Many teachers primarily view evaluations as a part of the disciplinary process. But as more states pass teacher effectiveness laws, schools are starting to see evaluations as a way to help teachers grow professionally — and ultimately help students learn.
Through mobile, video and cloud-based tools, schools give teachers feedback quickly and consistently and based on how their teaching matches up to clearly defined standards.
As Indiana started implementing a new teacher effectiveness law, administrators needed an easy way to manage evaluations and observations on top of everything else they had to do.
But North Daviess Community Schools didn't find any tools that met its needs. So one enterprising administrator created his own tool on the side with three educators from other places. Now nearly 60 school districts in Indiana use the tool, and other states have expressed interest.
Standard for Success allows administrators to evaluate teachers in the cloud with any mobile device. Once they open up the system, they see the rubric they're evaluating teachers on and take notes during class.
Back at their desk, they can fine-tune their notes and send the evaluation to the teacher immediately. From an administrator perspective, on-site and district-level leaders can see how many assessments have been completed, who’s completing them and how many more they have to go.
They also see how whole departments and schools are doing in specific areas. That way, they can target professional development if teachers are weak in a certain area.
"Before, evaluations were used mainly if you were just wanting to get rid of somebody," said Todd Whitlock, technology and curriculum coordinator for North Daviess Community Schools and 2007 National School Boards Association 20 to Watch honoree. "Now evaluations are used for all of us to grow professionally."
This year, KIPP Houston High School created a new tri-annual observation system for teachers that includes full classroom observations, video recordings of a class period and instructional coaches that teachers work with directly. Throughout the year, mentors design evaluation templates that address specific areas each teacher is working on.
Mentors also record at least one 60 minute class, share the video with the teacher and talk about it afterward. That way, teachers can see what they’re actually doing and analyze it with the administrator.
Because they see their own problem areas, teachers actively want to improve. One teacher stayed in one part of the room too much, said Lara Wheatley, school leader of KIPP Houston High School. After the teacher saw the video on the Sibme platform, she asked Wheatley to keep track of how much time she spends in that space over the next few observations.
This continual observation, feedback and analysis has created an open door culture where teachers want to grow professionally.
"We're not looking for perfection," Wheatley said. "We're really looking for teachers who are constantly striving to get better."
By asking teachers to reflect on their classroom experiences, Nutley Public Schools in New Jersey encourages them to get better. Because teachers write about their experience in the classroom, they can identify areas where they did well and areas they need to work on. And that helps administrators understand how to assist them.
Along with reflection, the district asks teachers to submit evidence of their work to show why they should be considered a master teacher in a particular area.
The third piece of the puzzle for Nutley Public Schools is regular classroom visits from principals and superintendents who observe and evaluate teachers based on the Framework for Teaching from teacher effectiveness expert Charlotte Danielson. In informal visits, administrators spend 20 minutes observing a class and email a quick note to a teacher afterward.
The district houses teacher reflections, evidence and evaluations in tools from Performance Matters. Instead of being used as a “gotcha” tool, evaluations are used for teacher improvement, which means students benefit too.
"It should really be seen as a professional growth tool," said Andrew Levine, director of instructional technology and communication for Nutley Public Schools.