How to get more value from teacher evaluations

Adam Cobb

As a Regional Account Manager at Halogen Software, and a certified Human Capital Strategist, Adam Cobb focuses on helping school and district leaders and administrators improve their teacher and staff evaluations, as well as their other talent management practices.

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In school boards and districts around the world, teacher evaluations are becoming the norm. The hope is that by evaluating teacher performance, we can improve student performance. Yet there remains much controversy around teacher evaluations. How do you measure and rate teacher performance? Do teacher evaluations provide any real benefit to teachers and schools? And what about the students?

The answer to these questions may lie in the motivation for conducting teacher evaluations in the first place. If your motivation is to rate and rank teachers and weed out the poor performers, you'll likely only succeed in getting everyone defensive. If your primary purpose is to improve teacher performance by supporting development, you'll likely get better results. As with all employee evaluations, the best results are achieved when the goal is to support continuous growth and development.

Shifting the focus to development

So how do you make sure the focus of your teacher evaluations is on supporting teacher growth and development? Here are a few tips:

Provide detailed feedback and comments.
In every area that is being evaluated, make sure the evaluator provides the teacher with concrete feedback, and coaching and development tips, so the teacher knows what is expected and more importantly, how they can improve. If used, ratings should accompany and support the comments, not replace them. Comments should be provided both in areas where a teacher is performing well, and in areas where performance needs improvement to give a more balanced perspective and reinforce desired and effective practices. So make sure your teacher evaluation forms require comments, as well as provide lots of space for them. You may also want to provide evaluators with "comment helper" tools that speed up the process of writing feedback by providing "building block" text that can be copied into the evaluation and quickly modified to include specific details and suggestions.

Make sure the outcome is an actionable development plan
Whenever an evaluation finds a teacher's performance lacking in a particular area, the evaluator, department head or administrator should ensure that the teacher is assigned an appropriate development plan to help them improve. Every assigned development activity should be directly linked to performance, so the teacher has a clear context for their learning. And development plans don't always have to be remedial. You can assign a development activity to further build on a teacher's strengths, to expand their knowledge and skill, help them achieve a goal, or even to help them advance their career. Supporting career development is a wonderful way to encourage high performance.

When choosing development activities, work with the teacher to identify suitable ones and don't forget the power of on-the-job learning. Research has shown that up to 90% of the learning we do is on the job. So look for in-class or in-school opportunities: mentoring by a senior or expert teacher, coaching by a specialist, opportunities for observation, group discussions/problem solving, etc. While learning new theories can be great, it's the practice that really helps us.

Establish an ongoing dialogue about performance
Teacher evaluations shouldn't be an annual activity, but rather an ongoing process where a teacher can get continuous feedback on what is expected, what they are doing well and where they can improve. Evaluators and administrators should establish an ongoing, two-way dialogue with teachers, aimed at supporting their performance and encouraging their development. Teachers should be involved in their evaluation and development, not be recipients of ratings and feedback. Teachers should be afforded a means to ask for help or suggestions in dealing with new situations or challenges, and to talk about successes and what underpinned them so they can be repeated.

When you spot excellence, acknowledge and reward it
One final way to support and encourage teacher development is to acknowledge and reward high performance. When evaluators spot excellence during formal or informal evaluation, they should highlight it to the teacher, but also to the larger staff so everyone can learn from the example. When you recognise and reward high performance, you invite more. Teachers feel valued and encouraged. And you foster a culture of development and excellence in your school.

Conclusion

By keeping a focus on ongoing development, you can ensure your teacher evaluations are positive experiences that benefit the teacher, the school and the students.

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