To Define Effectiveness, Find a Common Language

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Have pity on the teacher who has lived through multiple principals at the same school.  Each one certainly brings a unique perspective on quality instruction.  I used to think it was my responsibility to clearly define my “philosophy of education” to spew towards faculty as often as possible.  I now think it’s my responsibility to facilitate frequent conversations about classroom instruction in order to build shared values of teaching and learning.

Kim Marshall (2009) provides a “logic model” for ideal conditions of supervision and evaluation.  How would you rate your school on these two items from his model?

  • Principals and teachers have a shared understanding of what good teaching looks like.
  • Principals give teachers feedback on what’s effective and what needs to be improved. (p. 21)

Naturally, organizations strive to define quality when it comes to classroom instruction.  Yet without a common definition, we end up with a diffused idea of quality.  The conversation to improve classroom instruction takes arbitrary turns without a common language to point the direction to effectiveness.

Schools create and adopt walkthrough forms, evaluation rubrics, and professional development guidelines to define and measure teacher effectiveness.  This past year, some districts were asked by the Texas Education Agency to pilot the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) rubric as a teacher evaluation instrument.  The National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (2006) provides a leadership handbook listing planning, environment, and instruction as three basic components of the evaluation and feedback process.  Below are the categories listed under instruction:

  • Standards and Objectives
  • Motivating Students
  • Presenting Instructional Content
  • Lesson Structure and Pacing
  • Activities and Materials
  • Questioning
  • Academic Feedback
  • Grouping Students
  • Teacher Content Knowledge
  • Teacher Knowledge of Students
  • Thinking
  • Problem Solving

In each category, educators are evaluated on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest evaluation.  In order to provide teachers with the opportunity to develop from appraisals (practice, announced, unannounced), thorough teacher training on each evaluation category is essential.  Time and training are provided to refine teacher skill in each area.

Contrast this with Mike Schmoker’s (2014) admonition that teacher evaluation has become too complex for effective implementation.  Schmoker advocates a minimalist perspective for evaluation, limited to

  • A clear objective with an aligned assessment
  • Anticipatory set for previewing key vocabulary or activating prior knowledge
  • Small, manageable cycles of teaching with informal assessments
  • Independent practice with opportunities for teacher-student interaction (p.28)

While those aspects are evident in the NIET rubric, the contrast shows excellence is in the eye of the beholder.  A school leader best serves teachers by collaboratively defining effective teaching and learning.  Once that definition is clear, the conversation of improvement begins.

To support improvement, two things must happen: on-going professional development throughout the school year (to clearly define effective teaching and learning) and meaningful conversations regarding instruction before and after the observation.  Using the observation rubric promotes authentic conversations about instructional improvement.  Under this mindset, the administrator mediates the teacher’s thinking during pre- and post-observation conferences as it relates to the teacher’s proficiency on the rubric.

There is no such thing as perfection when it comes to an appraisal instrument.  Still, both the NIET rubric and Dr. Schmoker’s lesson guide are instruments to begin conversations about teaching and learning.  The conversation the instrument inspires is more important than the actual instrument.

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