Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
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Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown

My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Looking at Teacher Evaluations

Jumping in to a key policy debate, check out these educator-panelists' own prescriptions for creating evaluation systems that can improve teaching and learning and respect teachers' professionalism. There are some great ideas here!

What Should Teacher Evaluations Look Like?

Long governed largely by inertia and school convention, teacher evaluation has recently become a focal point of education reform. Many states, under prodding from the federal Race to the Top program, have begun to implement new, comprehensive evaluation systems that incorporate student test-score data and more rigorous observation protocols. School systems are also working to tie evaluation results more closely to teachers' tenure status and professional advancement.

However, early models of the revamped evaluation systems (in Tennessee and New York, for example) have come under criticism for being haphazardly implemented, inconsistent, and process-heavy. Many teaching groups and advocates have also questioned the validity of relying heavily on standardized test scores to judge teachers' skills and capabilities. A related source of concern is how the new models can be applied equitably with respect to teachers in nontested subjects and grades.

As a classroom teacher, how do you think teachers' performance should be evaluated? How can evaluations best be used to improve teaching and learning without creating undue complexity? What role should student test scores and other performance data play? What will the best teacher evaluation systems look like 10 years from now?

Some viewpoints:

My First Wish for Teacher Evaluation
By Ryan Niman

If a genie in a lamp ever offers me three wishes for my profession, I'm ready.

Here's my first: "I wish for an evaluation system that measures the full set of skills necessary to be a teacher."
In my second year of teaching, my evaluator (the vice-principal) offered some sound advice: "Get rid of some extra desks and tables." My students had been bumping into each other as they moved around the room during group work. And somehow, until my evaluator mentioned it, I had never realized that I could actually get rid of some of the furniture in my classroom. This feedback helped me realize that I could be much more effective in advocating for myself and the needs of my students.
But, even at the time, I knew that this was lackluster evaluation. That vice-principal had come into my room to check on two things: my ability to keep my class under control and ability to run a decent lesson. Having confirmed that I could do both, he was looking for some other way to be of use.
And 'looking' was the key word. In most states, teacher evaluation has been based on one or two observations in a year. These observations can provide an impressive amount of feedback on a teacher's classroom management, in-the-moment teaching, and relationships with students.
But they cannot provide a complete picture of what a teacher does. Tasks that are difficult or impossible to see in the course of two observations include curriculum design and scaffolding, collaboration with and mentoring of peers, communication with parents, involvement with the community, and interactions with students before and after school.
Here's what a more comprehensive evaluation system could do:
• Yield more information to help an individual teacher improve--which in turn results in improved student learning.
• Inform decisions about professional development and staffing. And no, I don't mean the current fashion of identifying the lowest performing teachers in order to fire them. Instead, this data could drive efforts to help all staff to perform at a higher level--and it could inform hiring decisions, ensuring a well-balanced staff. This too would result in improved student learning.
• Communicate the complexity of teachers' work. If others perceive the work of teaching as merely controlling a classroom and delivering a lesson plan, then we will never be treated as professionals but as cogs in a machine. By doing more to enhance the image of teaching, we will ensure that highly qualified professionals are in classrooms with students. And this too will lead to improved student learning.
What would such an evaluation system look like? My colleagues in Washington NMI (a group of teacher-leaders supported by the Center for Teaching Quality) and I tackled this question in our report, "How Better Teacher & Student Assessment Can Power Up Learning." I'll share details in my next post.
Ryan Niman teaches English and Social Studies in the Edmonds School District north of Seattle.

December 12, 2011

Making Teachers Part of a Team

By Jessica Hahn

Last year, the number of 3rd graders in my school that scored proficient on the state standardized reading test was less than 50 percent. Yet some of the 3rd grade teachers were deemed good teachers. In fact, one of these teachers was considered excellent by both leadership and her colleagues. She had excellent classroom culture, invested students, and had strong instructional strategies. How can this teacher be good if her students' test scores were so low?

This story begs three questions:
1. What is good teaching?

2. How do we evaluate it?

3. What is the purpose of evaluating teachers?

I'd like to address briefly the purpose of evaluating teachers and the way we do it.

As a classroom teacher, I want to be evaluated so that I can become a better teacher. I want a team of leaders and peers who are knowledgeable, experienced, and nuanced looking with me at my practice itself, at my kids' attitudes toward school, and at my kids' social, emotional, and academic growth using a variety of tools. I want the lens through which I am evaluated always to be, "How can we develop her as a better teacher?"

The key word that I have used is "we." While the classroom teacher is a critical factor in student growth, we do not work in isolation. Therefore directly tying a student's standardized test score to the classroom teacher's effectiveness is dangerous. For example, I have been told by supervisors, other teachers, and all kinds of data, that I can be an effective teacher. But do not ever tell me that is all because of me. My students last year succeeded because their teacher was part of a highly effective team. My students grew in reading because three of them worked daily with BK, the brilliant and reflective reading recovery teacher. My lessons were stronger and more engaging because I planned with KR and KD, two of the best teachers I have ever worked with. I watched these women teach and I became better. My students loved math and got better in it because AC is, well, my colleague calls her a "child whisperer." My students were held to high expectations in a safe and welcoming environment because CS and RJ held them to these expectations in our school. I haven't even mentioned the willingness and dedication of the children and their families.

So if schools and governments want to evaluate me primarily on my students' standardized test scores, they will have to find out using some statistical method the value and percent contributed by each teammate to each student's growth.

Or we could shift our framework from "your students' success" to "OUR students' success."
Jessica Hahn has taught elementary grade children for six years in Phoenix and New York City.

December 12, 2011

Context Matters

Michael MoranOver the past few years, the fists of coercive evaluation have beaten down the integrity of the teaching profession. Rhetoric that promotes teaching as a noble career choice is contradicted by evaluations that impose fear, threaten livelihoods, and essentially work to de-professionalize the job. We need look no further than the recent widespread cheating scandal in Atlanta to recognize that using evaluation as an intimidator will not work.

That said, evaluation is important and, when implemented correctly, has the potential to truly transform teacher effectiveness and enable teaching professionals to help close academic achievement gaps between students. As it stands, however, most teacher evaluations neglect to take into consideration the specific context in which teachers actually work. Many teachers are evaluated on subjects they do not even teach, uniform standards that are not always applicable, and fleeting observations that try to project the performance of a few hours onto an entire academic year.

So, what should teacher evaluations look like? They should look like the teacher. They should look like the students and the classroom in which those students learn. Teacher evaluations should look like the grade level, content area, and community the teacher teaches. They should look like the goals that teachers, students, and administrators set for themselves, their classes, and the school as a whole.
The point I'm trying to make here is that a lot of the evidence that indicates teacher effectiveness is dependent on context. Sure, great teachers are great leaders, and great leaders can lead anywhere, but you run into a problem when an art teacher is evaluated on the standardized test results of one grade level in mathematics. Evaluations need to be multifaceted, taking into consideration not only student performance on standardized tests, but the academic growth of students as demonstrated by a portfolio of artifacts, the relationships that teachers build with students and their parents as demonstrated by student and family evaluative surveys, and observations from not only administrators, but peers and master teachers.

Taking context into consideration when evaluating teachers should not be seen as a crutch. Rather, it should be seen as a pedestal for heightening the issues that matter most to a teacher, his students, and the school. In the end, by tailoring evaluation, and thus treating teachers more like professionals, we can show teachers that we trust them and that evaluative tools are meant to help, not hinder, their effectiveness.

Michael Moran is a former 6th grade teacher currently pursuing a Master of Public Administration degree at the University of Washington's Evans School of Public Affairs.

December 12, 2011

Consulting the Key Players: Teachers and Students

Jessica KeiganAll over the country, educational systems are working to improve educator effectiveness by creating what they hope will be ideal systems of teacher evaluation. In Colorado, Senate Bill 191 was passed in the state's bid to earn Race to the Top dollars and is now being refined for implementation. I have been immersed in the process of providing recommendations for that process alongside the other members of the Denver New Millennium Initiative, and have heard many opinions about what an effective teacher evaluation system looks like.

The most informative conversations I have had about teacher effectiveness and evaluation haven't been with politicians or policy leaders, however. These conversations have instead involved the most deeply-invested stakeholders in the system: students and teachers. They have helped me to realize that the benchmarks of the best teacher evaluation systems of the future will find a balance of objective data gathered from teacher-created assessments and subjective data gathered from a variety of observations.
I am often struck by how insightful my students are about the educational system. I suppose this shouldn't surprise me, given they are the consumer of the product we create. According to my students, the best teachers are experts of their content and craft and those who provide challenge and support to each student. The ideal evaluation system would recognize that students can provide data about what they are learning if we ask them to share, either verbally or through the tasks we set before them each day. We can apply this truth to create an evaluation system that measures students' daily learning experience through formative assessment and provides more authentic measures than the limited and often untimely data gathered by standardized tests.

Teachers who are effective can also speak with eloquence about how they know they are effective. The best teachers I know are reflective about their craft every minute of the day. They are practicing effectiveness according to my students' standards by differentiating instruction and delivery for each student they teach.

In an ideal evaluation system, there would be ample opportunity for teachers to reflect on their craft by creating goals for and taking part in all stages of the observation process. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification process is the place to look for this design. Teachers who are working on their National Board certification are asked to reflect on recorded lessons, so that they watch themselves teach.

While there is room and a strong need for observations by highly qualified peer or administrative observers, the ideal evaluation system would also recognize the value of allowing the teacher to self-assess.

Ultimately, the ideal evaluation systems will recognize the need for teacher and student voice at all points of the process.

A member of the Center for Teaching Quality's Denver New Millennium Initiative team, Jessica Keigan divides her time evenly between teaching English at Horizon High School in Denver and supporting results-oriented efforts to improve Colorado's schools.

December 12, 2011

Flashforward: Teacher Evaluation in the Future

By Ryan Kinser

It's Evaluation Day, 2021. And I've never felt more relaxed. In my district and many others, the negative stigma attached to high-stakes evaluation has abated. Peer evaluation is now a finely tuned process—fair, equitable, and catalyzing teachers to reflect upon and improve their practices.

My next peer evaluator arrives in a few minutes. Each period, I will be observed by another 6th grade Language Arts teacher. Our principal has assigned one substitute to rotate through their classes as they each take a period to act as my evaluator.

My peers already conducted a pre-conference where we discussed my lesson. How do my strategies address our year-long department and team goals? Which rubric domain did I select as my individual goal? Our department has decided to focus on student engagement this year. I explain my cooperative learning strategies to the team and point out my individual area of need: higher-order questioning techniques. I ask the team, "Will you focus on how many of these questions are student-initiated?" We schedule a post-conference first thing tomorrow to debrief and suggest next steps for me.

A small 360-degree camera films the lesson. In our post-conference, the peers and I will discuss our findings, pointing to specific video evidence. While I initially found the camera intimidating, I've grown to love reviewing the tapes, seeing myself as the students do. The peers isolate student responses and point out where I could have helped them probe with higher-level questions. It's transformative, not punitive.

We have built mutual trust. We will be evaluated as a team and as individuals. Once a week our school conducts instructional rounds, where my teammates and I check out best practices in the upper grades language arts courses. During our planning period, we spend about 10 minutes in each class. Then we debrief about the positive things we saw. Finally, we identify some possible next steps for our group. We submit demonstration lessons via video to a shared workspace when schedules tighten.

By 2021, these practices are aligned with school improvement goals and will culminate in a cooperative National Board-style portfolio reviewed by a panel of district mentors. Our evaluation system now includes more financial incentives, which we earn in up to three categories: school, team, and individual teacher performance. All three are still based on student achievement, with student test scores as one component and teacher performance assessment scores as another, but our final project includes multiple authentic measures.

What else has changed over a decade of honing teacher evaluation? I invite you to ignore bureaucratic obstacles for a moment and imagine: How would you like to be evaluated in 10 years?

Ryan Kinser is a 6th grade English teacher at Walker Middle Magnet School for International Studies in Tampa, Fla.

December 11, 2011

How Can Standardized Test Scores Be Used in Teacher Evaluation?

Patrick LedesmaWhether educators like it or not, the public values the use of standardized test scores as a measure of school quality. Test scores provide a measure that is quick, relatively cheap, and convenient. Scores allow anyone to easily make judgments about teacher quality.

From this accountability perspective, perhaps it was just a matter of time before standardized test scores would be part of the teacher evaluation process.

My home state of Virginia joined the list of states seeking to use test scores in teacher evaluation, recommending that "40 percent of teachers' evaluations be based on student academic progress, as determined by multiple measures of learning and achievement, including, if available and applicable, student-growth data from Virginia Department of Education."

In this discussion on the role of test scores in teacher evaluation, I am reminded of a recent conversation with an educator working in a school with a diverse socio-economic student population:

This educator remarked, "My school had a 93 percent pass rate on the standardized test. We have over 55 percent of our students on free-and-reduced lunch. Another school had a 98 percent pass rate on the same test, but has only 8 percent of their students on free-and-reduced lunch. ... My teachers worked harder for their test scores."

It's statement a that deserves consideration.

Will the use of test scores in teacher evaluation unfairly challenge or penalize teachers who work with students with more academic and social needs?

After all, teachers in high-needs schools have to overcome the effects of poverty and other socio-economic factors to produce their high score results. While teachers in schools with more privileged students have different challenges, their students may come to school with a level of preparedness that gives them advantages on standardized tests.

So, any teacher evaluation that incorporates student test scores will need to be sensitive to environmental contexts in which teachers help all students learn.

Failure to consider the contexts could result in misleading evaluations. Test scores may artificially inflate or unfairly constrain a teacher's rating. Given the emerging literature that questions the use of growth and value-added models, teachers are rightfully concerned how scores may be an inaccurate and unstable measure of their teaching.

Despite these concerns, policies advocating for the use of test scores continue; therefore, it is important for classroom teachers to advocate for how tests can be properly used as part of an evaluation process.
Last March, I was part of a National Board for Professional Teaching Standards webinar panel that discussed this issue. An ensuing report, ""Student Learning, Student Achievement," outlines the essential criteria on how large-scale standardized assessments can be used in teacher evaluation systems:
Standardized tests should include the following elements:

1) Curriculum-related scale with equivalent unit of measure along a considerable continuum of achievement.

2) Information on validity of tests for assessing special populations.
3) Data systems that track students and link to teachers.
4) Curriculum alignment

The report goes on to state that:

"Teacher evaluation systems will need to incorporate additional evidence of teacher practice in order to correlate any student learning gains with specific classroom activities. ... Gains in student learning are not just the function of the classroom teacher but of many other factors as well, including teaching conditions and supports, past learning experiences, tutors, parents, student attendance and participation, and other external student and family factors."

The point is that if the public wants to use standardized test scores to evaluate teachers, then we need better standardized tests.

And as states expand the use of test scores in teacher evaluation, educators will need to help the public understand what is needed to make their convenient and preferred method of teacher evaluation meaningful in judging the teachers and schools that serve them.

Patrick Ledesma is a middle school technology specialist and special education department chair with Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia.

December 11, 2011

The Future Is Now for Teacher Evaluation

By Renee Moore

The best teacher evaluation should look like good teaching: knowledgeable, well-prepared, flexible, collaborative, and reflective. It should result in the growth of all involved and consistently produce significant benefits for student learning. It should be professional.

I spent two years engaging with some of the best teachers in the country about what teaching should look like by 2030. We fully expect, and our students deserve, an expansion of the learning environment beyond the 19th-century structures we have inherited. These changes have already begun: Learning extends beyond classroom walls, beyond brick and mortar buildings, beyond the 55 minute period, or the seven-period day.

As part of this evolution, teaching must change also, and, fortunately, evidence that it is in fact changing grows daily. Teachers are using a broader range of mediums and tools with increasing levels of sophistication; they are working in increasingly effective teams that multiply the talents and resources available to their students. Some teachers have already distinguished themselves as trendsetters in digital pedagogy; others have an intricate understanding of a range of cultures and social conditions from which our students now come. Still more teachers have demonstrated strong competencies as coaches and mentors to colleagues; others are developing curriculum, software, assessment tools, and networks. And there is more to come that we can't even describe yet.

How can we evaluate such rich complexity with all the varying levels of performance and experience they represent across the largest profession in America—with a few five-minute walk-bys and a checklist? Hardly. The old factory evaluation model, which was never a good fit for education, will be even less so as we move further into the potential of immersed learning and interconnected teaching. One principal trying to evaluate an entire faculty whose members practice a dizzying variety of pedagogical skills will be painfully ineffective. Like our students, teachers need assessment of our work based on a combination of measures and reviewers, with teachers taking responsibility for our own professional growth based on mutually established, student-centered goals.

To get there from here will require transformed thinking and some significant power shifts, neither of which, history reminds us, come easily. But I believe we are on the verge of such a shift as teaching finally morphs into a true profession. One of the trademarks of a profession is peer review of each others' work against high standards established by the profession.

The necessary components for this transformation are already in place. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has painstakingly created rigorous performance-based standards for almost every area of teaching, as well as counseling, media specialists, and now principals. Soon, we will have a critical mass of highly accomplished teachers as measured by those standards (we're at nearly 100,000 now). Meanwhile, the two national teacher-education accreditation agencies have merged, and have put their support behind the sweeping recommendations for overhauling American teacher preparation put forward by the Blue Ribbon Panel on Clinical Preparation and Partnerships for Improved Student Learning. That panel represented a broad cross-section of education stakeholders, including parents and teachers.

Most recently, a commission made up of outstanding teachers and teacher leaders gathered by the National Education Association has laid out an ambitious, but doable plan to move our profession to the next level, including how to create and maintain a highly effective teacher evaluation system.
American public education is at a critical juncture, and it will be our shame and our children's loss if we don't complete the journey.

Renee Moore has taught English and journalism for 20 years in the Mississippi Delta region at both high school and community college levels.

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