Teacher Evaluation: Soft Skills for Hard Moments

Teacher Evaluation: Soft Skills for Hard Moments

Teachers: What can we learn from an evaluation?

It has been truly exciting this year to be able to spend some time taking a hard look at the topic of teacher evaluation with Hope Street Group. I have learned a lot, participated in innumerable conversations, read dozens of articles and other documents, and have listened to many people I respect, voice their opinions about it.

After all of this, I still find myself left with a sinking feeling that I often get after hearing teachers express worry or frustration with teacher evaluations. I think this sentiment comes from a nagging question that no one seems to ask – why don’t teachers want to be evaluated? Will they really benefit the teacher they are supposed to serve?

At my school, teacher evaluation occurs four times a year, and it is the most significant feedback I receive on how to become a better teacher, which is what all educators should strive to be.

  1. The evaluation is based in the following things:
    Am I meeting the goals that I set forth for my classroom and scholars? Am I on track to meeting those goals and, if not, am I taking active steps to meet them? I am responsible for the academic and behavioral success of a small group of girls in my advisory: is my advisory meeting the goals set for them? Are they on track to college success?
  2.  Are the “teacher tasks” that I am asked to do on a regular basis getting done? Am I prompt to my duty spots? Are students getting regular grades and feedback? Am I entering demerits and making phone calls home? Are my lesson plans submitted on time?
  3. Am I a good team member? Am I having the right conversations when I need something? Am I solution –oriented? Am I modeling the world that I want to see for the scholars and for my coworkers?
  4. Am I growing, as a teacher? Am I improving on things areas of weakness indicated on the previous evaluation? AM I striving to do better and make my practice stronger?

As I look over this list, it occurs to me that, when measured correctly, these areas of growth are also the places in which I can grow as a person. These evaluation points set up solid moments of reflection for me as a person, as well. Am I achieving what I set out to achieve? Am I on time when I say I will be? Can people trust me to follow through? Was I supportive and not negative when someone needed me? Do I have a fixed mindset, or do I see my world as a place that can always grow?

Evaluation doesn’t have to feel like a punitive battleground. We as teachers can choose to view it as a positive experience – a chance to become better educators and people.
Policymakers should focus on ways to communicate evaluation as a positive experience and support school administration and teachers in this process

Of course this cannot occur if:

  1. evaluations are not designed to be linked to professional development and growth and
  2. if those evaluating us are not equipped with the skills and tools they need to support their teachers.

Therefore, teachers should demand strong professional opportunities that are tied to their evaluations. Before any evaluation, administrative staff should be ready to take solid growth-minded steps prior to conducting evaluations.

What can administrators and other policymakers improve their teacher evaluations?

  1. Find ways to indicate that evaluation points out the good as well as areas to improve. No one is perfect – we can always get better. Find ways as a school or department leader to be very visual with the ways in which you are trying to improve yourself.   
  2. Be vulnerable with your growth areas – lead by example.
  3. Have administration and department heads model what feedback looks like in order to indicate to teachers that everyone should receive an evaluation, and that it doesn’t have to feel punitive.
  4. Teach administrative staff soft skills – the ability to communicate well, listen effectively, and show empathy will make this process a lot smoother.
  5. Encourage administrative staff to be available and open to concern and suggestions. Often, teachers do not feel listened to and this should be a time when they feel included in the process.
  6. Be clear about intentions and deadlines. Whitewashing expectations sets an unclear example and can create insecurity and political backlash.

Note: the opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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