There are two types of people who work in K-12 public education, teachers and individuals who support teachers.
Educational research has repeatedly identified teacher “effectiveness” as the most important factor in student learning. The work that teachers accomplish in classrooms matters, and public education’s top priority should be developing teachers.
In my opinion, all other policy discussions in public education (for example, class size, school funding, student assessment, Common Core State Standards) are second to policy discussions that center on improving teachers, collectively referred to as “teacher supervision and evaluation.” Although teacher supervision and evaluation have different outcomes, they complement one another.
Supervision is providing coaching to build teachers’ capacity. Evaluation is assigning merit to teachers’ performance.
Sadly, many teacher supervision and evaluation procedures adopted by school districts do little to impact teachers’ performance. Typically, teachers and administrators view teacher supervision and evaluation procedures as bureaucratic hurdles that must be cleared, simply one more task principals must accomplish. This stigma is magnified by the fact that many teacher supervision and evaluation mechanisms require principals to formally or informally visit teachers’ classrooms two or fewer times per year, depending on teacher tenure status. As a result, it is appropriate to have a discussion about how to effectively supervise and evaluate teachers so the process is relevant to teachers and improves their instructional practice. As a result, my opinions on teacher supervision and evaluation are underpinned by three points: (a) school leadership is key to effective teacher supervision and evaluation, (b) teacher supervision and evaluation should be comprehensive in scope, and (c) policy makers should focus more on supervision and less on evaluation.
First, as with any initiative in education, effective teacher supervision and evaluation starts with school leadership. Both district and school leaders are the lynchpin to ensure teacher supervision and evaluation is meaningful. District leadership must adopt comprehensive and fair teacher supervision and evaluation district policies and practices. Most importantly, district leaders must expect and hold school leaders (principals) accountable to be in teachers’ classrooms daily and weekly. This includes district leaders’ responsibility in training principals on how to ensure teachers are providing high-quality instruction. Effective principals routinely visit teachers’ classrooms and provide formative, corrective feedback to teachers. Routinely visiting classrooms is critical because it is ludicrous to assume we can create a clear picture of teachers’ effectiveness by formally and informally visiting their classrooms fewer than five times per year. Principals must be in all teachers’ classrooms weekly, for extended periods of time, and district leaders must hold principals accountable for performing this task.
I was an elementary principal for seven years, and the common rebuttal I heard was: “But I don’t have time to do that between meetings, student discipline and parent conferences.”
The bottom line is if teacher development is a priority, both district and school leaders will find a way to routinely visit teachers’ classrooms.
Second, school districts must operationally define “effective” teaching and be clear about how to measure it in spite of recent trends to simply use test scores. Part of teaching is a social endeavor and many complex variables impact students’ learning, although teachers are the most significant. Simply stated, students’ test scores should be used as one piece of data in a comprehensive supervision and evaluation model that might include data collected from: classroom observations (assessed by principals, instructional coaches, or peers); student assessment data on various indicators focused on growth (mostly formative assessments); instructional artifacts like student work, scoring rubrics, and lesson plans; teachers’ self-reflection within journals or logs; age-appropriate student surveys or parent surveys; and teachers’ professional development/growth plans.
One key in selecting data sources is to ensure teachers have buy-in on what they perceive as fair and representative of quality teaching. Although educational leaders should have non-negotiables in regards to teacher performance expectations, leaders must solicit teachers’ feedback about supervision and evaluation if they expect the procedures to impact practice.
Finally, all too often, policy makers fixate on evaluation and neglect supervision. Evaluation is simply an analysis of data collected during the supervision process. Teacher supervision is the only way to improve teachers’ instructional practice, and as a result, educational resources need to be devoted to the improvement of teaching practices rather than simply assigning a label to teachers’ performance.
In the end, I acknowledge the age of accountability in public education will not and should not vanish. However, I disagree in teacher accountability policies that hinge solely on evaluation and ignore supervision. I believe
99 percent of teachers desire to be considered “effective” the first time they enter classrooms and if given the opportunity, they will work hard to accomplish this benchmark. The key to teacher development lies within well-planned teacher supervisory activities and should not be concerned with publicly labeling teachers.