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March 27, 2018

5 Ways to Build a Growth-Based Evaluation System

[Author’s note: This blog is the fifth and final excerpt from the free ebook “From ‘Gotcha’ to Growth: Teacher Evaluation Systems That Work.“]

In addition to the broader design considerations I discussed in my previous posts, organizations can do some specific things to reorient and tailor their evaluation systems toward growing practice.

1. Evaluators must view themselves as coaches, not evaluators.

And thus, those supporting evaluators need to ensure professional learning centers around effective coaching and support. (Conversely, instructional coaches should start to think of themselves as part of the evaluation process. After all, they’re likely collecting the most data on the instructional practice of the educators that they support.)

2. Tools must be more streamlined or flexibly implemented to allow for a specific focus when needed.

Current evaluation rubrics are simply too big. Streamlined tools that focus on a narrow set of instructional expectations are more effective for both observers and those being observed. In addition to articles on how to best streamline observation processes, organizations such as Insight Education Group and TNTP have developed streamlined rubrics aimed at bringing coherence and focus to observation processes.


3. More people must be involved.

Evaluation systems will never work if we continue to rely on a single school administrator (or small team) to do all evaluations. What if teachers actually observed each other and provided feedback? Peer observation and support are good for the systems, but also great for all involved. Teachers have shown more growth, and are generally happier with evaluation processes, when they are involved in both giving and receiving feedback. Imagine if the evaluation process was about engaging in a community of practice!

Districts such as D.C. Public Schools and Denver Public Schools have gone so far as to formally engage peers in the teacher evaluation process. And early feedback indicates that teachers not only appreciate their colleagues’ engagement, but also actually prefer peer feedback because fellow teachers generally have deeper knowledge of the content and instructional strategies, and thus can provide more actionable feedback as part of the evaluation process. Additionally, peer observers don’t have to manage school operations the way that administrators do, so they may be able to engage more frequently to support a more formative, ongoing approach to observation.


4. Technology must be utilized to easily manage this work and allow educators to focus on what matters most – the feedback conversation.

Technology not only helps with management of the process, but also allows the work to happen outside of very restrictive and unrealistic school-day schedules.

I’ve spent my recent years thinking about how to best leverage technology to improve these processes. I’m excited that technology allows for asynchronous observation and coaching, helping schools overcome one of the biggest challenges related to this work – getting teachers into each other’s classrooms. Additionally, tech platforms allow us not only to effectively manage coaching and evaluation processes, but also to collect and utilize data for providing targeted support and professional learning. I’ve been so compelled by the potential to transform instructional coaching that we built our own platform, ENGAGE Feedback, as a way to push the field and prove that effective coaching, when appropriately supported by technology, can indeed push instructional practice in ways that simply aren’t possible with traditional approaches to professional development, coaching, and evaluation. And importantly, technology allows teachers control over their own professional learning, thus transforming the entire process.

5. Think about evaluation as a formative feedback process rather than a compliance-driven process intended to provide a single score at the end of the year.

I’ve seen this come to life at Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science. Kathryn Procope, Head of School, has helped her teachers actually love the evaluation process. Her efforts to provide more formative feedback, both in-person and via video, have transformed the conversation. Teachers are seeing value in the feedback provided and have come to view the process as a way to continually improve their practice – a goal to which all evaluation systems should aspire. She’s built a culture in which evaluation is actually about growth, not “gotcha.” And although this seems like a simple pivot, it has transformed professional learning for the entire staff.

Positive Outcomes: From “Gotcha” to Growth

Moving from “gotcha” to growth may not be easy, but it’s possible. According to Charlotte Danielson, author of the most widely-used teacher evaluation framework, “A commitment to professional learning is important, not because teaching is of poor quality and must be ‘fixed,’ but rather because teaching is so hard that we can always improve it.”

In an era where the educational stakes are high, and student achievement has not advanced at the rate needed to ensure that all students are leaving our schools with the knowledge and skills they need to live the lives they deserve, why are we not pushing ourselves toward finding ways to actually deliver on the promise of effectively supporting teachers – our most important resource? The most important thing that school and district leaders could do is working with teachers to build support systems that actually function. The research is compelling, and there is little argument that instructional coaching is a key lever.

And if evaluation systems are a central, and required, part of the systems within which we work, we must not miss this opportunity to think differently about leveraging evaluation in our schools today. We can indeed build systems of support that teachers appreciate and believe in. We can indeed provide supports that actually help teachers reflect upon and improve their practice. Most of us have been teachers, and few of us rave about the quality support that we received as teachers. It’s time for us to step into the opportunity to give teachers – and students – the support they want, need, and deserve.


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