When you hear the word “Evaluation” what are the feelings that come to mind?
Anxiety? Fear? Stress? Uncertainty?
Without question, performance reviews are among the most dreaded events of the school year.
But does it need to be this way?
High-performing schools create a culture where employees love coming to work every day. Furthermore, high-performing schools create a culture where employees adhere to high expectations.
Unfortunately, some school leaders believe you must choose between the two. They believe "employee morale" and "high expectations" are binary.
This mindset is misguided.
Staff morale is at its highest when all staff are expected to do great things. Employees respond favorably when leaders hold all staff accountable to high - and reasonable - standards.
And what is a leader's highest-leverage activity when it comes to improving morale and reinforcing expectations?
The employee evaluation.
The evaluative process cannot be taken lightly. For a strong staff member, this is a formal opportunity to confirm all of the wonderful things that individual is doing. For an underperforming staff member, this is a crucial opportunity to document the deficiencies of the employee.
How can leaders develop a process that reduces employee stress without losing any of the evaluative significance? Here are five suggestions to consider for improving teacher evaluation:
Ongoing Process: Administrators should routinely visit classrooms for the purpose of engaging teachers in continuous dialogue. Teachers are notorious for underestimating their job performance, so administrators must deliberately reassure high-performing staff they are doing an outstanding job.
An ongoing process means there should be no surprises during the evaluative conversation. One surefire way to lose trust is to write a negative comment on an evaluation document the employee has never heard before. While deficiencies must be documented, the evaluative conversation is not the time to introduce novel concerns.
Negative Feedback: Speaking of deficiencies, when substandard employees are evaluated, negative feedback must be written into the formal evaluation document. Many evaluators avoid confrontation and bypass writing comments critical of the employee. This is a huge issue for leaders, and a primary reason incompetent staff remain in schools.
Should high achievers be given negative feedback on an evaluation? Leaders are advised to verbally communicate constructive criticisms as opposed to formalizing their concerns in the evaluation. Great teachers are often very hard on themselves, and seeing critical feedback on an official document could take years to overcome.
Team Approach: When multiple evaluators collaborate on an evaluation, the fear that a single evaluator is out "to get" an employee is lessened. Not only does a team approach give the performance review a more-credible feel, administrators minimize the chances of teacher grievances and legal issues.
"But our school only has one administrator!" Certainly, a second evaluator elsewhere in the district who can provide a second set of eyes (looking at you district-office staff). Few things are as important as staff performance feedback, so when schools place the fate of a teacher in the hands of a single evaluator, they do a huge disservice to that employee.
Collect Tangible Evidence: Leaders often get in a habit of making decisions based on rumors and hearsay. While there is no question public opinion of a teacher holds merit in today's society, leaders must develop processes for converting qualitative feedback into objective data.
"But it's impossible to collect data on public perception!" Baloney. Effective leaders measure what matters. For example, there are few things as important to the learning process than the social capital teachers build with students and parents. Therefore, evaluators must regularly document parent and student complaints and walk into evaluative conversations with data in hand.
Make Things Simple: Many school districts ask teachers to turn in elaborate portfolios or projects as proof that teachers are "meeting the standards." Administrators be honest - how much time do you really spend looking through those notebooks?
Most teachers do an amazing job. Why give teachers more work when they are already do so much in their classrooms? Evaluators - not teachers - should collect evaluative evidence. Administrators who regularly get out of their office and engage with employees in a variety of settings should have all the evidence they need to assess a staff member. Please do teachers a favor by giving them less busywork.
Performance reviews may never be viewed with enthusiasm or excitement.
However, there are steps school leaders can take to lessen employee anxiety.
Let's start treating teachers like professionals and rethink the teacher evaluation process.