Patrick Flynn is the Founder and Executive Director of ReVision Learning Partnership, an organization that is currently working with a number of Connecticut districts to develop teacher evaluation policies and instructional frameworks.

Classroom teaching is one of the most complex, challenging, and demanding jobs in our society.  The complexity of the teaching profession requires that a variety of measures be used to assess teacher performance in the classroom. An evaluation system works best when evaluations occur within a culture of learning and sharing and leaders are properly trained to observe, coach and support teachers.

Multiple Measures Are Needed to Accurately Assess a Teacher’s Performance.

A strong teacher evaluation system requires multiple measures and a variety of methods to assess teachers’ performance related to classroom teaching.  The work to support teachers in the process of improvement should never be isolated only to standardized assessments or classroom observations, although these are obviously important components.  Rather, principals need to broaden their systems of performance review to include what I call collegial conversations and documentation review, while ensuring that they are building open communities of trust and continuous improvement.

A Strong Evaluation System Thrives in a School Culture of Learning and Sharing.

As teacher evaluation systems are currently being rewritten across the country, routine and well-designed opportunities for constructive dialogue and sharing need to be embraced.  I believe that regular opportunities for conversation around teaching practice are at the core of the meaningful change within that practice.  Schools need to function as learning centers for teachers by allowing them to constantly improve their crafts through on-going review and practice of their own and each other’s work.  Review of lesson plans, activities, assessments, and other products of the teaching service should be routine.  Protocols for review, such as those found at the National School Reform Faculty, become powerful vehicles for this important component of a strong teacher evaluation system.  Call them what you want – professional learning communities, critical friend groups, data teams –it is time for these meaningful conservations to start happening. The impact of these conversations was best captured by a recent email I received from a district in which we at ReVision Learning Partnership are working to revise their teacher evaluation system.  We worked with them to create their own Instructional Framework and designed the methods for using that tool to address the 40% of the State Department of Education’s plan for reviewing teacher performance and practice.  This veteran director of curriculum within the district stated:

“I can’t believe the difference that the Instructional Framework and  the new teacher evaluation system is making on teachers and instruction.  I have never seen the talk about quality instruction and best practice that I have seen in the past two weeks.  Good teachers and mediocre teachers are talking about what it means to differentiate, ask good questions and make students responsible for their learning.  What a turn around.  Indeed what is evaluated is what is important.  We have said it, but until I saw it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it.  Truly remarkable.”

Principals Must Be Trained As Effective Leaders.

An important part of a strong evaluation system is training the leadership to implement accurate evaluations, and to support teachers through this process. In order for principals to be to be truly ready for this type of work, they must be trained to observe, coach, and routinely resource a potentially diverse group of teachers. Through my work at ReVision Learning, I have been identifying the type of training that principals need to become leaders who can:

  • Look for and describe quality instruction according to rubrics;
  • Look for and describe teacher performance outside of the classroom as part of overall teacher performance;
  • Engage in conversations with teachers that drive mutual learning and respect; and
  • Resource teachers with the right type of information, relationships, and professional development (i.e. create environments for teachers to be teachers).

So far, I am not ashamed to say that the task of training leadership to support and guide teaching is a complex one itself.  When we consider the day in the life of a typical school administrator and the demands placed upon him or her from central offices, parents, teachers and the public–it is hard to imagine how that administrator can still have the time and resources to impact teaching effectiveness. After all, most administrators have an incredible host of responsibilities on top of supervising what can be upwards of 30 teachers in many of CT’s districts. The essential components of quality teacher evaluations, as promoted by the State Department of Education guidelines, can be a powerful mechanism for districts to move practice towards authentic instructional leadership and peer-to-peer teacher improvement.  The focus on continuous review and feedback relative to the instructional programming that directly impacts our students daily, and the formation of communities of continuous learners among our principals and teachers, will ultimately create the environments for improved student achievement. In the next phase of implementation, districts and schools  need to focus on these components to ensure new environments of growth for teachers, leaders and, ultimately, students.

The ideas expressed in this blog post reflect the views of the writer and are not necessarily those of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER). For information about CCER’s stance on these issues, see our Report outlining 65+ recommendations for how Connecticut can close its achievement gap while raising academic outcomes for all students.