Educators from all over the country, many in higher education, are writing about the state of affairs in faculty evaluation in K-12 schools. The current edition of Phi Delta Kappan is devoted to teacher evaluation. While I have not all the articles in this edition, I intend to make my way through them to continue my quest to understand this complex and messy topic. The most recent edition of Educational Leadership, Teacher Evaluation: What’s Fair, What’s Effective, is full of interesting and thought-provoking articles from some very respected thinkers on the subject. Having read most of the edition, I will share some highlights from various articles and summarize what I have learned in the next blog post. But before I venture down this road, let me share a personal story about my experience with teacher evaluation.
A little about me. I have been an independent school, K-12 educator for 33 years. Fourteen of those years I taught science full-time, a mixture of chemistry and biology. The remaining nineteen years I have held various administrative roles and almost always taught one class. For the majority of my administrative career I held positions that required me to evaluate teachers. While a science teacher for fourteen years, an administrator never formally evaluated me. If someone asked, could you show me one of your summative evaluations as a teacher, I could not pull from any of my files a formal document that commented on my teaching ability. I assure you it is not because I throw out those kinds of documents. In addition, an administrator almost never formally observed my classroom teaching. I really am unable to tell you how people would have known whether I was an effective or ineffective teacher, except through a student’s complaint about being in my class. Looking back on my teaching career, I think I was a “pretty good” teacher, but I really can’t point to specific administrative feedback, linked to observations and comprehensive notes, that helped to validate my perceptions. The sad thing is that my story is probably not all that unusual, especially for independent school teachers. From my experience with public school principals, most of them are required by their districts to submit summative reports on their teachers. Therefore, public school teachers might be in a slightly different situation. However, I do know from experience that the effectiveness of even evaluation reports from public school principals remains controversial at best. We have a great deal of work to do.
I should add that while teaching full-time, I never questioned the sincerity and commitment of any principal or department chair who supervised me. They were all good people who were very committed and competent at most aspects of their job. However, they were consumed with the management aspects of their work, struggling to prioritize their time to be instructional leaders.
As a high school principal at three different independent schools, I found myself coming into each school needing to retool the supervision and evaluation system I inherited. In most cases, there was simply no well-developed evaluation model in place. At all three schools, I think the processes I helped develop improved the state of affairs; however, I found myself usually buried in long and tedious reports based on classroom observations, student feedback, and administrative feedback from department chairs. The sheer volume of work associated with writing anywhere from 6-10 summative evaluations, along with the workload to collect and process data, meant that many teachers were neglected in the process or had to wait their turn to get feedback on their teaching. I tried to make time for classroom observations and teacher conferences, but it was challenging to create a schedule that consistently worked. In my travels and conversations with educators, I see pockets of change for the better, but most administrators would say that their role as evaluator is the hardest to do well. Since principals tend to be buried in paper work associated with doing classroom observations and summative reports, they give incomplete feedback to many teachers, focus most of their time on struggling teachers, or give little feedback to those teachers deemed to be competent. We have to find a more streamlined and effective way to give all faculty annual feedback.
So whatever changes we make in our K-12 educational system, we must deal with the nagging problems that burden principals as they try their best to keep up. Our goal should be to give every teacher regular, consistent, honest, useful and specific feedback based on witnessing, analyzing and sharing feedback on their teaching. This goal can only be fulfilled if principals are expected and supported to be in teachers’ classrooms at least 25-35% of their regular work week. As instructional leaders or master teachers, they need to have a clear understanding of the strengths and challenges of each teacher under their supervision. In addition, they need to use expertise around them to develop partnerships in this responsibility or delegate some aspects of the work to other administrators. It is nearly impossible for one principal to do a great job giving feedback to all teachers. Yet all teachers deserve a great evaluation system that gives them effective feedback and insight into their teaching.
That gives you a glimpse into my personal story and some opinions regarding this work. Share your story if you have time. Also, share some nagging questions about faculty evaluation and supervision that you hold.
The next post will delve deeper into a summary of the various articles that have appeared in recent educational journals and what I have learned.