“When a man points a finger at someone else, he should remember that four of his fingers are pointing at himself.”
My late grandmother had a favorite saying. She would always say that the rats asked each other who would bell the cat. I struggled to understand as a child why she loved this saying. Now as an adult I finally understand. It is easy to complain about creating change but it is a different kettle of fish to actually enact the change.
I need to start with the premise of stating that I am not against evaluating teachers or having professionals accountable. There are positives to evaluating teachers, criticism can be positive and provide teachers, those who are new or experienced, with new perspectives and sometimes pertinent feedback that helps them grow and perform better.
When I started teaching in the Bronx (New York City) over 15 years ago. I received feedback that dramatically changed my teaching. Now that I am a consultant working with other teachers, I utilize those lessons that were passed to me by the supervisors who helped to guide me in my growth. My discomfort comes from narrowing teachers within confined boundaries. Evaluating them with strict guidelines, failing to take in the different variables that makes a teacher effective in the classroom. I desire to respect their dedication, experience and human dignity.
There is a push right here in Nigeria for streamlined certification and evaluation models. My worry is that some schools and districts would use this to determine whether teachers are being effective in the classroom. I have this hunch that they would tie ratings on these evaluations to performance pay and bonuses.
If we decide to place a lot of emphasis on regimented evaluation models, then we should also ensure that the consequences are well thought out. I have experienced living with the fear and excitement of using these models. When I had a non supportive supervisor, it was a living nightmare. It wasn’t about the children’s learning but about her maintaining control and power over all of her subordinates. I experienced nervousness, feeling sick to my stomach, as I thought how to create a lesson plan that would please her, under these conditions.
When I had an encouraging supervisor, I looked forward to his feedback on how I’d become a master math teacher as it was what I strove to become. I know what it is like to teach under the pressure of being observed using such evaluation criteria, and I have gone through seeing how data collected using an evaluation tool was utilized, sometimes for my growth as a professional and other times for personal vendettas.
It is in the interest of creating a balance for the raising the bar of excellence for our teachers which ultimately is for the progress of our children. I present to us based on experience and research, areas we need to tread with caution.
Who Decides What Criteria Demonstrates Effective Teaching?
The evaluation models I use when I work with schools to raise the bar of excellence that I desire for our teachers is based on my experience and research derived. The one that I lean towards more of is the Marzano Teacher Evaluation Model, the tool is the result of 5,000 studies over five decades and correlation analysis between teaching strategies and student achievement.
It is an advantage to have established criteria, it enables stakeholders with a common language, a shared vocabulary. For example, a principal talking with teachers can refer to common language when communicating expectations. The main crux is that it should have input from the classroom teachers who are being evaluated using it. We should encourage the expression of the voices of our teachers in the system that they dedicate themselves to. They shouldn’t be forced to mold their teaching style, pedagogy, philosophy, resources, and environment to match an imposed criteria.
When I worked with the supportive Principal, he gave all of his teachers the freedom to express themselves in the teaching styles. He made his evaluation process flexible as his ultimate aim was for the improvement of the students’ learning and understanding. The traditional models ask for a teacher-directed classroom while 21st century models lean towards student-led classrooms. Now which is better than the other? Each have their place depending on the concepts being taught and the teacher producing results (e.g., high student performance, engagement, improved test scores). This more than anything should be the deciding factor in how a teacher expresses themselves. We should allow teacher’s individuality, creativity, and strengths.
Narrow Observation timeframes
My other concern with the current way that we observe teachers is the fact that teachers teach for almost 200 days a year but are observed maximum three times and the observation time couldn’t be more than 2 hours. A summary of the teacher’s work would be determined from data collected during that time. Pretty much, a teacher is asked to pack a school year’s worth of experience, knowledge, and performance into a very small window. While observing a teacher several times during the academic year is better than nothing, I think teachers would be better served if evaluation is done based on long-term data that more accurately captures their performance. The way forward would be to have teachers being observed several times but also allowed to complete portfolios that featured video-recorded lessons, student work, reflections, and other information that could be used by observers to make informed decisions.
We could incorporate the use of technology to observe teachers use technology such as Whatsapp video calls, Skype, video recording via smartphone, gather additional evidence of whether teachers are meeting expectations. Using a more holistic approach to gathering evidence, a teacher’s experience, hard work, and skills, will be more valuable to the learning experience .
We support evaluating teachers; we must tread carefully and ensure that we are building up our teachers not tearing them down. A great analogy of this is the fact that a shovel is a tool. It can be used to bang someone over the head or it can be used to build great things for people. It’s all about it is utilized.
Help us with our mission to bring about change for our students. Please contact me to see what we can do to bring about the desired transformation that we all desire for our children to be future ready!!!
Adetola Salau; Educator / Speaker / Author/ Social Entrepreneur / Innovator
She is an Advocate of STEM Education and is Passionate about Education reform. She is an innovative thinker and strives for our society & continent as a whole to reclaim it’s greatness. She runs an educational foundation with the mission to transform education.