Teacher Evaluation: What Are the Students Doing?

OK, maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the only one guilty of this and other principals who read this will be shaking their heads at how unskilled I am. I promise it’s not a habit, just a correctable error. I will admit that when it comes to teacher evaluation observations, sometimes I find myself watching more of what the teacher is doing than what the students are doing. Not always, probably not even often, but sometimes.  I need to keep working to change that and a couple observations last week helped me to recommit to that change.

Like many other principals, I’m in the heat of teacher evaluation season, which I love!  There are very few parts of my job more rewarding than collaboratively setting a plan with a teacher, observing them teach, and then supporting their instructional growth in specific areas throughout the year. Look, I love kids, it’s at the heart of why I do this job.  But that entire process of being side by side with teachers to improve parts of their practice over the course of the year, I eat it up.  Can’t get enough. Outside of keeping people in our building safe, putting a highly effective teacher in front of every student is my most important job. Regardless of what “research” you read, teacher evaluation can support the improvement of instruction in a school. You can cite whatever you want from whatever book you want, I can give you real-life examples. Lots of them.

Back to watching the teacher too much. The name on the evaluation document is that of the teacher, not the student. You meet before and after observations with the teacher, not the students. The teaching staff is trained in the evaluation model. A summative score is given to teachers, not students, at the end of the year. Maybe those are all my excuses but think about it. All of those things, as well as how teacher evaluation systems were set up in the past, point to the teacher. Thankfully, we are past the days of nit-picking each and every word the teacher says so we can tell them what words they should’ve said during our post-observation meeting. That is the structure that has a minimal impact on long-term teacher growth. A heightened focus on the student drastically improves the process. I’ve always known that and done that, but I can still get better.

Having been trained (and trained others) in the 5D+ evaluation model, I should know better. 5D+ puts a high level of emphasis on the shared ownership of learning between teacher and student. We are constantly talking about who is doing the talking, where the burden of cognitive work lies, and the student role in the self-assessment of their learning. It was actually back to back observations last week that helped me to refocus back on the student. The students were primarily working independently and it reminded me how many key observables I can pick up on if I focus more on the students.  During the second observation because of how much data I was collecting on the students, I realized that I had started to shift a little more towards the teacher.

My hope moving forward, starting this week, is to start student-first, as I should. There will be plenty of teacher observables, too. I’m really glad I had the opportunity to do those observations last week as they helped me to refocus and improve on something as important as teacher evaluation.

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Life, Adversity, Sports, Resiliency, Mark Dantonio and Faith

Mark Dantonio after the MSU vs. Penn State game – “I don’t want to get too philosophical for you, but I think mankind in general responds to adversity. When they see something happens to them negatively, you can either go in the hole and bury yourself or you can fight your way out of the hole a little bit. You can go back to work.”

Sometimes sports and real life collide.  Life makes more sense to me when different facets of my life connect.  Yesterday was one of those days.download.png

This is the 37th consecutive season I’ve been part of a sports team as either a player or a coach.  Those seasons range from the youth level to varsity to college.  Yikes, that’s a lot.  What I’ve learned during those 37 seasons is that sports mirrors life in many ways, but maybe none more than the adversity it puts you through.  Wins, losses, injuries, chemistry troubles, parent issues, ups, and downs – are all common – even in the best of seasons.  When I see my kids play sports, that is what I see.  There are many things I’m not good at, but being a sports parent is a strength of mine.  All of those 37 seasons play a big role in that.  I don’t worry about how many points my kid scores, I’m not tracking it on a piece of paper in the crowd.  I’m not worried about college scholarships.  When my daughter persists through a shooting drill, I see her persisting through a tough marriage.  When I see my son react to a teammate who has made a mistake, I think about how he might be as a collaborative teammate in the workplace.  I see life, not just sports in the moment.  The ability to be resilient in the face of the most adverse situations was the difference between the most and least successful teams I’ve been a part of.

Well, that sounds an awful lot like our personal lives.  Adversity comes flying at us every day.  For some of us, that adversity can be self-imposed due to choices we have made, I’ve been there.  At other times, it’s just what life throws at us.  I’ve been there, too.  My bet is you have adversity in your life right now, have had some in your past, or have some that will be coming towards you soon.  What type of resiliency you have will allow you to respond and recover, or dwell and erode.  The ability to be resilient in the face of the most adverse situations has been the difference between some of the least and most successful people I’ve ever met.

Back to Coach D and the dumpster fire that was the 2016 MSU football season and the download.jpgresurgence that is the 2017 MSU football season.  “Mankind in general responds to adversity.”  His quote after the game spoke to all the negative the program went through for 18 months.  Some of that was self-imposed by the MSU staff and players.  But at some point, the circumstances don’t matter.  You find yourself in that hole.  You get to choose to stay there or dig yourself out.  Coach D relies heavily on his faith in those situations.  He handed kicker Matt Coughlin a small prayer card yesterday before he kicked a game-winning field goal.  It’s who he is.  Maybe that’s the same for you, maybe it isn’t.  Maybe for you, it’s a family member or a friend.  I’ve had times in my life that felt like the 2016 MSU football season.  My faith, friends, family, and an ability to be resilient helped dig me out of that hole.  Daily reminders hang around my neck and are tattooed down my spine.  Kind of like that prayer card that Coach D just so happened to have yesterday.  That has meant better days ahead for me, kind of like MSU football 2017.  Life makes more sense to me when different facets of my life connect.  Yesterday was one of those days.

Life, Adversity, Sports, Resiliency, Mark Dantonio and Faith.

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