November 20, 2019

Teacher Evaluation

I recently spent the day facilitating the New Jersey Professional Teaching Standards Board as they explored issues around teacher evaluation with Charlotte Danielson . The governor of New Jersey has created a commission that is studying teacher evaluation and set to release findings in March. Here are some of the statements presented by Charlotte and my thoughts in response:

1. Charlotte began with the following quote from Lee Shulman, The Wisdom of Practice:

…..classroom teaching…. is perhaps the most complex, most challenging, and most demanding, subtle, nuanced, and frightening activity that our species has ever invented….The only time a physician could possibly encounter a situation of comparable complexity would be in the emergency room of a hospital during a natural disaster.

I love that! In all my work with coaching I am driven by the complexity of teaching and learning. The more I have learned across my 40 years in education the more respect I have for the nuances of the teacher’s decisions that are often spontaneous, split second and impact student learning.

I am convinced that the greatness of teachers shines through in their ability to read the student(s) and make that “seat of the pants” call. Then watch the student response and adjust. Of course the more studying and planning the teacher has done the more prepared he/she is to make that call.

For me, a large part of evaluating a teacher’s skill is found in discussion with the teacher about what decisions were made and why.

2. Charlotte identified that teacher evaluation had two purposes: Quality Assurance and Professional Learning. She also stressed the importance of training for teacher evaluators.

Across my years of work with coaching I have suggested separating the functions of evaluation and teacher growth. I think that has been because I saw few evaluators prepared for or afforded the time to handle the complexity of the combination.

3. Charlotte identified that professional learning required: trust, self assessment and self directed inquiry, reflection on practice, collaboration and conversation, and a community of learners.

This identifies for me that the educational leaders working with teachers are engaged at a level of complexity that matches what Shulman described for teachers. I think that is why I find such reward in working in coaching settings with teachers and administrators. This is critical and creative thinking of the highest order.

4. Charlotte spoke about the fallacies of assessing teacher effectiveness through standardized tests. Two points were of special note to me:

–One shot tests aren’t a valid measure of student learning: at least three years of data are needed to establish patterns.

–Teaching is sequential, cumulative, and collaborative. (4th graders may show impressive gains due to the efforts of a second grade teacher)

These sure reinforce the complexity of teacher evaluation for me.

Lots of conversations are occurring beyond New Jersey regarding the practice of teacher evaluation and the future role it will play in advancing learning for our students. My greatest concern will be political pressures looking for a simplistic approach to the very complex elements of professional teaching.

An ASCD Education Update quotes Charlotte Danielson ..”the current culture of teacher evaluation is one of protection and passivity, not professional inquiry…. Teacher evaluation could be a powerful point of reflection, support, and growth….

I’m quite convinced that for teacher evaluation to have a powerful positive impact on student learning we will need substantial professional development for school leaders and teachers so that teachers working with their colleagues play a major role in their own evaluation.

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