A quality evaluation is a beginning; a useless one, an end.
That’s the conclusion I draw from a quote by the legendary Madeline Hunter in a recent Ed Week article by David Finley: “If you hear someone playing the piano, it doesn’t take long to figure out if it’s Liberace or the boy next door practicing.” Hunter was referring to teacher evaluation and although she may be right, so what?
After all, it’s true that a teacher can be fairly and quickly judged in short, qualitative terms: It’s not particularly hard to tell whether a teacher is a virtuoso or a fledgling. Clearly, that judgment is too black and white. (See #TeachingIs: 50 Shades of Grey.) But I’ve publicly suggested, tongue-in-cheek, that we adopt six-word evaluations modeled on Smith Magazine’s six-word memoirs:
- “Gets better every year: a keeper”
- “Red flags all over this one.”
- “Builds community like no one else.”
- “Loved by students for wrong reasons.”
That’s funner to play as a game than actually adopt as a policy, but aren’t short, general descriptions how we judge our colleagues, at in our own minds? Granted, after that judgment we can go on at length about our reasons, but as an illustration, think of some different colleagues where you work. I bet your first thought is a one or two word statement of overall quality, followed by a short, five or six word explanation.
And I don’t think any of this kind of thinking about colleagues is a particularly bad in and of itself, but what end does it serve?
So while it might be possible to make a short, accurate qualitative opinion about a teacher, that opinion will almost certainly be static and unserviceable. In contrast a useful evaluation looks forward and defines the shape of next piece in a teacher’s professional puzzle.
In the case of the virtuoso, the next piece might involve finding means by which they can share their expertise or assume more roles as a teacher leader. The next piece for the novice might be a concrete quantitative goal, like cutting transition times by half or something more complex, like creating more informative assessments.
Regrettably, my district’s evaluation tool is an amalgam generated by combining student results on standardized tests with an observation and reflection protocol that intends to be growth oriented but is ridiculously onerous for teachers and administrators. And at the end results in a single number that purportedly describes the teacher’s quality.
Which by the criterion at the start of this post makes it useless in practice and a lot less fun than the six-word evaluation game.