“If we want teacher evaluation systems that teachers find meaningful and from which they can learn, we must use processes that not only are rigorous, valid, and reliable, but also engage teachers in those activities that promote learning—namely self-assessment, reflection on practice, and professional conversation.” Charlotte Danielson
Evaluation is a tricky thing, even under the simplest or clearest of circumstances. And simplicity or clarity are generally not the terms we associate with education in the 21st century. Over the past few weeks I’ve been working through our district evaluation process with several of the teachers from one of my schools.
In Ontario, we call the evaluation process the Teacher Performance Appraisal, also known as the TPA. My sense is that most of our teachers consider TPA to be a verb, rather than a noun; as in, “My principal is going to TPA me next week.” I think that the fact that it is often referred to this way is rather telling with regards to beliefs and practices around teacher evaluation, and not just in my jurisdiction. Our process is fairly consistent with the practices used in other districts, a pre-observation meeting is held to go over the timelines and identify the teaching competencies that will be the focus for evaluation, an observation is scheduled and a report is composed, shared with the teacher and filed.
The process is actually fairly robust and well-designed when applied appropriately and, like all evaluations, is heavily dependent upon the skill and capacities of the evaluator. When I think about how and why I engage in teacher evaluations, beyond the obvious legal requirements, I think about how this process can improve effective classroom instruction,” impacting the core,” as Richard Elmore would say.
Setting aside the legalities and the ‘processes’, there are many rich connections between what teacher evaluation needs to be, and effective classroom practice. My goal is to engage in Teacher Performance Appraisals that use conversations, observations and products to deepen our shared understandings of effective teaching, using the sound principles of assessment for, as and of learning.
Before, during and after the process, we reflect upon problems of practice, set a context for our learning and develop a plan to engage in future learning. It is important, as well,that this process connect with our ongoing school-based professional learning focus, since it is student need that drives this focus. In each case, the evaluation needs to not only inform the teacher, but it must also inform me as a school leader. The time is spent working with teachers on evaluation is a focused, rich and essential part of my professional learning.
In communicating with staff, it helps me to connect the TPA to the Gradual Release of Responsibility; I see our staff meeting and PA Day learning as whole group modelled learning, our grade-level learning teams as small group shared learning and the work we do in the TPA as on one one guided instruction. Each, of course, plays an imprtant role, but I know that it is the guided instruction that actually results in the deepest learning.
My hope is to accomplish what I call the 3 R’s of teacher evaluation; reflection, rapport and report.