Focus on Teacher Mindset and Positive Observations: Ideas for Developing Faculty
"Evaluation," the term itself, has a negative connotation, and in my experience, scares teachers. "How will I be evaluated?" "Who will be evaluating me?" "Will the evaluation method be fair?" "Will it play to my strengths or unveil my weaknesses?" There are schools that do evaluation well, but it's possible that focusing on evaluation doesn't promote growth or learning. When teachers are evaluated to prove they are effective enough to keep their jobs, they could be tempted to lock onto "what works" in the short-term. This is, of course, what students do when they just want to get the grade and are less concerned about learning for learning's sake.
Obviously we want our teachers to try new things, fail, learn, adjust, and then try again. This is the cycle of growth, which is less likely to happen when an evaluation system is tied to someone's professional security. A more effective evaluation system would be focused on a teacher's mindset:
___ Does the teacher value feedback from students?
parents? colleagues? administrators?
___ Has the teacher demonstrated that reflection is part
of their learning process?
___ How does this teacher respond to failure?
___ What resources (podcasts, blogs, books, videos,
etc.) does this teacher use to improve?
___ Does the teacher consistently demonstrate a positive attitude?
This is truly professional development. These questions should also be a part of the hiring process. Hire a teacher with the right mindset and your school improves. Hiring teachers based on credentials or experience doesn't necessarily guarantee that.
As a first-year Director of Curriculum and Instruction, I have implemented a development plan that is about growth. But part of the plan has some people scratching their heads. I am only highlighting teachers' strengths during my observations. The only question on my feedback form is "What did you love about this class?" Teachers aren't used to that approach. Some even wonder if focusing on what I love in a class will help them grow as professionals. Here's my reasoning for why this approach is better and more effective than normal evaluation forms:
1. To be an effective leader, I need to have a foundation. And I choose to start with a foundation based on a teacher's strengths. What does s/he do well? I don't want to use a "deficit model" when observing teachers for the same reason I don't like using traditional grading in my classroom. No relationship ends well when it begins by pinpointing flaws in a person's knowledge or behavior.
2. When I isolate and highlight what I love about a teacher's lesson, they develop clarity about my educational philosophy. They understand what I'm looking for. In my English class, I use this approach, too. Tell a student what you love in their essay, and they'll start doing more of that, guaranteed. This is not meant to manipulate; simply, many teachers are unsure of what their leaders are looking for. This approach gives more clarity.
3. People are aware of the places they need to grow. Through other methods, like a simple conversation or a shared article, I can help teachers articulate their weaknesses and develop an action plan. I believe if an observation scares someone, it's because they're afraid their weaknesses will be exposed. So let's remove that fear. We can easily observe areas of growth during the observation and consider other strategies to help that teacher.
4. A "strength model" builds trust and validates the teacher. Teachers are sensitive. They should be. They have one of the most important jobs in the world. It's deeply personal to them. Constructive feedback, therefore, needs to be given in the right way, in a way that says you're safe here. Not, "I'm identifying your weakness in this document that is filed away in a really important place."