I am hoping to sum up my perspective on the recent history and new possibilities of Missouri’s Teacher Evaluation system.
My experience with evaluation
I have taught in Missouri/Kansas area for 11 years (8yrs-MO, 3yrs-KS) before becoming an administrator for the last 4 years (MO). I’ve seen different evaluation models in practice since the mid-1990s. The process probably should be the most important function of administrators. For us, this is as close to the real teaching and learning as we get! Unfortunately, the daily schedule diverts us from that focus into discipline, meetings, planning, phone calls, and the usual bureaucracy in an institution/organization.
My approach to evaluation
Confession: in my first four years of teaching, I filled out two of my evaluations over the summer and did not have a principal formally observe me once during the year. Those days (I think) have been gone for a while. As an administrator, I pride myself on following the district policy and doing the best evaluations that I can. I try to reflect on pedagogy and strong instructional strategies. More than anything, I try to emphasize good relationships with students and an encouraging perspective on ongoing professional development. Regardless, it’s still an awkward conversation and there is no doubt that I am acting as the “judge” of whether the teacher is adequate. In most cases, the conversations and recommendations are viewed as general encouragement but there are few strings attached to ensure that teachers pursue specific PD.
Previous evaluation model
In Missouri, the precious incarnation of the PBTE (performance based teacher evaluation) system centers around a large number of standards/criteria. These are not terribly specific, have minimal articulation, and are based on classifying the judgements I make from a formal observation into the appropriate theme area in the evaluation. In one district, I would make two full observations in a year, each complete with a teacher meeting and paperwork. This all led up to a short document where I checked “met” or “not met” for each standard. Frankly, you never check “not met” unless you are seriously considering termination. Of course this also includes the standard professional development planning where teachers identify conferences they might want to attend or PD groups in which they work. But that was the old system.
New system-my training
DESE (the local name for Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) is making exciting changes to the system. This isn’t some trendy, initiative of the month or anything. This has been a long term change with all of the trappings of a change that will be around for a while! As administrators we have been hearing about the work for years and we are finally “live” with the new system next year. DESE and Paul Katnik have made an extraordinary effort to communicate early and often about the changes and they have gone to great pains to make training consistent (whether you work in KC, STL, or any small town miles from a major highway). This is truly a statewide initiative to make a difference for teachers, students, and administrators. I have attended 3 training a just to describe the new system, before the formal training took place. This year alone, I have attended 4 modules on the new system which is consistent for every administrator. These modules are about the teacher evaluation concept and process – but it doesn’t actually get into the way my district will be doing it (districts have autonomy and choices to make in terms of the actual system and areas of focus). This is a philosophy and process with lots of room for the local agency to exercise their own judgement.
The basic idea: Evaluations should reflect a shift to a growth mindset- not simply assigning a label of “met” or “not met”. In the training they said to remove the “gotcha” and focus on “growth”. Of course, this will be a shift in perception a well as practice for many. Evaluations should be frequent and formative. In order to do this, we will no longer schedule two observations a year, but 6-10 a year with a length of approximately 6 minutes each. This was a shock to our collective systems. We have made a habit of doing a single long observation to capture all aspects of the lesson. Now, we are “popping in” for a short time (like a “walkthrough”) and focusing on one to three specific criteria. Within 24 hours of the pop in, we are to meet with the teacher to discuss specific non-judgmental observations that relate to the specific focus criteria. This meeting should be a conversation, not a “ruling” and should only last 6 minutes or so. Over the course of the 6-10 observations, the administrator will monitor the one or three focus areas and make a defendable description of the teachers skill in the specific area on a 7-point scale. These specific areas are embedded in a general evaluation that does include he 36 indicators – but there is substantial emphasis on just the identified growth areas (the one or two criteria). These growth areas (1-3) should be developed by the district, building level leaders, or individual teachers. This gives us a focus for PD, and helps us all to better define what the criteria is really all about. It makes the evaluations much more rich and improves he understanding of actually using the skill/strategy/process. This could make a difference for instruction and student learning! In many ways, the shift resembles the philosophy of Professional Learning Communities, Standards Based Learning, and Assessment for Learning. All good conceptual models!
Research rich resources and support
To support this focus, the state even has resources of criteria focused strategies from Hattie, Marzano, and Lemov. That’s right, it actually nes strategies hat have high success in reference to each of the 36 criteria. This helps drive PD for the school, support for teachers who need direction towards being better at a criteria, or even additional strategies for expert teachers looking to mix things up.
Exciting future-more information
Of course, these are my opinions and a general summary of the plan. I am excited to start using the plan! I have had training, I have been observing many teachers, watching short video clips (provided by DESE through the MOST website), and discussing how to look for specific examples that directly relate to the focus criteria. Most importantly, I have been working on having those short 6minute conversations with teachers about things I observed related to the specific focus criteria. The potential to make a difference for teacher acquisition of high value strategies and teacher growth in specific areas is huge! Also, there sheer frequency of evaluation will be a major shift for all of us.
If you would like to look at the DESE website, where you can view all of the powerpoints and videos from the four days of training, follow this link.
There is no hidden agenda or surprises. We are expected to show various parts of these materials with our teachers as part of their training. They need to know why and how we are making these changes. They need to know our focus areas so we can begin the dialogue and exploration of how to become stronger as educators. This is truly system support for a targeted approach to teacher growth in skills that have a real impact on student learning. It is an amazing time to be a teacher, student, and administrator in Missouri. From the trainings, I am under the impression that we (Missouri) are one of only a few states trying this new approach. This will be an adjustment for all of us, but it should be a major innovation for helping make our teachers even more confident and potent in helping our students learn!