Image from https://cctl.delhi.edu/
Like many other educators, I have always kept the essential question “What do I want students to know or be able to do?” in the forefront of the instructional decisions I make. This is not uncommon, but what might be is the idea of whether or not educators (and leaders) really, truly, know their own criteria for what they should know or be able to do when it comes to the responsibilities of their profession.
Several years ago, Wisconsin rolled out its new Educator Effectiveness Model (evaluation tool), and as a teacher at the time, I still remember the confusing explanation of the ratios of rubric scores to objective setting and thinking, “Here we go again. The plane is still being built while already being flown.” At the time, there was concern about movement to pay for performance, teaching to a test, and the fear of a value-added model which, as most know by now, research says does little to improve student learning. My favorite study (of which the reference I cannot find) is one in which teachers in Tennessee were offered something like a $15,000 bonus if a certain percentage of their students attained benchmark/growth targets and not one teacher was able to collect. Of course, it wasn’t for lack of motivation or bad teaching, but there’s just so many variables when it comes to kids and learning. Perhaps this is best illustrated in Vollmer’s Blueberry story linked here.
What got lost in all this was the heart of the matter: let’s figure out a systematic way to give all teachers meaningful feedback and an opportunity to grow. When Wisconsin adopted their new model, schools began using one of two evaluation rubrics: Danielson’s Framework for Teaching or the “Goals and Roles Model” which is centered around Stronge’s Qualities of Effective Teachers, 2nd ed.
These are tools that I have gotten on board with because one of my personal beliefs is that the reason why school organizations, like Wisconsin’s, needed to move to a more consistent, rigorous evaluation system was not because of ineffective teachers, but because of ineffective evaluators. If administrators had been getting into classrooms consistently looking for specific elements that impacted student success/learning and provided teachers with meaningful feedback for improvement, the ability to attack and argue about public schools employing “a bunch of bad, lazy teachers who can’t get fired because of tenure while the rest of the real world has it so much rougher” may not have come to exist. Imagine how different the landscape of education, teacher unions, collective bargaining, and health care (those Cadillac plans for public employees!) could look now, but I digress.
As I’ve evaluated and coached educators the last two years using the Danielson Framework, I have that rubric, and its expectations, burned into my brain. I also know that I would be a far better classroom teacher now than I was when I left the classroom because I know that rubric inside and out. In fact, some of the things that I know are great practices, I wish I could go back and try on a regular basis. Actually, what I really wish was that I had paid more attention to the rubric when I was being evaluated and focused on growing through that evaluative process. Perhaps some of that comes from having an administrator who is there to support you and help you grow in the classroom – which is what I strive to do for my staff every day. In the words of @Bethhouf and @Burgess_Shelley in Lead Like a Pirate, it’s important to drop ANCHORs so teachers know they are valued, we, as leaders, add value to their work (through the evaluation and coaching process), and help push practice forward in the conversations we have with them about teaching and learning!
Every time I look at, or visualize, the descriptors in the teacher evaluation rubric, I get excited about the possibilities for teachers and students in the classroom. Check this out:
On Establishing a Culture for Learning:
On Communicating with Students:
On Using Questioning and Discussion Techniques:
On Engaging Students in learning:
On Using Assessment in Instruction:
If educators get just close to implementing these descriptors, that is the kind of classroom I would want to be in as a teacher OR a student, and as an administrator, a school full of classroom with those attributes excites me to the core. Format of evidence collection and evaluative systems aside, when we get to the heart of what we are trying to achieve as educators, the potential level of student learning and achievement is thrilling to think about and ABSOLUTELY attainable. We just need to have urgency and be intentional about what we do, but that all starts with knowing the criteria in the first place. We have our “why?” – to make schools engaging places for learning. Now we need to be sure to focus on the “what?” and our “how?”
Take time to get to know your evaluation rubric, and don’t just jump hoops, know your role (or evaluative standards) and teach lights out!