Valuing Evaluation

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“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.


  1. Royan Lee said:

    I would add that, in the same way teachers use it as a verb, too many administrators do as well, as in, “I need to do a TPA on…”

    I really believe that administrator(s) need to set the tone on this one, because there’s an inherent power dynamic at play. It is such a golden opportunity for the instructional leaders to model effective assessment and evaluation, and it saddens me that the moment is too often lost or treated in a cynical manner.

    Teacher evaluations have a huge impact on the learning that happens at a school, for better or for worse. Thanks for sharing your reflections on the process.

    November 3, 2011
    • bharrison said:

      Hey Royan,

      Thanks for the response and for the retweet. It is called a ‘process’ and we often forget that an essential component of any process is understanding the importance of time. As @carmelcrevola often reminds us, good teaching is more about ‘reflection than perfection’. Teachers help me improve my reflective practice when they share their reflections on teaching with me. The TPA process allows the time for this to happen.

      Peace my friend!

      November 4, 2011
  2. Professional development, training and evaluations are often seen to be “done” to teachers. It’s really encouraging to read your blog and see that school leaders are turning this around and making it a two way engaging process in which both parties can learn.
    In order to self-evaluate effectively and translate this into improvements in practice, your right, being reflective is hugely important. Only when we look at ourselves deeply and objectively can we really do this effectively, which is why video for teacher professional development is so powerful.
    Great blog, really enjoyed reading it!

    November 4, 2011
    • bharrison said:

      Your response reminds me of an Alfie Kohn quote I love- ‘People always prefer it when things are done with them, rather than to them.”

      Thanks for the thoughtful response 🙂


      November 4, 2011
  3. Ming Huang said:

    Being a relatively new teacher, I’ve really only experienced one TPA and one initial TPA (NTIP). Every year we see teachers (and sometimes administrators) exchange the same comments you made earlier (ie. “ouch, I am getting TPA-ed this year), followed by a dirty look. It’s no secret that for many individuals, the TPA process is perceived as a potentially punitive-in-nature evaluation; sadly, that’s how many of our students (parents) view the assessment/evaluation in the classroom.

    Most of us in education were trained in similar programs, ones that usually emphasis the ‘reflective’ practice as one of the most important ritual to keep an educator focused and re-energized in teaching. But too often in individual schools, we hear teachers complaining about the ‘lack of time’ to do anything else after having to plan, teach, manage, assess, and evaluate. Reflections are viewed as a ‘Task’; they are no longer the tools we use to further ourselves professionally.

    In my humble opinion, such challenge is the one of the main reason that TPA is viewed often in negative light. If we do not have a culture of reflective practice in (for lack of better way of putting it) non-TPA years, we will not be able to engage teachers in the evaluation process as it is intended (and what I interpret how you intend it to be): a shared reflection between the school leader and the classroom teacher.

    Thank you for the post; I agree with Royan that it’s great to see an administrator being open and reflective of his/her practice. We also model good practice for our students in the classroom; the same should have in the staff room. A reflective administrator will inspire a group of self-reflective teachers; when the culture is formed, the TPA process will then become what it’s designed to be.

    November 4, 2011
    • bharrison said:

      You’ve hit on a key point that all of our administrator colleagues are working through~ we have to value the 4 non-evaluation years just as much as we do the 5th evaluation year. One of the things I share with the teachers I’m working through the process is that a product of the TPA process should be an increased understanding, on the part of the teacher, on the importance of assessment for, and as, learning.

      As Gandhi reminded us many years ago- “we have to be the change we want to see in the world.”

      Thanks for your thoughtful response 🙂

      November 4, 2011
    • Hi Chuck,

      Thanks for the response and for sending the link, like you, I’m always seeking out ideas and perspectives that can inform my leadership. The more we are able to connect and share ideas and practices about this process, the better off we will all be; administrators, teachers and students.


      November 6, 2011

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