Difficult conversations about teacher evaluation

In my institution, we have a solid teacher evaluation system that has been in place for over twenty years, of course with adaptations along the way to face our ever-changing times. In this evaluation system, we try to balance the need for measurement and for development (Marzano, 2012). We also take into consideration teachers’ knowledge, awareness, skills, and attitude, according to Freeman’s (1989) KASA framework. Teachers are evaluated based on their performance in the classroom, with observations as data, as well as based on their role in the institution as a whole, using many other sources of data such as participation in school events, professional development activities, attendance, attention to rules and procedures, among others.

We believe that our evaluation system adheres to the principles Quirke (2015) considers essential in any teacher evaluation system:

  • Fair and respect diversity through transparency of processTeacher centered and driven
  • Linked to teacher’s professional development; aiming to enhance teaching
  • Able to detect problems early and act upon them with teacher involvement
  • Both summative and formative, with consideration of the multiple roles of teachers
  • Consistent, valid, and reliable
  • Based on multiple data sources
  • Have clear and transparent documentation.

 

However, as with any sort of evaluation, there are tensions, and to address them, we conduct surveys from time to time to obtain feedback from teachers on the evaluation instrument and procedures. This was the case at the end of last year.

In this post, I am going to share some reflections based on teachers’ responses to the survey, with the aim of identifying what our teachers want from an evaluation, or appraisal, system. These thoughts are based on our experience, with the teachers in our institution and the process and procedures followed here, but I am sure they can shed light on evaluation systems in other contexts.

 

  1. It was clear from the survey results that our teachers find the evaluation necessary and useful. In other words, they understand the need for teacher evaluation in an educational institution. Since teacher evaluation is generally unheard of in Brazilian schools, this is a very positive feature.

 

  1. Teachers need to understand every small detail of the evaluation process to see it positively and, also, in order not to imagine or, even worse, go around telling stories that are not true. They need to know how the data is collected, by whom, how it is validated, and how it is used in the evaluation. They need to know how we assure validity and reliability. Anything we fail to tell them will become a mystery, and with the mysteries comes the gossip. In other words, transparency is essential.

 

  1. Even though teachers’ feedback on the evaluation instrument and procedures is extremely important, it must be made clear to them that not everything they suggest will be implemented. When people answer surveys, they sometimes expect all their suggestions to be followed. This is impossible. There will never be a consensus about what is right and wrong in an evaluation system. Besides, the suggestions can be conflicting, and we will have to choose one “side”. More importantly, while there are certain aspects that can be changed based on teacher’s feedback, there are others that cannot. There are items that reflect the core of the institution’s culture, so changing them would also affect the core institutional values. In our case, for example, investment in professional development is one of our core values. We want teachers to take courses, attend conferences and the like, so we have a specific item just for that, and it has a greater weight that some other items. A suggestion to eliminate this item or perhaps reduce its weight will probably not be implemented, as well-intentioned as the feedback may have been. However, teachers need feedback on which suggestions are being implemented and which ones aren’t, and why. The why is very important for buy-in.

 

  1. The evaluation feedback meeting is perhaps the most crucial step in the process. Many times, the tensions resulting from the evaluation process may be due to a badly-conducted feedback meeting. The evaluation feedback meeting needs to be conducted according to clear steps and procedures. Evaluators need to be able to explain all the markings very clearly and to have documentation to support their arguments. If anything remains unclear, the teacher will be more likely to find the evaluation biased.

 

  1. Some teachers still see the evaluation in a patronizing manner. Even though we have a self-evaluation form, in which teachers should state everything they did during the year that they think will contribute to their evaluation, many still expect the institution to be the Big Brother, watching their every move and registering this data. Teachers need to understand that they should be their own advocates. They are the agents of their evaluation and they should provide evidence of their professional activities, and not the other way around.

 

  1. Our evaluation has a formative element, in that teachers receive feedback on their classroom performance throughout the year, but it is summative in the sense that, at the end of the year, it sums up teachers’ performance in a form, which is then delivered in the feedback session. Some teachers want more constant feedback on their performance than this yearly feedback session. In fact, more frequent structured conversations with employees have been suggested to replace the old appraisal form in the business world. However, in our case, it would be impossible to adopt this, considering the number of teachers and evaluators involved. Also, not every teacher really wants such frequent feedback moments. A solution is for the ones who desire these more frequent encounters to seek feedback from their managers from time to time. Their leaders will be more than happy to provide it. Again, this is a matter of agency, of taking action, of being responsible for the outcomes of one’s career, rather than placing all the responsibility on the institution.

 

Evaluating professionals and being evaluated as a professional is never easy. Evaluation systems need to be constantly revised, and feedback from all the stakeholders is essential. It is also crucial that we not avoid the difficult conversations and that we make it clear to the staff what is negotiable and what is not negotiable. We will never please everyone, but everyone needs to be able to understand and respect the system, even if they do not agree 100% with it.

 

References:

Freeman, D. (1989) Teacher training, development and decision making: a model of teaching and related strategies for language teacher education, TESOL Quarterly Volume 23 (1), 27-45.

Marzano, Robert J. (2012). Teacher Evaluation: What’s Fair? What’s Effective? Educational Leadership, Volume 70 (3), 14-19.

Quirke, P. (2015). A System for Teacher Evaluation. In A. Howard and H. Donaghue (Eds). Teacher Evaluation in Second Language Education. New York, NY: Bloomsbury, pp 101-114.

Isabela Villas Boas

Isabela Villas Boas holds a Master's Degree in Teaching English as a Second Language from Arizona State University and a Ph.D. in Education from Universidade de Brasília. She has been at Casa Thomas Jefferson for 31 years, where she is currently the Academic Superintendent. Her main academic interests are second language writing, teacher development, ELT methodology, and assessment. She also supervises MA dissertations for the University of Birmingham. She has recently published the book “Teaching EFL Writing - A Practical Approach for Skills-Integrated Contexts.

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