High-performing schools create a culture where teachers enjoy coming to work every day. High-performing schools also create a culture where teachers are held to high expectations.
Unfortunately, some administrators believe you must choose between the two. They believe teacher morale and high expectations are binary.
This mentality is misguided.
Teacher morale is at its highest when staff are held to high expectations. And when it comes to creating an environment with high morale and high expectations, few things are as important as how administrators handle teacher evaluation.
To begin this topic, we start with artwork – mosaic artwork.
Mosaics are known for the hundreds of unique colorful pieces arranged into patterns to create larger, singular decorative designs.
Focusing on small, isolated parts of mosaics give you very little information about the bigger pictures. Instead, observers must take a step back and look at how all of the small pieces work together to create the finished product.
Parallels exist between mosaic artwork and teacher evaluation. Rather than make evaluative decisions based on one snapshot of a teacher’s work, administrators should reserve judgement until after they have a comprehensive view of a teacher’s performance.
The surprise classroom visit is a prime example of why leaders should resist making snap evaluative judgements. Most teachers have a least one "horror story" of an administrator classroom visit gone wrong. Whether students were misbehaving, the class was watching a movie, or the students had "free time" – a majority of educators can recall these moments.
I will always remember an unexpected classroom visit by my principal during my second year of teaching. Given the size of our high school (3,000 students and 200 teachers), it was rare for our principal to visit my classroom. However - on this particular day - my principal visited while I was making a call on my personal cell phone.
While the reason may have been legit (I was finalizing hotel rooms for an overnight trip for our cross-country team), certainly the call could have been made at another time. So when I saw the principal enter the room, I immediately hung up the phone, jumped to my feet, and reengaged with the class.
Once he left, I was terrified. “What bad luck,” I thought to myself. “He probably thinks I’m a terrible teacher!”
Later that day I visited our principal’s office to apologize and explain why I was on my cell phone. To my relief, he was understanding of the circumstances and promised to visit another time.
How leaders respond to witnessing bad moments speak to this "small piece versus the bigger picture” idea. While most administrators are willing to collect more evidence before forming an opinion, some administrators make snap judgements based on one teacher interaction.
“Teacher evaluation must be ongoing.”
If you’ve worked in schools for any period of time, you’ve likely heard this statement. Rather than only hear feedback during the annual review, teachers should be given regular performance feedback. In short, teachers should always know where they stand.
Performance feedback can take number of different forms. Formal classroom observations, informal classroom walkthroughs, email feedback, handwritten notes, and hallway/classroom conversations are all opportunities to provide staff with performance feedback.
Unfortunately, I have spoken with countless employees who indicate they “never” hear feedback from their administrator.
“Oh, come on…” I respond. “Surely, you must get feedback from time to time?”
“Nope,” they argue. “In fact, I can’t recall the last time I had a meaningful conversation with my supervisor about my work.”
If administrators aren’t spending time with employees, what exactly are they doing? As was previously discussed, studies indicate the average school leader spends more than 80 percent of their day engaged in “managerial leadership” tasks such as student discipline, supervision, email, paperwork, and phone calls … leaving little time for providing performance feedback.
And when leaders do have time, they mistakenly assume performance feedback is unnecessary. “My teachers know where they stand,” some leaders say, believing their faculty are aware of their strengths, weaknesses, and general performance levels.
“Besides,” these leaders argue, “they don’t want to hear from me. They just want to be left alone.”
The data would disagree.
Whereas 96% of employees appreciate hearing regular feedback from their employer, more than two-thirds of employees report not receiving enough feedback. Furthermore, research suggests that the younger the employee, the more feedback they desire.
When administrators get out of their office and into classrooms, they often witness teachers doing amazing things. However, many supervisors fail to provide teachers with feedback. Rather than tell the teacher, “You crushed the lesson!” … some school leaders assume the teacher already knows and simply move on with their day.
Whether the feedback is verbal, handwritten, or emailed, never miss an opportunity to tell your people they are amazing. Far too many employees question their effectiveness because they are deprived of positive feedback from a supervisor.
Delivering constructive feedback is more challenging, as very few people enjoy telling someone, “You can do better.” What leaders must realize is providing immediate feedback on shortcomings gives employees an opportunity to correct the problem before it’s too late. And while they might initially resent the feedback, employees who grow from professional critiques often report stronger relationships with their supervisor.
Beyond collecting comprehensive data and ensuring that evaluation is ongoing, here are eight more ideas to help administrators navigate teacher evaluation:
Team Approach: While only one administrator will actually write the evaluative document (more on this in the following chapter), multiple evaluators should be given an opportunity to provide input on a teacher’s performance. Using more than one administrator helps prevent any potential biases, while also ensuring the feedback is more accurate and thorough.
No Surprises: Providing timely, constructive employee feedback eliminates the following cardinal sin: writing negative feedback in a performance evaluation the employee has never heard before. Not only is this unfair to the employee, this is a quick way for bosses to strain relationships. While deficiencies must be documented, the evaluative conversation is not the time to introduce novel concerns.
Negative Feedback: When substandard employees are evaluated, negative feedback must be written into the formal evaluation document. Many school administrators will identify employee concerns … only to never formally document those concerns. Lack of documentation is a huge issue for leaders, and a primary reason incompetent teachers remain in schools.
Time: Administrators who provide timely, specific feedback throughout the year should keep running notes of those conversations. By the end of the year, the collection of notes should serve as an excellent performance review document. Rather than write a new evaluation, supervisors save time by printing notes and using those documents to drive the annual review process. In theory, minimal time should be spent writing the end-of-year evaluation.
Go Easy: This may be a controversial, but administrators should avoid writing critical feedback on a high performing teacher’s evaluation. Great teachers are often very hard on themselves, and seeing critical feedback on an official document could take years to overcome. Therefore, leaders would be wise to verbally communicate constructive criticisms, as opposed to writing their concerns on the end-of-year evaluation.
Likeability: Let’s face it: students learn from teachers they like. Therefore, administrators must be willing to address teachers who have patterns of relationship issues with students. But rather than tell teachers “you are mean to kids,” administrators must find ways to quantify the subjective feedback they receive on underperforming teachers.
This form allows administrators to address teachers who have patterns of poor relationships.
Simplify: Many school districts ask teachers to turn in elaborate portfolios or projects as proof that teachers are "meeting the standards." Not only is this silly, this is an embarrassment to the profession. Why give over-extended teachers even more work to do? Administrators – not teachers – should be collecting evaluative evidence throughout the year.
In the educational landscape, a revelation surfaces: teacher morale and high expectations aren't mutually exclusive. High-performing schools seamlessly blend both, fostering an environment where educators thrive amidst lofty standards.
Administrators who master the art of teacher evaluation propel morale and expectations to unprecedented heights.