The ROE’s training room has been booked 8 of the past 10 business days with workshops and Administrator Academies.  Yes, it is a busy time of year with teacher license renewal and administrators taking their required yearly academy, but what data is even more shocking is that of the 8 trainings 4 of them were 100% focused on the teacher evaluation process!! 

For the past 2 weeks my life has been about preparing for and delivering trainings pertaining to the teacher evaluation process and requirements – even my dinner table discussions with my husband, not in education, pertained to the evaluation cycle as he overheard a video I use during my trainings as I was reviewing my content on our way home from Wisconsin last weekend!! Haha…the life of an educator’s spouse 🙂 

Why is so much time and energy being devoted to what has now become such a routine part of an educators’ life? The short answer to that question is easy, in 2010, Gov. Pat Quinn signed the Performance Evaluation Reform Act (PERA), which requires all schools in Illinois to change how teachers’ and principals’ performance is measured and since 2010 law has continued to change, contracts with companies for training assessments have expired, etc.  But the more intriguing and often debated answer, “….teacher evaluations are at the very center of the education enterprise and can be catalysts for teacher and school improvement.” (Ascd. “Fixing Teacher Evaluation.” Fixing Teacher Evaluation – Educational LeadershipMany might be asking why is this debated?  Others scoff and roll their eyes at the mere idea of teacher evaluations…so why this mixed response?!?!?

Throughout many conversations, and honestly my own experiences, the evaluation process often feels like something that is being done to teachers, not in collaboration with them.  Evaluations shouldn’t feel like a “gotcha” but rather to facilitate an ongoing dialogue which provides constructive & supportive feedback, to improve professional practice, which will increase student learning.

When evaluations are conducted in collaboration with the teacher the evaluation cycle becomes collaborative and beneficial; however, it takes practice and time on behalf of the evaluators to ensure the process supports student learning and doesn’t just check a box for a requirement.

As the graphic shows, evaluations are time-intensive.  From personal experience, as a past evaluator, I can speak to this as I would spend countless hours on my living room floor at night after my daughter would go to bed analyzing my evidence, organizing and aligning it to the Danielson Framework and then preparing for pre/post conferences.  As I prefer the role of the coach I had to be very mindful about the questions I prepared to ask during the post observation to ensure the cycle was beneficial for my teachers and would result in a change of instructional practice, stronger student/teacher relationships, or future professional learning, but this took valuable time!  Don’t get me wrong my staff and students were worth it but I was burnt out on the cycle and come February I am sure I wasn’t giving as much sincere plan time as I had started with when evaluation season started in September!

At the end of the year it was a box I checked off my list that I hope was meaningful for my staff.  What I didn’t do was use the evaluation process as a way for me to grow professionally.  

Having been a teacher, principal, coach, and evaluator I can honestly say I have a better understanding of the evaluation framework and cycle than ever before.  As the certification laws have changed for evaluators so have the trainings! There are now required recalibration academies for evaluators to participate in each license cycle and gone are the online modules where approximately 32 hours of online, self-paced videos were watched an analyzed to become a teacher evaluator.  So with all these updates and changes are we seeing student achievement increase as a result of teacher evaluations? I think we are still a long way to go but we are on the right track, here are a few of my personal suggestions on how to make the evaluation process more collaborative and beneficial for all:

  • Use your data!!  Evaluators, at the end of the evaluation cycle analyze your building wide data by domain and component.  Use this data to drive your professional learning for your staff for the upcoming year, share this data with your staff, make a building goal for the upcoming goal to see growth on this one specific component.
  • Don’t wait until the formal observation to start the feedback.  This will help move away from the “gotcha”—a compliance-driven process with a single score at the end of the year—to a growth-oriented process.  This requires evaluators to be more visible and meaningful during walk-throughs so that you can provide more formative, ongoing feedback to your staff.
  • Teach your framework to your staff.  Yes, most of your staff knows what to prepare and bring to their pre/post observation meetings but do they have a deep understanding of the framework?  Does your staff have a common definition and expectation for each component within the domain? Directly teaching the Framework to your staff clears misconceptions and provides clarity around expectations.  Many districts did whole-staff training back when the laws changes around teacher evaluation, but have we revisited those trainings? How many new staff have you hired since these trainings were last delivered?

Yes, to provide meaningful feedback is time consuming and exhausting, however our teachers deserve the best support and our students deserve the best teaching that we can provide. It is a continuous cycle that starts with the evaluator and teacher relationship.  In my experience, few educators rave about the support they feel from their evaluator throughout the evaluation cycle, we need to take this opportunity to give teachers – and students – the support they want, need and deserve…and it starts with you!

Katie Algrim – Director of Innovative Professional Learning

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