Teachers as Professionals
Part of the reason we do not see the desired results with teacher evaluation systems is that teachers are regarded as having a low professional status, and are even labeled semiprofessionals.
Lillejord & Borte have described professionals as:
- • having an in-depth training and certification, and regulation from the group to ensure quality;
- • having a common knowledge base from consulting research and experience, using discretion to renew and share new knowledge, developing standards for good practice;
- • providing high-quality services, relevant to society and context;
- • being organized collegially with autonomy and solving problems collectively.
Although not all professions consistently possess all these traits, an ability to set standards and procedures among themselves is central to professionals' work. "Ideally, wrongful assumptions are corrected, replaced with new evidence and insights, communicated among members of the profession, who adjust practice accordingly" (p. 5).
As Lillejord & Borte noted, one reason behind teachers' lack of professional status is that the procedures they follow are created by external governing bodies. At least part of their functioning is a result of outside forces seeking to control their actions, right down to the types of questions they ask of students, on a rubric, scored by someone else. In the United States, we discourage the practice of teaching and have reduced it to a set of skills and behaviors to be measured, rated and assessed out of the context of the actual work.
It is hard to exhibit all of the professional qualities when mandates from lawmakers and policymakers do not encourage professional behaviors. Educators may be semiprofessional, but only because the bureaucrats won't let them be professional.
Creating a Learning Evaluation
Creating an evaluation system that allows teachers to grow goes hand in hand with recognizing teacher professionalism. Lillejord & Borte (2019) have argued that an effective evaluation is oriented to process oriented and based in inquiry. Such a system would also allow teachers to generate knowledge for practice. It would be facilitated by school leaders, involve the cyclical critique and criticism of shared, documented knowledge and build upon past work to agree on good practice. These goals also describe professional learning communities. Such communities satisfy professionals' need to act creatively and innovate.
A teacher evaluation system designed to meet these goals would assess how teachers engage in formative and formal collective inquiry. It would have process-oriented objectives and goals—assessing how the work gets done first, and the results secondarily. Embedding formative practices into their culture, norms and process is far more impactful than observing teachers once a semester for a performance evaluation. By changing our teacher evaluation systems to support true professional learning environments, we can bridge the accountability versus learning gap.