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November 2015
Volume XII Issue XI

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Supervision and Evaluation: The View from My Back Porch


Bruce Oliver

Bruce facilitating a Leading the Learning® workshop

Much has been written of late about teacher evaluation procedures being implemented in districts across the country, some of which involve complicated formulas and percentages. Study of these new approaches and personal observation of the impact of those procedures led me to contemplate the informal conversations I’ve had about the supervision and evaluation process with current and former administrators, many occurring on my back porch.

The comments below capture the essence of their beliefs and practices around the supervision and evaluation that they think have the greatest positive impact on teacher professional growth and student learning.  

Teacher supervision and evaluation

  • should never be a “gotcha”
  • should be much more than busy work
  • can be differentiated to fit each teacher’s needs
  • is strongest when the teacher is the source of her own improvement
  • is about helping people be the best they can be
  • must include growth-producing feedback
  • is best when it is a team effort
  • has to be fair
  • is not an event but is on-going
  • involves multiple opportunities to reach success
  • should always focus on student learning
  • should include empirical as well as anecdotal data
  • is honest, no pretending
  • should never just be a checklist
  • should be motivational
  • provides multiple opportunities for one-on-one professional development
  • must be transparent and include a clear and precise process
  • should include the quality, frequency and intensity of teacher behavior
  • is not a blame game and should not be filled with empty excuses
  • is about reflection
  • is best when it includes modeling
  • includes the belief that we are all on the same team

What I found particularly interesting is that almost no one mentioned test scores, forms, standards, percentage of rating related to student academic progress, checklists (print or digital), teacher dismissal, walk-throughs, rubrics, or stress. There were, of course,  multiple mentions of the amount of time required to carry out the process in a fair and complete manner. Actually, that isn’t surprising given that supervision of instruction is our primary responsibility.

The rest of this issue is devoted to expanding on several of the components of positive and productive supervision and evaluation processes listed above.

Trusting Relationships
Teacher evaluation should never be a “gotcha.” One essential ingredient of a strong school culture is trust, trust between administrators and teachers as well as trusting relationships among teachers who work together. When administrators seek to find flaws in a teacher’s practice or specific lesson, and those imperfections become the focus of observation conferences, communication barriers become magnified. Teachers may be placed in a defensive mode and often leave the conference feeling demoralized or lacking in skills. Conversely, when administrators recognize the positive aspects of a lesson at the outset and shed light on teaching practices that resulted in student learning, the teacher will most likely have an open mind and be more willing to participate in a collaborative conversation about teaching improvements that would enhance student learning even more. For some teachers, a conference with an administrator can be a stressful situation when the administrator “holds all the cards” in the form of observation notes; this stress can be minimized by making a copy of the notes (without judgmental comments) and sharing them with the teacher so that he too can analyze them before the conference.  No one likes to be blindsided with bad news that becomes the focus of the conference.

Differentiated Supervision and Evaluation
Just as we expect teachers to differentiate lessons to meet individual as well as group learning needs, the evaluation process should not be a “one size fits all” process. A wise leader will diagnose individual teacher needs and tailor the supervision and evaluation process to meet those needs. Requiring every teacher to follow the exact same process may result in unnecessary extra work for teachers who have already shown proficiency in identified areas. The purpose of the supervision and evaluation process is to improve student learning in every classroom. Thus, some teachers may need more or different attention, time and support. Exemplary teachers are often more anxious than other teachers to engage in professional interactions about improving teaching and learning.

Open Mind
Neither administrators nor teachers should operate under the misguided belief that they “know it all” and do not have to strive for improvement. Resting on one’s laurels can become a dangerous impediment to achieving even greater success.  Teachers should be in tune with the latest research in order to meet the needs of their ever-changing student population.  Administrators must not only do that, they must also continue to evolve in their role as supervisors and evaluators by reflecting on their data gathering and analysis skills and asking themselves if they are truly making a difference in helping teachers be the best they can be. The process should never be about “making it through” the next observation and reflective conference. 

Second Chances
Some teachers may need multiple opportunities to achieve success. In many classrooms today, teachers are providing more than one chance on an assessment for students to demonstrate their learning. Students who demonstrate improvement as a result of a second chance become more motivated, work harder, and reach goals more readily. The same can be said for adults. When a lesson does not go as planned during an observation, the teacher may become discouraged and overly stressed.  Some administrators will help teachers diagnose what went wrong during a lesson by having an open and honest discussion about the lesson’s flaws. The original observation then becomes moot and another observation is scheduled so that the teacher has a chance to implement, analyze and reflect on, and discuss with the administrator on the impact of the instructional shifts. As a result of this type of support and collaboration, the teacher will feel that she is treated fairly and honestly.

Improved Performance
The supervision and evaluation process should result in better teaching on the part of the teacher and improved learning on the part of each student. For this to occur, growth-producing feedback must be a part of the process. As Grant Wiggins noted, feedback to students should be about specific steps a student can take to reach a learning goal. Feedback should not be vague, confusing, or overly broad.  When a teacher leaves a conference, he should know precisely what next actions to take to improve his practice. The administrator may not know exactly what the teacher should do, but by asking reflective questions during the conference, solutions may emerge, often from the teacher himself. Much as we want students to summarize their learning at the end of a class or lesson, good practice is to have the teacher explain his current understanding of next steps and his intentions for implementing what was discussed at the conference.

Team Effort
When a teacher sees an evaluator enter the room with pen and pad in hand, nerves can take over, and the teacher may not be as effective as she normally is. Peggy Schooling, Director of Teaching, Learning and Development at the Marzano Center writes, “To ease anxiety about informal observation (particularly if this is a new practice), I recommend that an observer begin by announcing the day of the week these will be taking place. For example, this week I will be visiting all primary classrooms or the social studies wing or all 6th grade teachers. Once teachers are comfortable with having an administrator in their room, observations can move to unannounced informal observations.” This type of behavior on the part of an administrator sends several messages:  “I want you to be the best you can be,” and “We’re all on the same team.”

Ineffective Checklists
In some districts, reflective conferences following observations are not a required part of the observation process. In these districts, a checklist is often completed (on paper or digitally) and later appears in a teacher’s mailbox with some items checked off and others left blank. The teacher is asked to sign the checklist and return it to the administrator.  Paula Rutherford, author of Leading the Learning, and I agree that this convention is inappropriate and ineffective way to supervise and evaluate teachers. When there is no face-to-face discussion about the observed teaching and learning episode, the process lacks credibility or meaning. When a teacher receives such a checklist, it is up to that individual to interpret what a check (or lack thereof) means. The teacher is left asking herself, “How did I do?” or “Where do I go from here?”  That, in fact, is not the question we want teachers to be asking themselves. The proper questions are, “Were all the students engaged in active and meaningful learning?”  and “How did this lesson help students learn at high levels?” and “What data do I have that students learned?”  “It is,” as Rutherford often says, “what happens after the teacher stops talking that counts.”

Complete Transparency
It is imperative that administrators provide clear, concise information about the evaluation process and how it is implemented at the school site. Most states and districts have published, and are expected to use with fidelity, detailed criteria (often with a rubric) for professional practice that is to be used in supervision and evaluation. Going from a written list of generalizations to specific teaching and learning actions that can be used as data or evidence requires a common language and concept system. Such transparency is essential and begins with discussions about what constitutes good teaching and learning; these discussions are strengthened with opportunities for peer observations, learning walks, and the viewing of video clips of classroom episodes. When teachers engage in collaborative discussions about what it will look and sound like in a classroom when true learning is occurring, they are most likely to view the process more positively since they were involved them in the proceedings and the criteria was not simply a “top-down” pronouncement.

Professional Dialogues for Leaders
Not only should schools encourage dialogues among teachers about instructional practice, but administrators should set aside time to discuss the evaluation process with other administrators and how it is being implemented throughout the district and in the school. This is not only a productive activity for new administrators but experienced administrators as well.  Many administrative preparation programs do not address the specifics of teacher evaluation. Thus, novices must learn on the job. When administrators engage in conversations about their roles as supervisors and evaluators, the desired outcomes of the process, and the specific skills and procedures involved, they not only improve their adeptness but they become more consistent in how the process is implemented. The end result is to have every member of the administrative staff be a stronger instructional leader.

Ultimate Goal
All evaluation systems are multi-layered and filled with abundant detailed information. It is very easy to get caught up in the particulars of the process and lose sight of its overall purpose: To improve teaching and learning. Whatever evaluation model is used, the focus must be on helping teachers and administrators become more skilled at carrying out their assigned roles. As educational consultant Charlotte Danielson has written, “Those who support teachers….must be able to recognize classroom examples of the different components of practice, interpret the evidence against specific levels of performance, and engage teachers in productive conversations about their practice. Evaluators must be able to assess teachers accurately so teachers accept the judgment as valid and the public has confidence in the results.” 


Resources and References


Charlotte Danielson. “Evaluations That Help Teachers Learn.” Educational Leadership. Alexandria, VA: ASCD. December 2010/January 2011, pp 35-39. Available at www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/dec10/vol68/num04/Evaluations-That-Help-Teachers-Learn.aspx

“Informal Observations – It’s Not a ‘Gotcha’ Tactic.” Marzano Center Staff blog posting  July 21, 2012. Available at: www.marzanoevaluation.com/news/informal-observations-its-not-a-gotcha-tactic/

Oliver, Bruce. “The Power of Walk-Throughs.”  Just for the ASKing! e-Newsletter. Alexandria, VA: Just ASK Publications, August 2009. Available at www.justaskpublications.com/just-ask-resource-center/e-newsletters/just-for-the-asking/the-power-of-walk-throughs

Oliver, Bruce. “Conferences That Make a Difference.” Just for the ASKing! e-Newsletter. Alexandria, VA: Just ASK Publications, December 2006. Available at www.justaskpublications.com/just-ask-resource-center/e-newsletters/just-for-the-asking/conferences-that-make-a-difference/

Oliver, Bruce. “Supervision and Evaluation: Let Common Sense Prevail.”  Just for the ASKing! e-Newsletter. Alexandria, VA: Just ASK Publications, December 2012. Available at www.justaskpublications.com/just-ask-resource-center/e-newsletters/just-for-the-asking/supervision-and-evaluation-let-common-sense-prevail

Pigford, Aretha. “It’s What Happens after the Teacher Stops Talking that Counts.” Principal, pp 38-40, May 1989.

Rutherford, Paula. Leading the Learning. Alexandria, VA: Just ASK Publications. 2005.

Wiggins,  Grant. “Feedback: How Learning Occurs.”  Big Ideas:  An  Authentic Education e-Journal. May 22, 2010. Available at www.authenticeducation.org/ae_bigideas/article.lasso?artId=61


Permission is granted for reprinting and distribution of this newsletter for non-commercial use only. Please include the following citation on all copies:
Oliver, Bruce. “Supervision and Evaluation: The View from My Back Porch.” Just for the ASKing! November 2015. Reproduced with permission of Just ASK Publications & Professional Development (Just ASK). © 2015 Just ASK. All rights reserved. Available at www.justaskpublications.com.