Teacher Evaluation Assumptions Comparison

The new assumptions for evaluating teachers are different from the current assumptions in philosophy, implementation and operation. Below is a chart comparing the faulty assumptions from chapter 3 and the new impactful assumptions of teacher evaluation.

Professional Learning Communities Defined

What's needed is a teacher evaluation system linked to proven systems of teacher inquiry, collaboration and program implementation. Professional learning communities (PLCs) provide the blueprint for just such a system.

A PLC, as defined by DuFour, DuFour, Eake, and Many (2006), is a group of educators "committed to working collaboratively in ongoing processes of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve" (p. 14). The central idea of a learning community is that student learning will improve only when teachers have the opportunity for job-embedded professional development on a regular basis.

A PLC has some basic characteristics, the first being a shared mission, vision and goals, all of which are focused on student learning. For a PLC to be successful, all stakeholders must embrace high expectations and make a commitment to the learning of each student. This goal reinforces the moral purpose and collective responsibility that make the day-to-day work of teachers so important (DuFour et al., 2006).

The second characteristic of a learning community is a collaborative culture with a focus on student learning. A PLC is ideally composed of grade-level or subject-matter teams that meet regularly to achieve common goals. Team members are responsible for creating common assessments,

Assumption Comparison

I Teacher Evaluation Assumptions

Faulty Assumptions

Impactful Assumptions

Education should mimic the business world.

School are unique entities. Best practices from other domains are consulted, but not blindly adopted.

Principals observing teachers is the most effective way to determine teacher effectiveness.

Principals facilitate and lead teacher teams as the most effective way to assess teacher effectiveness.

Working in isolation, alone with students in the classroom, is the most effective way for teachers to demonstrate their effectiveness.

Teachers demonstrate their effectiveness by being active members of a Professional Learning Community.

Teacher evaluation rubrics must incorporate as many characteristics of effective teaching as possible.

Teacher evaluation rubrics focus on processes of collective inquiry, collaboration, context.

Teacher must employ a cadre of "research-based" instructional strategies in the classroom, during a lesson, to demonstrate their effectiveness.

Teachers work within collaborative teams to assess their needs as professionals and the needs of their students, in order to collectively research, prioritize, select and implement strategies to improve professional learning and student learning, demonstrating their effectiveness.

Document. Document. Document

Communicate. Communicate. Communicate

Figure 5.2 Assumptions comparison analyzing results and planning for differences in student learning. These actions help keep team members accountable to one another and create a systematic process for collaboration.

The third essential element of the PLC model is collective inquiry into best practices and current performance. Educators must be able to take a candid look at their current practices and student performance. They must then work together to discover best practices for their situation. In a successful learning community, educators should be oriented to action. Learning by doing is essential to a PLC because change will not occur until teachers act. Teachers must also be committed to continuous improvement. They should strive to gather evidence of current learning, develop new strategies and analyze their impact.

Abundant evidence exists that PLCs are highly effective. Education researcher Michael Schmöker (2006) has spoken of their importance when he stated that "the use of professional learning communities is the best, least expensive, most professionally rewarding way to improve schools... Such communities hold immense, unprecedented hope for schools and the improvement of teaching" (p. 106). Numerous studies back this up to support the effectiveness of PLCs. One study conducted by Louis and Marks (1998) found that when a school uses adult learning concepts, teachers set higher expectations, students receive more support in achieving learning goals, classroom pedagogy is of considerably higher quality and achievement levels are higher (DuFour et al., 2006). DuFour et al. (2004) focused their research on collaboration, communication, data-driven analysis, collective intelligence and collective response to student learning, school-wide systems and school culture.

The title of Roland S. Barth's book Improving Schools from Within (1991) suggests the reason that PLCs are so effective in improving performance. External mandates from groups or individuals outside the school community and culture will not have a lasting effect. The improvement of schools must come from members of the school community. "A key to improving schools from within, then, lies in improving the interactions among teachers and between teachers and principals" (Barth, 1991, p. 28).

From a principal and teacher perspective, a Learning Evaluation system reduces bias. Teachers and administrators are consistently involved in collaborations and conversations, considering the best methods for teams to employ in order to increase student achievement. The common language of the school is created by the professional educators, not handed down to them from somewhere else. Instead of teachers being rated based on their effectiveness in a domain by one person (principal) through an observation, based on a standardized rubric, the common language of school teams—established in the school, amongst the staff and employed through collaborative systems—becomes the driver for evaluations. The evaluation tool should guide the entire teaching staff through collective process to collaborate, set goals, plan instruction, analyze student data, seek improvement and help others improve. A Learning Evaluation system gives the principal the freedom to participate in all of the school's teams, thus truly serving as an instructional leader and school improvement partner. Such a system will increase employee engagement and increase organizational commitment.

Teachers who work effectively within their teams fail, grow and learn. Consequently, they become better teachers. Principals will also become more effective evaluators. Through observations, interactions, conversations and the real work of engaging in school teams, the principal will make determinations of a teacher's effectiveness within the context and culture of the local school, as opposed to by reference to a set of standardized skills, domains, behaviors or classroom observations alone, based on a rubric. The school teams become the vehicle for teacher efficacy, and a teacher's ability to function within a professional team becomes the primary focus of evaluation.

Directly connected to employee engagement is organizational commitment. Organizational commitment refers to the psychological bond that ties an employee to the organization (Nehmeh, 2009). The stronger the bond, the more likely it is that organizational initiatives will be successful. By involving teachers in the evaluation via a collective process, schools make it likely that their organizational commitment will increase. A Learning Evaluation system has the potential to increase a teacher's involvement in his or her individual school. Any increase in organizational commitment would garner increases in leadership capacity, teacher performance and student learning.

A Learning Evaluation system can also benefit a school's principal and assistant principal. A building administrator spends an inordinate amount of time evaluating teacher classroom performance. Even a "small" building can house many teachers, each requiring multiple observations and thus evaluations. Using a Learning Evaluation system allows the building administrators to focus on more strategic issues, including curriculum integration, assessment, pedagogy, professional learning, cultural awareness and proficiency and student- and family-related issues.

In general, workers are more receptive to receiving constructive criticism from peers rather than a supervisor. Because each teacher is a practitioner, any constructive feedback relates directly to the practice of teaching, and teachers know that it is coming from someone who performs the same duties as they do. In a Learning Evaluation, teachers both provide and receive feedback from their colleagues, becoming authentic instructional leaders. The work environment becomes a laboratory of continuous improvement in which each teacher plays the role of scientist, participant and instructional leader.

Learning Evaluation systems will provide a more consistent, customizable evaluation for teachers. Rather than looking for strengths or weaknesses of each teacher based on a predetermined rubric, the principal will look for teacher contributions to the school teams and assess their capacity to improve in a learning environment. A Learning Evaluation system will thus allow evaluations to be customizable and open-ended. The school teams can identify the strengths and weaknesses of each other, set goals for improvement of practice and adapt the evaluation to meet their needs.

Charlotte Danielson stated that nurturing great teaching has become a difficult task to complete in policy and practice (Danielson, 2016). Danielson elaborated, for Education Week, "I'm deeply troubled by the transformation of teaching from a complex profession requiring nuanced judgement to the performance of certain behaviors that can be ticked off on a checklist" (Danielson, 2016, n.p.). Danielson then went on to explain several points of emphasis for future evaluation conversations, one of which, she concluded, should involve evaluation systems that encourage professional learning, inquiry and trust.

The traditional, individualistic, observational evaluations currently in use have run their course. It is time educational leaders start demanding of policymakers that the work educators engage in to increase student achievement becomes what is evaluated, leveraging the power of instructional leadership and increasing student achievement.

There is a better way to evaluate teachers. We have already learned from recent reform failures that the current system is not producing the desired results, and teachers and principals are increasingly frustrated. We already know how to improve schools: professional learning communities, which are the most rewarding and successful professional initiative for teachers and principals. By shifting our thinking from observing individual teachers to assessing a teacher's ability to perform within a professional learning community, we sweep away the old and make room for a new foundation.

 
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