Over the past few years, many states have adopted much more stringent teacher evaluation requirements. We have new rubrics, more required observations, and more complex criteria on which to rate teachers.
For principals, the impact is undeniable: The teacher evaluation workload has grown dramatically. What used to be a perfunctory process of filling out a form is now a year-long process of gathering evidence on a huge range of criteria. What used to be a pass/fail process is now a detailed rating process that demands much more evidence.
I think this is a good change, but it’s one we have to handle smartly if we want to avoid being crushed under this new workload.
So I adopted a simple approach: I’m going to gather as much evidence as I can, and the teacher can supply evidence too, but if I don’t have evidence on something, I’m going to assume it’s satisfactory (3 on a 4-point scale).
If I believe a teacher’s performance in a given area is not satisfactory, I should go to the trouble of gathering evidence to back up my assertion. If a teacher believes their practice is exemplary and deserves a 4 out of 4, they should have readily available evidence. If I believe their practice is exemplary, I should have no trouble pulling out a few examples to showcase.
But what if I don’t have enough evidence? Let’s face it: this is often the case.
When it’s time to write the evaluation, we can’t include evidence we don’t have, and we shouldn’t try to mine our observation notes for patterns that aren’t there.
What most certainly should not do is to force ourselves to gather one piece of evidence for every component for every teacher. One piece of evidence may not be nearly enough, or it may be too much.
The Danielson Framework for Teaching has 22 components in 4 domains. If we focus on gathering one piece of evidence for every criterion—an enormous task for a staff of 30 or 40 teachers—what value does that add to the process?
Not much. There’s a word for a lone piece of evidence: anecdotal.
If at the end of the year, we find that we need more evidence to provide a justifiable rating on every criterion, the time to address that problem was months ago, not in our “creative writing” process at the last minute.
If I’m going to give a rating that has a negative impact on a teacher’s self-concept or employment situation, I want to have at least three specific pieces of evidence that I’ve documented in writing. I want dates and times, and I want to be sure anyone who reads the evaluation (the teacher, my boss, the union, human resources, a hearing judge) will agree with me.
This means I have to be in classrooms much more often than the evaluation process requires. Two formal observations won’t generate the kind of evidence I need.
We need to be in classrooms virtually every day, for more than a few minutes, to know as much as we need to know about the teaching and learning taking place in our classrooms.
We need to take good notes, gather good evidence, and most importantly, talk with teachers about their teaching and with students about their learning.
If we’re smart about our evidence-gathering, we can be more effective as instructional leaders and write evaluations that we can stand behind.