Evaluating teachers is one of the most important jobs as a school leader, but often it can feel scary, overwhelming and time-consuming for everyone involved. A couple of years into doing observations and evaluations, I began to see this process differently: to ensure a successful school year, I had to make sure my team was ready. How better to do that than evaluations?
If I were a head coach of a football team, I would also be observing and evaluating. I would have players that were faster and more athletic than others. I would have players that are students of the game, and those that play without thinking. As the coach, it is inevitably my job to make sure all of the athletes on the team get better so that the team gets better. I couldn't simply tell an athlete to run faster or catch more passes and expect it to happen. I would have to teach them techniques and strategies to improve through modeling, using others as examples, watching video, etc. As a coach, I would coach my team.
In the same sense, that is what principals and school leaders should do with their team of teachers. I currently use an observation/evaluation model that puts coaching and professional learning at the center of the process.
Each academic year, I meet with my team of teachers individually to set professional growth goals. These goals are teacher-chosen areas that outline areas to work on and grow in. These goals are the center of each observation. I make sure to be clear with language, specifically looking at "observation" and "evaluation." I see these two in terms of formative and summative assessments. An observation is the act of observing in a classroom as an instructional leader and academic coach, where my goal is to provide formative feedback on a teacher's professional goals so that I can provide meaningful feedback for growth. An evaluation is the final document required by law, and is the summative assessment I provide teachers at the end of the year.
After an observation, I do not send feedback to the teacher immediately. Instead, I ask clarifying questions - questions that help fill in the gaps that I know I miss only being in the classroom for a short period of time.
As soon as the teacher responds to my questions, I provide feedback related to the specific lesson I observed and the teacher’s individual goal. The feedback contains both areas that the teacher is doing well and should continue, and areas for improvement. The area of improvement is specific feedbackt that provides a specific strategy or idea that a teacher could implement. The important component of this process is that the observation is formative, and feedback is always connected to teachers' professional goals.
Another important reason for teachers to set professional learning goals is to help prepare them to conduct rounds of peer observations. In this exercise, teachers are divided into peer observation teams, where they observe their colleagues and provide feedback. All feedback during these observations is also connected back to the individual teacher’s professional goals.
After a year of observations and formative feedback from both myself, as the principal, and other teachers, a final evaluation is completed. I look at this as an opportunity to celebrate the good things that a teacher does. I have learned that what a principal brings attention to usually gets replicated. If I observed something positive that has had great outcomes for kids, I make sure to highlight that during the year-end evaluation. Of course, this is also a time to talk about areas that need improvement. I frame these as something that we need to work on together. Just like a coach, I cannot tell a struggling teacher to get better without coaching and support. If a teacher is struggling, those areas become part of their professional growth plan for the next school year, and the process begins once again.