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Feature                                                       Pages 33-35

     

The Triple Challenge of

Evaluating Teachers

A Michigan district adopts a framework that dispels suspicions, adds clarity and creates a partnership in the process

BY CINDY WEBER

A colleague of mine recently posed this question to me: What keeps you up at night? The first thing that popped into my mind was school funding, but I changed my answer to teacher evaluation.

School funding always will be a concern to school leaders, but it is an issue that districts have little control over. Teacher evaluation too often is a matter of compliance in school districts, and I have always wanted to do something about it.

Because of recent legislative changes to teacher evaluation in Michigan, where I led a school district, I thought this could be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to create a process truly focused on teacher effectiveness and professional growth for our 99 classroom teachers. But first, we — that’s the administrators and teachers working together as a faculty — have to confront and overcome three challenges that typically plague districtwide teacher evaluation initiatives.

Cindy Weber
Cindy Weber

CHALLENGE NO. 1: To be effective, a teacher evaluation model cannot be overly complex. With the increasing emphasis on teacher evaluation, today’s administrators can select from a number of well-established and research-based frameworks. However, pedigree isn’t always sufficient, as some models can be overly complex. For our principals, a lengthy, cumbersome evaluation instrument is just not practical. And the last thing we wanted was to initiate an evaluation process that was nothing more than perfunctory.

Over the past several years, we have been working with Harvey Silver, co-creator of a learning style inventory for students and author of Teaching Styles & Strategies, to train our teachers in thoughtful, research-based tools and strategies for differentiating instruction, engaging students and raising student achievement.

Building off his decades of work with schools, Silver and his team developed a simple but deep framework for thoughtfully and meaningfully evaluating teacher effectiveness. The simplicity of the Thoughtful Classroom Teacher Effectiveness Framework is apparent in its one-page or one-screen design (see below).

The framework includes universal elements (four cornerstones, dimensions 1-4, color coded in red), which are the foundations of all successful classrooms, and it synthesizes a wide body of research and practice related to instructional design and delivery (five episodes, dimensions 5-9, color coded in blue). It also includes those elements of teacher effectiveness that look beyond the classroom (professional practice, dimension 10).

These elements of professional practice are articulated as three commitments — to ongoing professional learning, to the school community and to professionalism.

The entire framework is organized around 10 dimensions of quality teaching, each guided by an essential question. Of these, nine are dedicated to classroom instruction, while the 10th focuses on a teacher’s professional practice beyond the classroom. The framework then goes deeper as each dimension opens up to include specific and observable indicators of effective practice. What’s more, the instructional dimensions also include student behaviors to look for as signs of quality instruction, giving teachers and administrators a clear and comprehensive model delivered in a concise package.

CHALLENGE NO. 2: To be effective, a teacher evaluation model must be meaningful. A teacher evaluation framework will fall flat if it is seen as bureaucratic or a way to keep score. Administrators and teachers need to know that the effort they are committing to a teacher evaluation initiative will result in meaningful progress — both in terms of achievement for students and professional growth for teachers.

We engaged key stakeholders in our district of 1,600 students from the beginning to discuss what components should be included in our teacher evaluation model. After informed conversations, we decided to adopt the Thoughtful Classroom Teacher Effectiveness Framework. In part, we made this decision because indicators within this framework align to key themes of the Common Core State Standards. This enables us to simultaneously tackle two critical initiatives in a meaningful way — teacher evaluation and the Common Core.

Currently we are building local assessments around the Common Core, which will account for 25 percent of every teacher’s overall effectiveness rating. By incorporating these assessments into our teacher evaluation initiative, teachers are encouraged to re-examine current classroom practices in light of the demands of the Common Core.

We also recognized the need for timely and quality feedback throughout the process. To help make the feedback process simple and meaningful, the Thoughtful Classroom Teacher Effectiveness Framework includes the Four P’s feedback protocol:

PROVIDE EVIDENCE: Collect evidence that supports what you observed.

PRAISE: Recognize positive teaching behaviors that had a positive impact on student learning.

POSE: Ask questions that foster reflection on the teacher’s decisions and their impact on student learning.

PROPOSE: Decide (collaboratively, if possible) how to improve the teacher’s practice.

Each time an observer enters a classroom, whether it’s a formal or informal observation, the observer commits to the Four P’s of effective feedback to the teacher.

CHALLENGE NO. 3: To be effective, a teacher evaluation model must clearly spell out roles and responsibilities. Too often, teachers see a new teacher evaluation system as a process being done to them, instead of a new opportunity for professional growth. This is why it is important not only for administrators but also for teachers to have clearly defined roles within the process. For example, here are the roles both teachers and administrators play during a pre-observation conference:

ROLES FOR THE TEACHER

  • Mentally rehearse and orally describe the upcoming lesson/unit sequence to be observed: learning goals, instructional episodes, how learning will be assessed, and learning activities/instructional strategies.
  • Identify questions you have about the lesson so the observer can collect information that helps you grow.
  • Share concerns about the content, specific students or the class as a whole.

ROLES FOR THE ADMINISTRATOR

  • Learn and understand the teacher’s goals and design for the lesson.
  • Use probing and clarifying behaviors that help the teacher make sure the learning goals, assessments and activities are clearly articulated and aligned.
  • Listen actively to the teacher and identify the questions the teacher has about the lesson.
  • Reinforce the ultimate purpose of the observation process — to improve instructional feedback and student achievement.

How often do teacher evaluation frameworks neglect these roles that teachers must play, leaving them in the dark and confirming suspicions that teacher evaluation is being done to them rather than with them? What effect might this lack of clarity have on a staff? The simple truth is that if we expect teachers to improve, then they have every right to expect administrators to treat them as partners in the process.

Positive Change
Our school district’s journey is only in the beginning phases. The biggest struggle we faced was determining how to measure student growth. Last year we focused on assessing vocabulary, as vocabulary instruction is a critical component in the new Common Core State Standards. Students’ academic success rests heavily on their ability to remember, understand and communicate using new vocabulary.

Teachers developed pre- and post-tests with concepts that are most essential in each discipline for career and college readiness. By using these pre- and post-tests to assess how well students are mastering critical vocabulary and how well our instruction is advancing students’ understanding of critical vocabulary, we hope to close the achievement gap by closing the vocabulary gap, regardless of what content is taught.

In addition to vocabulary, this year we’re also working to assess student growth in key thinking and literacy skills — students’ ability to read and comprehend rigorous texts, make critical comparisons, develop an argument and reflect on learning. Currently we have a leadership team of 14 teachers working on these measures.

By paying close attention to these three challenges — avoiding complexity, making meaningful change and defining roles — we are beginning to make meaningful change in our district.

The Thoughtful Classroom Teacher Effectiveness Framework

1. ORGANIZATION, RULES AND PROCEDURES
How do you organize your classroom to enhance learning and establish rules and procedures that clarify expectations? 
5. PREPARING STUDENTS FOR NEW LEARNING
How do you establish your purpose, activate students’ prior knowledge and prepare students for learning?
2. POSITIVE RELATIONSHIPS
How do you build meaningful relationships with your students and among students to promote learning?
7. DEEPENING AND REINFORCING LEARNING
How do you help students solidify their understanding and practice new skills?
6. PRESENTING NEW LEARNING
How do you present new information and provide opportunities for students to actively engage with content?
 9. REFLECTING ON AND CELEBRATING LEARNING
How do you help students look back on their learning and refine their learning process?
4. A CULTURE OF THINKING AND LEARNING
How do you develop a classroom culture that promotes serious learning and sophisticated forms of thinking?
8. APPLYING LEARNING
How do you help students demonstrate their learning and what kinds of evidence do you collect to assess student progress?
3. ENGAGEMENT AND ENJOYMENT
How do you motivate students to do their best work and inspire the love of learning?
10. PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE
How do you demonstrate commitment to professional learning and contribute to the school community?

SOURCE: The Thoughtful Classroom Teacher Effectiveness Framework (Resource Guide). © 2011 Silver Strong & Associates

Cindy Weber is superintendent of Durand Area Schools in Durand, Mich. E-mail: weber@durand.k12.mi.us

 

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