Getting Away from the “Gotcha!” of Teacher Evaluation


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:

  1. 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
  2. Teacher evaluation is going to be one of the first steps in designing “individualized teacher plans” for professional development
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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. 
  6. 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:

  1. What is the #1 thing getting in the way of your teaching of the content?
  2. What kind of professional development do you think would be helpful in combating that “in the way” thing?
  3. 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

Teaching National Standards: Are They Dangerous?


I’ve been talking about teaching national standards and whether we’re heading down a slippery slope or whether we’re amidst the great hope of the future of education.

Here’s where I am the whole Common Core/national standards discussion…

  • National standards are leveling the playing field for ALL kids, which means we can’t play the “data dance” and shift kids around and use different standards from different districts/states as the reason why they haven’t excelled.
  • Implementing national standards means that we’ll be able to measure our teaching against those of our peers – – and I believe it’s about time that we do this so that we can raise the overall quality of our teaching.  We can’t raise the overall level unless we have a baseline – the standards will help us determine this baseline.
  • Those who feel as though “they’re always told what to do” will feel like they’re being told what to do by having to implement the common core national standards.  For those reflective, interested-in-refinement educators, the national standards will give them the push to adjust, alter, reflect, refine and teach like their hair’s on fire!
  • The Common Core Standards will support leadership in getting very clear on what they should be seeing in the classroom.  Having common expectations not only with “what” is taught, but  “how” it is delivered will mean that teacher observations, evaluations and walk-throughs by principals will be based on more than what the leader “likes” or “thinks is good practice”.
  • We will FINALLY have a detailed outline of what we consider “best practices” – in fact, I’m sick of folks using that term as a catch-all phrase to cover for every type of best practice/non-best-practice around! Whew!

The best part is, the Common Core will help move us from “what SHOULD a 5th grader really know????” to “Let’s get STARTED!”

So to answer the question: Is teaching national standards dangerous?  I don’t think so.  Certainly not any more dangerous than what we have been engaging in!

What do YOU think?  Leave a comment below now!

What are Common Core Standards Anyway? 7 Sure-fire Antidotes to Curing Common Core Confusion!

What are Common Core Standards Anyway? 7 Sure-fire Antidotes to Curing Common Core Confusion!


First of all, I think it’s really important that we establish a few things about the Common Core before we get rolling on figuring out what we DO about them…you might even find yourself thinking what are common core standards?

  • There is a big discrepancy between how we currently prepare kids for college/work life post-graduation and how we need to
  • The #1 class taken in college is a literacy/reading class
  • By 2018 64% of jobs will require a college education…and we are nowhere near producing kids that will meet that need
  • Our current instructional practices are not evolving along at the same pace as our world
  • In other words: We’ve got to get moving to align what we’re teaching with what’s really needed in the real world.  Starting now.  Like right now!

The Common Core Standards are the nation’s plan to help districts, schools, teachers, and kids get from current practice to real-world-success.  And real-world-success for our students MUST be the measure of our teaching success or failure.

So, how do we get started when there’s so much “huh?” and scratching of the heads around this topic?  Well, you just get started.

How’s THAT for clarification???  🙂

I was working with one of our longtime clients last week and we discussed their need to “just get a plan together”.  In other words – we want to get started, show us how!  They’ve already gotten started with Step 1 – – during our summer training we focused on how to get started with a universal approach to the Common Core  – focusing on one strand to get started with – and focusing on one strand that is important to all content areas.  They chose Speaking and Listening.

But now they’re needing to move forward on a larger plan and a bigger, more long-term picture.  

So, we laid out a 1.5 year plan to roll out all of the standards systematically (i.e.: NOT like crazy wild people who are freaking out about the new implementation, but more like people who take into account that we have to do one thing at a time well before we screw up the whole thing, overload and frustrate the teachers and freak everyone out).

You wouldn’t know anyone like THAT would you?

Ahem.  Moving on….

So, here’s a picture of what we came up with for our long-term plan for rolling out the Common Core:

Then, we came up with simple steps that they could take (with coaching and leadership guiding the way) to study, plan, execute and refine each strand of the standards.  And here’s what we came up with:

1. Reading the CCSS strand K-12 thoroughly

2. Analyze the CCSS focus strand for your grade level – – list the following:

  • What current instruction/material from the core program stays?  (appx. 50%)
  • What current instruction/material from the core program needs to be removed altogether? (appx. 20-25%)
  • What new instruction/resources need to be added? (appx. 20-25%)
  • What current instruction/material from the core program needs to be tweaked? (appx. 20-25%)

3. Choose key language from the standard – what are the terms that the CCSS use for this standard?  Move this language into student friendly terms/definitions.

4. Plot out CCSS by week (which standards will be taught/modeled/guided practiced when?) – use planning tools from our summer training to do this.  Start to plot out what the CCSS report card will look like for this strand

5. Create lessons – refer to Common Core Aligned Lesson Plan Template (see included doc following)

6. Create simple assessments/check-outs on the key skills from this strand.  (Rubrics, released test items, etc.)  Collect assessments (this will link to your work on creating the CCSS report card)

7. Reflect on your planning, preparation, assessment, student progress.  Make adjustments to your lessons/instructional plans to improve for next year.

The big idea was this: We don’t get farther down the road when we freak out and we certainly will not have all of the information that we need before we get started, but that doesn’t mean that getting started is the wrong thing to do!

In fact, teaching is often a discovery project – – we learn what to do, what not to do, how to adjust, what’s working, what’s not…WHILE we’re doing the work!

So, what’s one of these steps that you think your school is missing?  Which are you poised to do well?  Leave a comment below! I want to hear from you!