This post is part II of Teacher Evaluations. Part I, a Teacher’s Perspective, can be found here. The current movement in teacher evaluation systems that is sweeping through districts across the nation needs an overhaul. But until there is a better system, teachers need to figure out a way to be successful in the current one. Here are some tips.
1. Get educated. Read the accompanying text. You cannot perform well on an observation when you don’t know the underlying principles being sought. And frankly, as I mentioned in Part I of this post, I think the authors of these books are smart educators with fantastic ideals. There is a lot to be learned from the books, even for seasoned teachers. 

2. Get informed. Schedule a meeting with your administrator/observer to discuss their exact expectations.

With the Danielson model and surely others, administrators have to pass an intense battery of tests to become an observer, so you would think they are all on the same page, but they aren’t. Be specific. Bring the list of evaluation requirements and ask them what they expect. At a meeting last year, I heard an administrator from a different building say, “I know teachers can’t be perfect every day in every period, but for their formal observation, I expect to see every component in Domain B and C at the Distinguished level,” and she did expect that. Other principals I’ve spoken with have more of a focus on growth and improving in the area of the teacher’s Professional Growth Plan (PGP).
Speaking of the PGPs, ask them to help you select your area of focus. They may have suggestions from last year’s observations and getting their input would create a sense of buy-in from them, which could turn into extra support for you. If they help you develop it, they will care more about seeing your success.
Coming to your observer to ask about these things will demonstrate care about having a successful school year. They like that. And, it will make their expectations more transparent to you, which for teachers, is like hitting the lottery.

3. Get Organized. The proof of worth...um, I mean artifact collection can become overwhelming, so make a plan early and document and collect everything. My saving grace was developing a system that worked for me. Identify your organizational strengths and find a system based on that. Some teachers I have worked with wanted accordion files that had a tab for each domain. This worked for them because they could just drop things into a folder without taking a lot of time. Some teachers use electronic portfolios, scanning and taking pictures of everything. I am a binder girl! I like binders because I can see the artifacts at a glance and quickly turn to and find what I need. If you are also a binder girl (or are a binder boy), or need a system, check out what I created to help me. I created a few versions and uploaded them to my TpT store and they are among my best sellers. 
Navy Professional Theme
Red Professional Theme
Fun Purple Theme

The “binders” linked above include title pages for domains and components, but also have templates for Table of Contents because I like to see exactly what I have collected for each domain. By listing the artifacts as I collect them into that section’s table of contents, I can easily see which domains need my attention. They also include multiple templates as example artifacts and give suggestions for which components they would support. 
Examples of Artifact Templates

Here are a few quotes from buyers:
·  “It is exactly what I planned on making myself, but without any time to do so.”
·  “What a wonderful way to help organize my evaluation and show documentation!!”
·  “Great resource for organization and becoming more informed on the examples!”
·  “I absolutely love this product. It made my portfolio stand out!! It looked so professional.”
·  “I couldn't wrap my mind around how to organize my evidence binder and I really appreciate the work you put into this file!”
·  “My principal loved how organized I was! Great product!”


So, if you are overwhelmed by the job of collecting artifacts, don’t know where to start, or want to improve the professional aspect of what you are doing, check it out for ideas. But overall, whatever system you choose to use, start early and remain diligent. There are too many demands to throw one together at the last minute.

4. Get real. For your observations, choose lessons about which you feel confident. Don’t try some crazy lesson plan that won’t support your teaching style. Don’t throw something at the kids that they will balk at. Be genuine and teach them so that there is evidential learning. Just like you do every day. The observer will see straight through the dog and pony show. You may even get questions from students like, “Why are you being so nice?” or “You actually want us to talk to each other?” or “Why are you talking like that?” You want to teach spectacularly each day so that the students and the observer will not be surprised when the engagement and learning levels are so high throughout the lesson. It is natural for you and the students.

5. Get sincere. I fully believe having an honest and sincere rapport with your students will conquer all. (Well, almost all.) Administrators want to see you connect with your students and their needs. Students are more successful when you are so in tune with them, that the learning is so relevant, that you are able to genuinely meet their needs and adjust the learning goals midstream. Just walk this line finely and refer to “Get Informed” because some observers really have to see each domain in action for you to pass. If you take a cue from a student and capitalize on a teachable moment, but miss out on some key part of your lesson, unfortunately, the system may get you. It may be worth it to you and if so, right on! But, if you are serious about getting on with this evaluation, toe that line. Students come first. Unless in that particular moment, you think it would mean losing your job. (Gosh, even writing it hypothetically sounds so wrong.) You can’t help students if you don’t have a job.


Parting words to all the teachers out there. You’ve got this! There is a reason you are a teacher. Make a difference in lives and don’t get bogged down by the evaluation system. Don’t get upset if someone tries to comfort you by saying “It’s okay to live in proficient and vacation in distinguished.” Instead, ignore it. A system does not dictate where you live or where you vacation. Your heart and your students’ hearts know where you live.