Saturday, June 1, 2013

Teacher-Led Evaluations

As my job has evolved over the years, my role and responsibilities have changed to reflect our school's understanding of the changing paradigm in education. When I started at the school in 2006, my job title was "technology coordinator." I always had the seeds of something else inside, but it took time and other changes to bring that to the surface. After a brief stint as "21st century learning specialist," I adopted the job title, this year, of "Director of Teaching and Learning." Teaching and learning-- that's it. No need to specify that we are currently alive in the 21st century or that digital technologies are commonly used tools for learning in this day and age.

This "quasi-administrative" role is not only new for me, it is new for the school. Much of it is still in the process of being defined.  A lot of it looks the same as what I've been doing in previous years and previous job roles. Two new responsibilities I've adopted are working with the K-5 general studies teachers to outline a professional development plan at the start of the year and, for this same group of teachers,  twice-yearly formal observations.

Observations. Evaluations. Whatever they're called, many teachers find them a source of anxiety, the job-equivalent of high-stakes testing. One of my goals was to transform this process into something that felt natural, meaningful and useful, part of an ongoing pathway of growth and learning. Of course, this was only possible when I was already walking that road with the teacher. As Jim Knight writes about in Unmistakable Impact, A Partnership Approach for Dramatically Improving Instruction, so much hinges on the relationship.

Speaking of this book, another facet of my job was to participate in a book discussion group with our head of school, Jon Mitzmacher, learning and literacy Specialist, Silvia Tolisano and librarian, Karin Hallett. In the course of reading and discussing Unmistakable Impact, we realized the importance of working to design a collaboratively-created one-page target that would help us clearly outline goals for professional growth and development in the context of our school's vision for teaching and learning.

adapted from and inspired by
The creation of the target was a challenging undertaking. There were moments when I thought it might be an impossible task. However, as I look back, it seems that the discussions, debates and discomfort were part of the process.

Part of the learning path was the individualized professional development plans (PDPs) I co-created with each teacher.  4th/5th grade math and social studies teacher, Shelly Zavon's PDP focused in large part  on piloting our school's first student-led conferences (or SLCs). As the days went by and the separate but interconnected responsibilities of my job progressed, pieces of the puzzle started to come together. 

A question arose. If it made sense for students to "own" their conference, couldn't and shouldn't this idea apply to teacher evaluations as well? We started talking about the teacher-led conference or "TLC" and wondering what it would look like. What form would it take? How would feedback be shared? We know from experience that the best way to answer these questions is to try things with the mindset of "learn, reflect, share." So that is what we did.

I had the opportunity to experience the piloting of the first round of TLCs from both the perspective of listener and giver of feedback, as well as putting together my own documentation of growth and goals. I did not give my teachers much structure, as I wanted to see what they would put together. All I requested was that they tie their artifacts to the learning target, reflect critically and set goals. I received everything from handwritten pages of reflection to deeply self-evaluative Google docs with images and links.
Some samples:
 Shelly Zavon, shared some of hers on her blog.

My "TLC"
I decided it made more sense for me to use the ISTE Nets for Coaches for my TLC as opposed to the schools' learning target. As I went through the coaching standards, finding examples and artifacts of how I fulfilled each one, it was an extremely useful process for me. I had struggled during the year with the lack of clarity around what my job entailed. Being typically self-critical, I often felt like what I was doing wasn't enough, wasn't what I was "supposed to be doing" and I often wondered if I was making any kind of impact. Looking back, using this strategic reflective lens, gave me the opportunity to see my work in a more objective light and realize that I was actually fulfilling almost all of the diverse roles and responsibilities of a digital learning coach. 

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