Professional Growth Plans Offer Alternative to Teacher Checklists


Many school districts evaluate by observing their teachers once or several times a year to determine if those teachers meet minimum standards. This practice, unfortunately, is the equivalent of putting up a sign that says, "All our teachers are minimally competent!" Yet many educators express satisfaction with this practice.

We recently worked with a number of principals and teacher union representatives at the Bethpage, N.Y., School District to explore alternatives to teacher evaluation. Most of the changes revolved around ways for tenured teachers with satisfactory teaching histories to voluntarily improve their professional skills.

Four Options
The Bethpage administration offered its tenured teachers the chance to design one of four professional growth plans in place of the traditional observation/evaluation system:


  • Peer-coaching teams. In an open peer-coaching program, the teacher identifies what growth area he or she wants to work on. Teachers invite other teachers into their classrooms to help design projects. They select their own staff development activities, then decide how to measure the impact of these activities. This involves a pre-conference, an observation conference and a post conference.


    In the peer-coaching option, you do not evaluate the individual teacher, but coach them for improvement.


  • Action research. Individual teachers or a group of teachers identify a problem with which they currently are dealing. Maybe it is the substandard math scores in the 4th grade on standardized tests. Perhaps it is a group of reluctant learners, or maybe it is a high dropout rate in a subgroup of the student population.


    A music teacher studied how to help students read music rather than just memorize it. A 7th-grade science teacher developed a project to teach students how to design and conduct their own research. A foreign language teacher constructed a unit to bring the culture of a country into their curriculum.

    Teachers who select the action research option meet with a committee of teachers and the administrator at the end of the year to report their findings.


  • Personal growth plans. Teachers select the area in which they wish to enhance their skills. Many teachers at Bethpage who chose this option are using technology in their classrooms. At John F. Kennedy Middle School, a math teacher is integrating a computer into his 8th-grade pre-algebra lessons.


    The teachers put their entire plan in writing, including where to obtain the knowledge, what workshops they will attend, what books and articles they expect to read and how they will set up practice activities. It also includes who will observe them as they begin to implement the new learning.


  • Portfolios. Under the portfolio option, teachers collect items that they will use to document and to assess their current skill levels. These include student surveys to find out what feedback students give the teacher, parent surveys, videotapes of the teacher's instruction, examples of students’ graded work and similar materials.


    A foreign language teacher collected in his portfolio the materials he needed to teach a language unit. When finished, he went back over all components to determine what he should keep and what he should change.

    Every option has a built-in safety valve for the teachers so they will take the first step. The teacher is in charge. If a teacher sends out student surveys and these surveys come back with information he or she doesn't want to share, the teacher can choose not to put that in the portfolio. With self-reflection, the teacher has a much better chance to change behavior before the administrator confronts him or her with the problem.

  • District Responsibilities
    School systems that implement alternatives to teacher assessment need to provide content and time. If many teachers, for instance, select a technology option, then the district ought to be looking at offering staff development in this area. The district also needs to provide the resources to help the teachers develop. In Bethpage, the district provided extensive initial training during the first three months of the school year and individual meetings with teachers the following month. Observation and sharing of results are also important.

    Part of the power of these four alternatives comes in sharing the positive results with others. Nothing will inspire a teacher to attempt a new technique or strategy like the success that another teacher has had with that same strategy or technique. One third of the teachers in Bethpage volunteered for the program.

    Each option produced some positive results. Two art teachers devised new technology for their high school classes. A middle school science teacher created a comprehensive independent research project for students. Meanwhile, the high school librarian developed an entirely new way of teaching students how to conduct research.

    Standard teacher evaluation does not inspire growth. But every teacher should have a growth plan option that says that at the end of every year, "I should have something new to add to my resume other than 'I survived one more year.'"

    Stephen Barkley is executive vice president of Performance Learning Systems, 466 Old Hook Road, Suite 25-26, Emerson, NJ 07630. E-mail: Regina Cohn is associate superintendent of the Roosevelt, N.Y., School District.