When it comes to closing the achievement gaps between students from wealthy and underserved communities, and between white and minority students, there is no greater determining factor than the presence (or lack thereof) of quality teachers. Consistency is a determining factor in the effectiveness and quality of teaching at any school or district. Research shows that the cumulative effect of having quality instruction over time greatly increases an individual student’s success in the classroom and beyond.
Teacher evaluations must not only be thorough, but must also demonstrate consistency between evaluations, evaluators, and educators. Here are three ways to keep observations, rubrics, and evaluations consistent, and set your students up for the best learning experience possible.
1. Ensure that observation standards are commonly understood and applied.
While teacher observations may seem like a straightforward process, the truth is that subjective differences between teachers and the implicit biases that each observer brings to an observation can result in observations that are not standardized or consistent. All observers should be provided with the opportunity to attend professional development on the evaluation rubric in use to ensure they follow the same protocol and look for commonly understood signs of effective teaching as well as areas of growth.
Observers must also develop the ability to record and interpret lesson material and teaching style with uniformity. The key here is to create an observation environment that is as objective as possible. Teachers’ stylistic choices may vary widely, so observers must be looking for signs of teacher quality and student engagement regardless of those personality differences.
2. Have observers provide meaningful feedback.
To have an impact, evaluations must be met with meaningful and timely feedback throughout the evaluation process. Without feedback on how teachers can further develop their current practices in the classroom, even the best-intentioned evaluations can fall flat. Specific, evidence-based feedback can make all the difference. Feedback like “great job” or “I see that you’re improving” doesn’t tell teachers what they did right or how they can continue to improve. Fine-tuned feedback such as, “Use of the PowerPoint to reinforce your lecturing provided a key visual for improved understanding. Stopping several times to pose questions increased engagement and clarified student understanding,” will give both evaluators and teachers the meaning-making they need for evaluations to be truly effective.
One of the biggest downfalls to effective feedback is timeliness. Studies show that teachers who get immediate feedback perform significantly better than those who receive delayed feedback. If quality feedback isn’t delivered by the end of the day, the usefulness of that feedback is greatly reduced.
3. Use evaluations as a motivator, with maximum transparency for all educators.
A traditional disconnect between teachers and their evaluators/evaluations is the sense that the teachers are being judged by someone outside their experience and not directly impacted by the daily trials and tribulations of a classroom. This gives teacher evaluations a distrustful, Big Brother air that is not helpful for teachers or administrators, and can certainly put students at a disadvantage. Increasing transparency in the evaluation process can alleviate the sense of obscurity so teachers become more aware and involved in each step of their evaluation.
The more that teachers feel connected to and aware of each stage of the evaluation process, the more likely they are to see that it is meant to contribute to their success and professional growth rather than to catch them doing wrong. Evaluations should be used as a master motivator, not a harbinger of aloof bureaucracy. Trust in the process and trust in the outcomes should be the basis of every relationship between a teacher and an observer (much like that between a teacher and his or her students). One teacher should not feel like his or her evaluation standards differ from another’s. When evaluations are done in good faith, always keeping the needs of students and educator growth at the center, we can create consistent classroom environments for productive, enthusiastic teaching and learning.