Saturday, April 25, 2009

Observations

Teachers tend to view formal observations as nothing more than a dog-and-pony show. Adminstrators set up a time to come watch a teacher put into practice a number of skill sets and behaviors. If the teacher is not tenured, she will be formally observed three to four times during the year. If the teacher is tenured, she might not be formally observed at all depending on the cycle.
The current observation process in most schools lacks any real value. The administrators come, check of the list, and give the teacher a summary to sign. Very little professional dialogue happens, and very little professional growth happens.
Though the observation process ought to evolve, perhaps moving away from the format which has come to dominate our schools' culture, all teachers should be treated the same. There are some within our profession who believe that once a teacher achieves tenure, she should not have to go through a yearly formal observation. The argument goes that based on tenure, a teacher has determined efficacy and should be given professional courtesy.
Yet our non-tenured teachers, many of whom could outperform their peers, are not given any "professional courtesy." And, they shouldn't be. But neither should a teacher who has been in the classroom for fifteen years.
Annual performance reviews are necessary to maintain the integrity of our profession. In part, our profession loses credibility when those among us demand to rest on our laurels. More importantly, teachers who have attained tenure should be leading the new teachers towards a more professional path. The best way to accomplish this is to welcome a yearly formal observation process. When a second year teacher who has just had his third observation of the year looks across the hall and sees poor teaching from a tenured teacher who will not be formally observed at all, he feels discouraged.
In the end, the observation process needs to change. The dog-and-pony shows need to end, and meaningful dialogue needs to happen. If administrators were able to complete far more walk-throughs than the current system allows, they would have a much better sense of the teaching taking place in their buildings.

6 Comments:

At 7:01 AM , Blogger Andrew Shores said...

I agree that the common method of evaluating teachers is broken. What are some of the things you would suggest?

 
At 9:00 AM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

I'm just getting to understand what's out there.
First, in order for any true reform to happen, teachers must trust that administrators are competent evaluators.
Second, I am interested in the multiple sources method in which the "formal" classroom observation acts as only part of an overall equation. There is much truth that a one-time visit does not yield an accurate understanding of a teacher's abilities.
I would favor a portfolio process in which a teacher provides samples from all that we do: lesson and unit planning, providing feedback, parent call log, journaling, etc.
We all understand that teaching is much more than the classroom experience and so the evaluation process should reflect this.

 
At 5:30 PM , Blogger Ms. V. said...

I just suffered a FAILED evaluative practice, and am losing my job because of it.

It's a bad thing.

 
At 6:30 PM , Blogger Andrew Shores said...

The evaluation process that our school uses is non-traditional. It involves teachers doing a self-assessment and choosing 2-3 goals for professional development. The principal then reviews the self-assessment and goals. Shortly after this the teacher meets with the principal to talk over everything. He and the teacher clarify the goals and that is pretty much the meeting. The following year he follows up on the progress made on your goals and then you can set new ones or continue on with the old ones. It works very well at our school.

 
At 4:06 AM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Andrew,
How often does a principal "observe" you teach? And what is used to measure your progress towards your goals?

I think the self-assessment is an important component, as is a reflective piece like a journal.

Ms. V--I'm sorry to hear that. Isn't there a professional assistnce phase for when a teacher doesn't receive a satisifactory review?

 
At 6:42 AM , Blogger Andrew Shores said...

Our principal doesn't usually sit in for formal observations unless there is some particular concern (parent/student complaints for example). However, he makes several informal observations. He comes into the class and watches what is happening for a few minutes and if appropriate, he engages with the kids and asks them to explain what they are doing. These informal observations are never announced, and I partially think he doesn't know he is going to do it until it happens either. I get the impression that he is walking around the building sometimes and thinks, "hmmm. . . I wonder what is going on in here today."

As for the assessment of goals, that is part of the conference the teachers have with the principal. You set some concrete ways that you can measure progress. For example, my two goals this year are to improve students' ability to communicate mathematics in a written form and to improve students' scores on SAT and AP tests. The second goal is pretty easy to track since as an assessment, I will be using test data as it comes in. For the first goal, assessment of my progress will entail comparing student work from different stages in the year. The principal and teacher agree on a method of checking progress on the goals. It is definitely not an administrator vs teacher type of assessment.

 

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