For many districts, evaluations are just something to get through: a way for administrators to weed out unskilled teachers, or to tell their teachers what they’re doing wrong. Both of these approaches fall short of the true potential that evaluations can offer.
Evaluation was the best and worst thing that happened to me when I took over as principal at a rural district. Using the Danielson Framework helped lead to a 20 percent turnover of my staff in my first years as a principal.
Granted, the tool was used with fidelity and teachers received fair and appropriate ratings, however, the way in which I went about my business destroyed the culture of the school. It took years to build that culture—and trust—back up again.
This taught me a valuable lesson about the role of administrators in the evaluation process. When done right, evaluations can be a powerful tool for cultivating growth for teachers, and for building relationships and dynamics within the school building. When done wrong, the impact can be catastrophic.
In my current position as Superintendent of Meridian Community USD 223, my job is to make my principals as good at teacher evaluation as possible. Superintendents far too often take a laissez faire approach to teacher evaluation. Simple improvements or adjustments can make a profound difference.
Superintendents need to read the teacher evaluations in their districts in order to train their principals to evaluate well. For instance, depending on background and expertise, you may have a principal who provides abundant feedback on discipline, but no feedback on curriculum and instruction. If a district leader is not taking the time to read evaluations, they would never know this.
For the evaluation process to benefit everyone involved, principals need coaching just as much as teachers do. When you have principals skipping evaluations, it’s often not because they are lazy, but because they don’t have the confidence that they can offer anything valuable to the teacher being evaluated. If a principal doesn’t believe they’re going to add value for the teacher, the process is over before it has begun.
In my most recent book, Making Evaluation Meaningful: Transforming the Conversation to Transform Schools, I talk about how using video for evaluations can make the whole process easier for administrators and more productive for teachers—and put the focus on growth.
Here are three ways that video improves evaluations.
1. Using video helps to demystify the evaluation process.
Sports teams routinely use video to pull up a specific play and look at it objectively together. As an administrator, I can’t create change in anyone, but I can create conditions for change. With an objective tool like video, evaluations become less about who remembers what and more about what we can do to improve practice.
2. Video inspires collaboration.
The teacher and principal can look at it together and come up with a joint solution to any issues. This helps to build staff relationships and create trust. Teachers can also take video and use it to get peer-to-peer feedback or outside coaching.
3. Video shifts ownership of change back to the teacher.
The point of evaluation isn’t to “fix” teachers, but to help them grow. Instead of an administrator telling a teacher what they saw and telling the teacher to fix it, they can pull up a particular clip and ask the teacher what they see and what they can do to grow in that area. While video can be painful the first time you see yourself, the teachers in my district also say it is the most impactful part of the evaluation process, because it frees them to drive their own sense of feedback.
The future is bright for Meridian, and can be for many other districts if they are willing to critically think through the evaluation process. Processes such as implementing video will allow principals to gain confidence and shift the focus of teacher evaluation back to where it should be: building capacity and growing educators.
In the future, I would like to see districts move to a model with a specially trained designated evaluator so that teachers will be getting consistent and meaningful feedback from a local expert instead of expecting building leaders to be excellent at evaluation on top of every other responsibility they hold.
Until then, I believe in our process, and we are constantly working to get better at it, so that the students in our schools have the best-trained staff we can possibly give them.