I had a meeting last week with my mentor and our conversation throughout the day rolled around the idea of teacher evaluation. What she taught me is that “teacher evaluation” is going to take on a whole new meaning…and it’s about time.
Here’s are some thoughts we batted around:
- Teacher evaluation has to turn from a “gotcha!” (as in “gotcha doing something wrong”) into a very important step in tailoring professional development for teachers
- Teacher evaluation is going to be one of the first steps in designing “individualized teacher plans” for professional development
- Long gone should be the “one size fits all” type of professional development – we MUST take into account our staff’s individual experience, expertise and skill
- Individualized professional development plans are going to require principals and coaches to have a much higher knowledge of how to diagnose and prescribe teacher professional development programs
- We are going to need to learn to turn back to having the “teachers doing the doing” – putting them in the lead. If it doesn’t come from the teachers, the work won’t penetrate the classroom level.
- Our greatest asset is our teaching staff – we have to cultivate, weed and prune our talent pool, just as any other field does
So let me play this out for a minute here…
I am a 7th grade teacher who has some struggles with lesson planning. My general teaching skill is pretty darn good, but in terms of creating cohesive lessons and mini-assessments for my content, I don’t have that skill. During an observation, my principal and coach realize that my delivery is solid, but when I have to create lessons where curriculum guides don’t exist, the overall complexity of my lessons is at about the 4th grade level.
In the “old” way of teacher evaluation, I would receive feedback (typically in written form) from my principal, detailing the problems in my lesson.
And that’s it.
Yep – try figuring out what happens next! Try getting some real coaching! In fact, I’m not quite sure what KIND of support I even need! Help!
Under the “new and improved” paradigm of teacher evaluation, my principal and coach would meet with me and talk through the lesson, asking me lots of questions about my lesson preparation practices, where I pull my materials and where I believe my lesson struggles originate. We would probably identify together that I need some lesson planning support and would be invited to the coach’s weekly “lesson plan retreat” that’s held after school for teachers who need some hand-holding in this area. My other department colleagues wouldn’t necessarily attend this training/coaching session because their needs are different than mine.
In fact, I teach next to Mr. Tate. He’s an excellent teacher, but this year he has a bunch of Gifted and Talented kids in his classroom for the first time. When he met with the principal to make his quarterly goals, his #1 goal was to learn about techniques for his Science class that are particularly supportive of the Gifted and Talented kids. So, the coach approaches Mr. Tate and lets him know that the district is running a 3 week webinar about how to plan lessons specific to Gifted and Talented kids. He signs up…and even comes and shares information with me after every class!
THIS is true differentiated evaluation as professional development.
Nowhere in that scenario do you hear, “You WHAT? You don’t KNOW that?????” The response from the leadership is “I’ll get you help so that you can move along in your mastery of teaching skills.”
I’m sure you’re thinking, “Oh my gosh, this is going to take so much coordination.” Yep – it is. But it’s going to become HOW we think WHEN we act with a tailoring mindset.
I think we’ve clung to traditional “everyone gets the same thing” professional development because it FELT like we were really doing something special – like we were actually giving people what they needed to become more efficient and effective in the classroom.
But the truth is this, no matter how you slice it: Our classroom teachers have all kinds of different needs!
We can’t possibly say that 90%+ of professional development needs are the same for every teacher, can we?
So, here’s my encouragement to you as you prepare for what, no doubt, will be the future of teacher evaluation: Chart out all of the different resources you have RIGHT NOW that would help you differentiate professional development.
Second step? Create a very simple survey for your teachers that give them an opportunity to respond freely to these questions:
- What is the #1 thing getting in the way of your teaching of the content?
- What kind of professional development do you think would be helpful in combating that “in the way” thing?
- What type of professional development leaves you feeling like you really learned a lot on a new/semi-new topic?
Just the answer to these simple questions will help you begin to tailor your school’s PD! And that’s a great start!
“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”
― Albert Einstein
For those of you who know me, you know I’m obsessed with simple goals that lead to big results. In fact, I just guest authored a blog over the holidays where the basic premise was this: we have everything we need, we just need to to simply and faithfully use it!
So, the fact that it’s 2013 already (gulp!) and we’ve got to get started on our big plans, tells me that the goals don’t mean a thing unless we have a route to get to ’em!
So, what we’ve been using regularly with our clients is a very simple 3-tiered goal setting sheet. (I’ve scanned in the copy of one I was just sending my client in preparation for our upcoming work together!
Basically, what we do to create our pathway for success is set goals that are broad and then funnel very tightly down into personal goals to be implemented right there in the classrooms. Annnnnnnnd…voila! Goals are met!
So, where do you get started?
One of our clients chose, “Every classroom will increase student engagement by 15% in the first trimester” as Goal #1 for “Program Implementation Goals”. Then each site got together and mirrored their goal #1 from the district’s #1 goal at the very top. One of the schools made their site goal, “We will implement 2 main structures 5xs each daily in order to increase our student engagement in reading and math: Think, pair, share and response journals”.
Then after each site makes their site instructional goals, each individual teacher then creates his or her personal goal related to the district and site goal.
Here’s the cool thing: Without focusing on 10 zillion different things, EVERYONE is working toward the same goal!
The other cool thing: The work is TAILORED to the site and the individual teacher so that we’re not duplicating work that has already been done or missing big pieces because we’ve avoided customized goals
Yet another cool thing: The work is tailored to reach directly into the classroom with the students. Too many reforms are focused “above” the classroom and never funnel in. By ensuring that individual teachers make goals, we’re reaching right there into the student level – and that’s where the action all happens, anyway!
The other cool thing? Critical mass – -the “spectacle” that arises when everyone is doing the same thing – – it creates momentum of its own. And that’s a beautiful thing.
Now, I know some of our readers are thinking, “But WAIT – we have 10,000 goals on our school improvement plans…how does focusing on 3 areas help us meet all 10,000?” Here’s my answer to that: quality over quantity. Period. I’d also offer this advice: doing small things well is contagious – once you get that “I did it!” feeling, you have more energy and confidence tackling the next thing!
So…where are YOU starting? Talk to me! 🙂
I often wonder if we changed our thinking about accountability in schools, if we’d get a better result in the classrooms?
Here’s what I’m thinking: Instead of focusing on ACCOUNTABILITY (of tests, of standards, of evaluations, of observations) we should focus on RESPONSIBILITY and create PURPOSE.
In fact, accountability in schools can just feel like “big brother’s watching over my shoulder” when it’s not attached to RESPONSIBILITY AND PURPOSE. Think about it, when we just go about our business and we’re focused on “meeting the expectations of ‘the district'”, there is little oomph (or joy!) in the work. But when I’m really super excited and invested in a particular subject area or technique I’m using with my kids, I’m teaching like my hair’s on fire – accountability or no accountability!
Here’s the deal, accountability in schools is a given – we don’t have a choice. BUT purpose? Well, we have a BIG OPPORTUNITY TO create, recreate and be motivated by purpose everyday. And that’s no one’s job but our own!
Let’s look at a good working definition of accountability: the state of being accountable, liable, or answerable.
Now let’s take a look at a definition of purpose:
1. the reason for which something exists or is done, made, used, etc.
2. an intended or desired result; end; aim; goal.
3. determination; resoluteness.
Here’s what popped out to me as I read those definitions: Purpose is not just a pie-in-the-sky idea or thought – it’s built upon action and RESULTS. And accountability is RESULTS driven, too!
Soooo….without purpose, then accountability is ALWAYS going to feel like “the district” or “the man” is breathing down our necks!
Let me tell you a little story that just happened THIS MORNING!
We work with some larger school districts with the goal of helping them implement their reading programs and get organized on their Common Core implementations. One of our districts has 19 elementary schools – they’re all trying to accomplish the SAME THING and they are held accountable for the same levels of performance: implement their reading programs so expertfully that they get 80%+ kids on benchmark just with their Tier I instruction! (By the way, it IS possible…email me if you want to know how!)
I had two emails from this particular client in my inbox this morning: 1 email from what I consider to be an “on fire” principal – SHE ISN’T MESSING AROUND! (My kind of gal!) She was asking for some feedback on a letter that she was sending her staff, motivating them to really power through until the holidays, rather than limp into the holidays – she was having them choose 2 kids in their classrooms that are not currently benchmark, but would be by December 15th!
And then 1 email from a very nice, kind principal complaining that he just “doesn’t have any time to get into classrooms because he spends his time putting out fires all day” and he’s behind on his observations and hasn’t met with his leadership team lately.
Well, I have news for ya: both principals have the same size schools, the same highly impacted, low poverty clientele and are held to the same standards…as they should be! One is getting it done and ASKING THE DISTRICT TO COME WALK THROUGH THE CLASSROOMS and the other is mulling over the same stuff as last year and is bemoaning why “the district” always shows up unannounced to walk through classrooms.
What’s the difference? Not accountability! They both have visits from the district!
The difference is PURPOSE LINKED TO ACCOUNTABILITY. The principal who asked for feedback from me on her mission for her teachers is doing what she’s doing because she’s passionate about the “doing” for their students…she’s not worrying at ALL about “the district” or “the test”. The other principal? He’s so focused on “the district” and “the test” that he’s, AT BEST, trying to meet the minimum requirement.
Doesn’t sound very inspiring to me…what do YOU think?
BUT HERE’S THE DEAL! Accountability is what “they” put into place to monitor school improvement, but meaning and purpose is what “we” put into place to drive us each day – – especially on those days when we don’t have accountability checks!
It’s like exercise, guys…do I get up and do my exercising when my exercising partner is sick and doesn’t show up on my back door at 5:30 a.m. or do I snooze and decide to sleep in? If I snooze and sleep in then I’m accountability driven – motivated only by my friend showing up on my back doorstep! If I get my tired and lazy behind up, then I’m purpose driven – I know that I am committed to improving my health even on those days I don’t feel like it!
So, you know I have to ask…in your work in your schools…are you accountability crabby or purposely going about your business?
My awesome colleague, Linda Farrell (check her out at www.readsters.com!), shared this information from a conference that she attended…and I wanted to share these cool apps for teaching reading with YOU!
First of all, I must admit – I AM BEHIND on getting on the education app train. I have apps for everything instead of education! DUH!
So, I’m getting myself in order…and thought you might want to join me!
Here are some apps and their reviews that Linda picked up for us as she attended a session at a recent conference:
LetterSchool lite – free
LetterSchool – $2.99
- Writing the letters.
- A good app. Very engaging for students
- The sound for the letter x is /z/ as in zylophone
- Students do not have to name the letter as they trace it.
Sound Sorting by Lakeshore
Beginning Sounds Interactive Game – $0.99
- Cute graphics.
- Worth $0.99
Sound Literacy – $24.99
- Has letters, graphemes, prefixes, suffixes, roots, and bases for spelling words
- Can be used with virtually any phonics program
Spelling City – Free
- GET THIS ONE!
- Has a link to the web so you can make your own lists.
- Has homophones, vocabulary, sentence scrambles, handwriting practice.
Bob Books have two apps:
- Bob Books #1 – Reading Magic – $2.99
- Bob Books #2 – Reading Magic – $2.99
Interactive books by Loud Crow:
- Pop Out! The Tale of Peter Rabbit – $4.99
- Others by Loud Crow may be good, too, but they weren’t reviewed in the presentation.
Vocab Rootology HD – Greek and Latin Roots and Etymology – $2.99
- An excellent app for older students.
Have you guys tried any apps that you’d recommend?
So in our last two articles, we’ve looked at what it’s going to take to INCREMENTALLY implement the Common Core Standards – – – note the emphasis on incrementally! (We can’t continue to do the whole throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bath-water thing we have the tendency to do in education!).
We looked at how you plan for one domain of the standards by using your current curriculum to figure out where you’re strong, where you’re weak and which Standards aren’t taught at all. Then we looked at creating common mini-assessments for the target domain.
Now we’ve got to look at how we’ll construct our lessons.
(It’s at this point that you might want to throw in the towel and think, “Can’t someone just write all of these lessons for me already? I mean, isn’t my time well spent on the teaching, not the creating portion of the Common Core?????”).
Well yes. And no.
Um, what I mean is this: you will have to put in the time up front to design the lessons that are going to be efficient and effective in getting kids to the point of mastery in the new standards. The cool thing is, that while you’re designing the lesson and mini-assessments, you’re going to get better at learning the Standards – they will become near second-nature to you. And that’s a GREAT thing!)
We’re going to start simply as we build our lessons – we’ll get more mature, fancier and even better at it as we go. The first goal? START SOMEWHERE!
Step 1: Read the standard thoroughly and completely. Read the standard from the grade levels prior and up a couple of grade levels above yours
Step 2: Jot down all of the vocabulary/academic language from the standard – you will need to weave this into your lesson, so keep your list close by
Step 3: Take a few minutes to brainstorm (DON’T OVERTHINK!) all of the necessary skills that go into “knowing” or mastering that standard – in other words, what does the standard assume that your kids will know how to do?
Step 4: Take a piece of blank paper and fold it in ½ and then ½ again. (This will give you 4 boxes…yes, I know I’m a total math wizard…please hold your applause)
Step 5: Jot “Teach” at the top of one box, “Model” at the top of another…then follow up with “Guided Practice” and “Application”
Step 6: Start creating your lessons by writing the instruction into each of the boxes – WHERE YOU CAN USE YOUR CURRICULUM, DO SO! It’s not likely that you’ll be starting from absolutely scratch in every box – but it IS likely that you’ll have to add and delete to make your lessons more standard-worthy
You may be thinking – – wait a minute Jackson! What if my lessons aren’t good? How do I know if they’re good? Can’t you just write them for me? I’ll pay you!! – – ha ha!
This is how you’ll know your lesson is successful – if the kids pass the mini-assessment. (See last week’s article)
Here’s your mantra for lesson designing: I CAN DO THIS. I’M LEARNING TO FLY THE PLANE WHILE I’M FLYING IT. MY LESSONS WILL IMPROVE IN THEIR DESIGN AND MATURE AS I DO THIS. KEEP MOVING FORWARD. THINK CAREFULLY, BUT DON’T GET STUCK ON OVERTHINKING.