Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Teacher-Led Evaluations

By on March 27, 2009

I was musing over a post at Bill Ferriter’s blog, “The Tempered Radical,” about “white space” teachers. These are the teachers who are doing great things quietly, unrecognized for their contributions to the overall success of a school.

So I began reflecting on my own staff and those “white space” teachers who are not extroverted enough to tout their own successes, or so modest that perhaps they don’t even know how good they are at such a hard job. These teachers, and others, go unnoticed by current teacher administrator-led evaluation policies. Clearly, these observations are not working.

I began reflecting on those teachers I have known in the past who, far more offensive then my prior example, scramble to show good practices when their observation time comes around. These teachers talk the talk, but refuse to use these practices for anything but these twice a year open-door moments. Clearly these observations, too, are not working.

I, must admit, however, that education has, thus far, not been great at policing itself. For this reason, and others, it has become a very top-down system when, in fact, it should be far more horizontal in influence. In fact, there are teachers even on my own site that I would dread being the one to evaluate me. But I wonder if there is a collaborative option that utilizes both teacher skill and administrator objectivity.

PLCs encourage opportunities for leadership to be offered at many levels on a site. Perhaps a co-evaluator of sorts can be that chance for a member of a department to step up and influence the vision and success of a school. Teachers must be involved in evaluating one another.

Even the Oscars are voted on by their peers. Do you think that Mickey Rourke knows jack about Sound Editing? No. It’s the sound editors that do the evaluating.

Is this suggestion ripe with issues that must be solved before it can advance? Sure. I can predict problems if this were an unstructured process with no pre-thought. But the fundamental issue is just and true. We must be involved. It is the skills that we possess that are being judged, and we are the keepers of the knowledge of success. If we can pin point and predict the potential problems with teacher-led evaluations, then we can move ahead in solving them.

What are those potential road hazards? Any outside-the-box solutions that you can already throw into the ring?

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  1. Bill Ferriter
    March 31, 2009

    Heather wrote:
    PLCs encourage opportunities for leadership to be offered at many levels on a site. Perhaps a co-evaluator of sorts can be that chance for a member of a department to step up and influence the vision and success of a school. Teachers must be involved in evaluating one another.

    Interesting post, Heather….and one that has me thinking about ideas that I’ve wrestled with over the course of the five years that I’ve worked in a pretty productive learning team.

    My question is this: Once teachers begin “evaluating” one another, does it change their willingness to collaborate openly? Will someone be willing to share resources with a colleague who is later going to judge their work?

    Are these answers different in today’s economic climate, when up to 10% of teachers nationwide are losing their jobs?

    I’ve been toying around with the idea of rewarding a team for their performance as a way of getting teachers to start “evaluating” each other. If I know that my group of teachers will earn a bonus for our collective student learning gains, I’m definitely going to want to look behind the curtains in the classrooms of the peers on my team.

    And my goal will be to help them improve, rather than to pass judgment—–While my intentions wouldn’t be completely self-less, they’d probably be pretty productive. I’d offer more support for struggling colleagues if I knew there was a chance of being financially rewarded for it.

    Any of this make sense?

  2. Tweenteacher
    March 31, 2009

    Hey Bill,
    What I am sure about is our need to be involved, not in judgment, but in formative mentorship. I just don’t know what it looks like yet.

    I recently responded to an interesting post on the Accomplished California Teachers ning (started by TLNs very own David Cohen). One of the VLC participants works at a school where teacher/mentors sit in for observations along with administrators. Then, during the observation meeting with the teacher, all three are participants and advocates in that teacher’s improvement. Sounds ideal.

    But I wondered if there was any discomfort for the teachers to have a colleague in the room, even if that colleague were there as an advocate and mentor. I think that this is where we should go, but when I think about my own staff and the small percentage of, hmmm, shall we say, “distrust of intention” that seems to live as a dormant plague in any staff, could that be implemented school-wide or department-wide or…I mean, how does a school role that out?

    I think if we start to focus more on collaborative evaluations, or teacher advocates who share their expertise with the goal of practice improvement, perhaps than this peer distrust may begin to dissolve. Perhaps I’m being hopeful.

    Another way we can be involved in is having a hand in designing the rubric of our own evaluation. It wouldn’t be so top-down and it would be a place to start in having teacher sit at the table of evaluative design.

    We can’t demand collaboration, but we can create more evaluative equity by involving teachers at any or all of the levels.

    Thanks for checking in and commenting. Hope to talk to you soon!


    aka Tweenteacher

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