The most widely attended and engaged conversation during the MTA’s unconference was a session titled, “Reclaiming Teacher Evaluations.” Spawned from a flurry of varying feelings surrounding the new teaching evaluation system, the conversation started with a back story by Maureen Devlin sharing her extraordinary exploration of the 33 professional goals and expectations, archived on her wiki, TeachFocus. Reflection on each of these goals took between one and four hours, an impressive testament to her dedication to truly understanding the goals and importance of the expectations. “I believe it has the potential for moving the profession ahead” she said, but with an emphasis on potential and the caveat that “the stakes have certainly been raised.”
The participants in the conversation were a mix primarily of teachers expecting to experience the evaluation system for the first time and a small number who had piloted the system over the past academic year. Those evaluated shared mixed feelings, almost all with a story where confusion was evident amongst evaluators and/or teachers and some painful anecdotes where teachers did not feel done right by the new process.
“These are important standards for success,” said Devlin, “but some are structurally unsupported by schools or can be in direct conflict with a school’s current structure.” Case in point: Standard 30, Indicator IV-D. Decision-Making states: Becomes involved in school-wide decision making, and takes an active role in school improvement planning. While this is without a doubt something that supports an improved school culture and student learning, not all schools have such a culture with planning and decisions being done behind closed-doors. The need for a culture of trust and collaboration is also assumed which, as some participants noted, is not always the case. Within districts and schools administrators can have different styles and rapport with their teachers that may not support or align with expectations.
With these thoughts in mind, rays of light cut through the clouds in regards to how educators could better take hold of the reins on their evaluations. BEA President, Diana Marcus shared her Evernote portfolio, arranged for quick and easy reference to each professional indicator, sharable with her administrator so the growth can be commented on throughout the year as opposed to simply being evaluated at the conclusion of the year without time for improvement or comment. Her use of digital tools highlighted how teachers will have to work, either in private portfolios or open to the world, to own the narratives told by their evaluations. Without artifacts and reflections kept by the teacher, what is selected from 180 days of school work to be used to indicate the strength or weakness of a teacher on a given performance expectation will be selected solely by the evaluator, a scenario that lends itself to surprising and/or disappointing results.
Blogs of learning tagged to specific standards? Perhaps a personal wiki similar to Maureen’s TeachFocus? These and Diana’s portfolio are strong leaders for empowering teachers’ reclamation of their evaluation records but there are certainly others out there. In addition, educator guides similar to the one put together by Wayland Public Schools teachers and administrators is the type of document that can and will help teachers navigate self-assessment and goal management.