Charlotte Danielson’s article in Education Week, Rethinking Teacher Evaluation, caught my attention with this statement:
“I’m deeply troubled by the transformation of teaching from a complex profession requiring nuanced judgment to the performance of certain behaviors that can be ticked off on a checklist.”
Danielson identifies that school systems must be able to document for the public that all teachers meet a “good” standard. She sites studies that suggest the number of teachers who fall below that standard is 6 percent or less. Therefore our programs and policies regarding evaluation should focus on professional development for the other 94% of teachers, replacing the emphasis on ratings with one on learning.
She suggests that we know the following things about professional learning which need to be considered:
“First, professional learning requires active intellectual engagement. In the context of an evaluation process, this means using observation and evaluation processes that promote active engagement: self-assessment, reflection on practice, and professional conversation.”
Joellen Killion’s writing in, The Feedback Process: Transforming Feedback for Professional Learning, labels the importance of teachers engaging in self-generated feedback that promotes metacognition, reflection, construction of new knowledge, and deconstruction of that knowledge to question its meaning and application in diverse situations. (earlier blog) This requires engaging teachers in deep learning conversations which is not currently present in many school settings. I have often described that administrators need to develop their coaching skills to the highest level when taking good teachers closer to being great teachers. This is the setting where I like to use the questions,” What have you been unable to accomplish in student learning that will drive your future learning? “What do your students need you to learn?”
“Second, learning can only occur in an atmosphere of trust. Fear shuts people down. Learning, after all, entails vulnerability. The culture of the school and of the district must be one that encourages risk-taking.”
When schools identify the importance of teacher learning it should be clear that we need to create the same risk-taking, encouraging environment for teachers that we want to have in classrooms for students. On a blog post titled, 3 Ways Companies Can Encourage Smart Risk Taking, Salim Ismail suggests:
#1 Resists Saying No to ideas that are presented. Ismail cites an Amazon example where they require managers to write a two page thesis to explain a no as a bad idea.
#2 Never Stop Experimenting. Experimentation is required to have constant improvement and innovation. Teacher innovation can create a break- through in student learning. Ismail again cites Amazon who records the number of experiments emerging from each department and their success rate. How awesome if PLC’s were recognized each year for the number of experiments they conducted.
#3 Reward Insightful Experiments, even if they haven’t been successful in producing the desired results but produced new learning or insights. School’s instructional coaching, professional learning communities, and professional development should all produce risk-taking experimentation. What should be present in a teacher growth plan that encourages risk-taking and eliminates fear?
Third, a culture of professional inquiry requires challenge as well as support. The culture must include an expectation that every teacher will engage in a career-long process of learning, one that is never “finished.” Teaching is simply too complex for anyone to believe that there is no more to learn.
This matches my reflections in an earlier blog, There is No Mountaintop in Teaching. The more I learn as a teacher the more I know I need and want to learn. We would seek the same for our students….when finishing a course of study they leave with more questions about what they want to explore further than with information and answers gained in the course.
And fourth, policymakers must acknowledge that professional learning is rarely the consequence of teachers attending workshops or being directed by a supervisor to read a certain book or take a particular course. Overwhelmingly, most teachers report that they learn more from their colleagues than from an “expert” in a workshop. When teachers work together to solve problems of practice, they have the benefit of their colleagues’ knowledge and experience to address a particular issue they’re facing in their classroom.
When I team taught first grade, my co-teacher and I convinced our principal to conduct an evaluation of a lesson where “we” were the teacher and individually we were not identified. The same evaluation was recorded for both of us. The process produced several learning conversations for us from planning to conferencing to reflection. I believe the principal learned as well. I’d love to see additional experimentation with teachers conducting their evaluation/growth plans as members of teams rather than individually.