What’s the evaluation process all about? It depends on who’s asking.
With teachers, we focus on growth, and that’s generally as it should be.
With the public, we mention the growth goal, but we also make it clear that the evaluation process lets us deal with underperformance.
But in speaking to each of these audiences, we can confuse ourselves and start to believe two pervasive lies about teacher evaluation and growth.
The first lie: “If we focus enough on improvement, we’ll never need to fire anyone.”
The second lie: “Rigorously evaluating our teachers will help them grow.”
Both are false. Neither is a reason to abandon the two goals of the evaluation process:
- Growth: To help teachers improve their practice
- Quality Control: To ensure high-quality teaching and learning in every classroom
If these are both good goals, what’s the problem? Simple: the two goals are totally unrelated, except in their ultimate purpose. In fact, they’re even a bit incompatible.
All professionals need to grow, and having a framework like Charlotte Danielson’s to aid your reflection and help you map out your growth process is enormously helpful. But what’s not helpful is to have someone else give you a rating and tell you where you need to grow.
Let me be really clear on this point: Giving someone a rating can identify where they need to grow—and this is a crucial starting point for growth—but it does nothing to actually help them grow.
If I’m sick, I want my doctor to tell me what’s wrong, but the diagnosis itself isn’t going to make me well.
I think we’re muddled on this issue because we fail to realize that performance has two components: Skill and behavior. If you’re talented but not really putting in much effort, you’re not going to achieve great things. On the other hand, working your tail off at something you’re bad at isn’t going to yield fabulous results either.
As administrators, our most direct influence over teaching quality in the evaluation process is on behavior: If someone is not doing what they need to be doing, we can tell them to make a change, and hold them accountable for doing so. If you’re not planning and preparing for your lessons adequately, your administrator can demand that you start turning in lesson plans. Because the focus is behavior, the change can happen immediately.
Assuming we’re picking the right behaviors, this absolutely can lead to improvement. Supervision can change behavior. But to improve skill, you need coaching. And coaching is not the same as supervision.
One of the best movements to improve coaching in the principalship is the #educoach work being done by Shira Leibowitz, Jessica Johnson, and Kathy Perret, who tell me Jim Knight’s work is worth its weight in gold. Their premise is straightforward: instructional leaders need to get good at coaching in order to help staff improve their skills.
But now it gets sticky: If we want to evaluate people rigorously so they know what they’re good at and what they aren’t, and we want to coach them to help them get better, we have to decide which hat we’re wearing at any given time.
I have to realize that when I’m wearing my evaluator hat, I’m giving up the right to serve as a coach in that moment. And when I coach, I have to set aside my evaluator mindset and work to help my “client” meet his or her own goals through the coaching process.
Hopefully there’s some alignment between what people are working to grow in, and what we see as their needs and opportunities based on the evaluation process, but beyond that, we shouldn’t muddle evaluation and coaching. They are different, and need to be handled in distinct ways.
We mustn’t believe the lies that tell us that any vague efforts at “improvement” will help people grow and ensure high-quality teaching in every classroom.
We can’t coach our way out of our responsibility to conduct rigorous evaluations, and we can’t evaluate our way to better teaching. As instructional leaders, we have to wear both hats, whether we like it or not. Just not at the same time.
Oh, and one more thing: most of us believe these lies, or act like we do. Principals who both use the evaluation process to deal with serious underperformance, and effectively coach teachers to help them grow, are few and far between indeed. More on this soon.