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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