Subjectivity Is A Good Thing
All performance appraisals are subjective. There is actually no way around the subjectivity of assessing performance. Subjectivity is a good thing. In the case of schools, if a Learning Evaluation is employed and a shared meaning and understanding is the driver of the evaluation, bias can actually decrease because of the shared knowledge, understanding, assumptions and expectations. Regardless, eliminating subjectivity from performance appraisals is impossible. As soon as educators realize that they are stuck with the subjective nature of judging another human's performance, we can move on and create a system that is shared and embraced by all.
First Things First
The Learning Evaluation is flexible and adaptable, and educators must be ready and willing to use the learning evaluation as a starting point with the intention ofchanging it to meet the local context of the school. Not all schools have the same needs, set the same goals or try to invoke the same strategies to improve. The Learning Evaluation Rubric is a living document. The document is founded in learning organization principles linked to PLC processes for education. The constructs and their underlying assumptions are the foundation of a learning evaluation, not the end. Schools may wish to emphasize, deemphasize, remove or add components that are applicable to them, their goals, objectives and data analysis. Teachers create rubrics for students, just as educational leaders create rubrics for themselves. This is a subjective document highlighting broad constructs to assess a teacher's ability to contribute to a professional learning community as a learner. The narrower details of how that work gets done must be decided at the local level.
Case Study: Implementing A Learning Evaluation
A New Challenge
Mr. Schultz was a veteran principal of eight years, now starting his ninth year in a new district. This was an exciting time for Mr. Schultz, because— although he had found success during his previous eight years at the same school and had a great relationship with his teaching staff—he was ready for a new challenge. An elementary school in a neighboring county had a principal opening. North Star Elementary School had been regarded as one of the best elementary schools in the area for a number of years. Two years ago, the principle of 12 years and a number of veteran staff members had retired: since then the school had struggled to maintain its success in standardized test scores, perception in the community and satisfaction among parents. Mr. Schultz had a professional relationship with the superintendent of the district and was blown away by the innovative things they were doing at the district level because of their commitment to be a learning organization. North Star needed a leader that could facilitate the improvement of the school through collaborative processes. The district already had systems in place to help schools be successful. North Star needed a leader that could tap into the talent and expertise of the staff. After Mr. Schultz's interview with the superintendent, they both agreed that he would be the collaborative leader North Star needed to be the learning community it once was and could be again.
A Solid Foundation
Mr. Schultz learned very quickly that North Star had a solid foundation for improvement. Teachers believed that they could have a positive effect on student achievement. They had the desire to help all students learn. They had great teachers; teachers with superb individual talent. They even had the Learning Evaluation system that the superintendent had shown him during the interview. In that interview the superintendent had emphasized how the learning evaluation system provided school leaders with broad constructs to guide teachers in the improvement of their school. Upon review of the Learning Evaluation, Mr. Schultz realized that it was not what he had expected. Even though the documents were easy to read, follow and understand, he had not expected that there would be so much variability to influence the choice and implementation of programing to move the school forward. Mr. Schultz was excited about the freedom to facilitate teacher teams, but also very nervous. The school could not sit back and wait for someone to tell them what to do. They actually had to make some informed decisions and try.
Mr. Schultz was a great leader. He was collaborative and motivating. Teachers trusted him and respected his expertise and ability to listen. But, in the district he had come from, program development and creation was not part of the job description. Mr. Schultz's strength was in taking what was handed down to him as a principal and his staff, interpreting it, linking it to current needs and working within constrictive frameworks to improve. Actually, using a Learning Evaluation to improve a school was a scary and new thought process for Mr. Schultz. But, this was what he had wanted: a challenge.
Mr. Schultz addressed his staff at the beginning of the year. After all of the formal legalities and logistical processes had been discussed and laid out, Mr. Schultz took the Learning Evaluation document and asked the staff to consider one question, "What does this look like at North Star Elementary?" He asked them to ask themselves the same question for each domain. "What does this look like at North Star Elementary for data utilization, goal setting......?
That question was at the heart of their collaboration meetings for the entire year. In practice, North Star was able to identify the processes for each domain of the Learning Evaluation that they chartered, created, changed and adapted together. By agreeing upon the process to make the rubric come to life, bias was reduced, teachers had influence and ownership of the processes and the tools were used to advance professional and student learning.