[Editor’s note: This piece is the first in our May series on “Tales from Innovative Principals.” Be sure to check back every week for a new Principal POV story!]
I have been in school administration for 12 years now, and one of the things that I absolutely have learned to hate is the formal teacher evaluation process. In the past, it worked like this: I inform a teacher that it’s evaluation time, we have a pre-meeting, they put on a show, I take notes on the show, we sit down and we talk about the show that I saw (which in no way represents what they do every day), and then I give them an evaluation. The whole procedure was ridiculous to the point that I always dreaded it.
I wanted observation at Howard University Middle School (HUMS) to be a way for teachers to become better teachers, so for the 2016–2017 school year, we started asking them to capture videos of their lessons. The idea was that I could look at a video the way I wanted to: see a piece, stop, go back and look at it again, and then provide feedback that the teacher could use to improve their practice.
3 Better Teacher Evaluation Alternatives to “Gotcha” Tactics
Step 1: A Focus on Growth for Math Teachers
We started with the math department, because I was a math teacher before I became Head of School, and because HUMS has a focus on STEM and careers. Using the Insight ADVANCE platform ADVANCEfeedback, all the math teachers took a video of one class, and I used our instructional rubric to discuss different points that I saw in the classroom.
With a video as a common frame of reference, I didn’t have to comment on a show that they put on for me. Instead I said, “This is what I saw,” then they provided their feedback, and we agreed on what they needed to improve.
Some teachers were surprised by what they saw themselves doing. I remember one saying, “I really messed that part up. This is how I usually do it, and this is how I am going to do it differently.” To help guide the conversations in a positive direction, I used some of the techniques in the book Teach Like a Champion, and we talked about how they were going to implement the changes we discussed.
For this year, we are using video observation to focus only on growth. I have been asking the math teachers to capture videos twice a month—not necessarily of entire lessons but of aspects of their practice that they wanted work on. Most recently, I asked them to isolate two parts of a lesson that they wanted to improve. They took short videos aimed at helping us reexamine skills like questioning or transitioning.
One teacher wanted to make sure that students were following the systems that she had implemented in class: put your pencils here, put your device here. Video showed us clearly where this was and wasn’t working.
An added bonus of having video from classrooms is that when I see a teacher doing something well, I can take that snippet and show it to other teachers. I have internal PD going on in the building without having to schedule a meeting.
(Next page: Teacher growth tactics 2-3)