Editor’s Note: The original version of the following article by Dan Beerens was posted in the Nurturing Faith Blog in 2011. Dan has been thinking about the topic of teacher evaluations for quite awhile, and he has seen several trends come and go in this area. As Curriculum Trak launches our Staff Evaluations tool, we are honored to have Dan share his current thinking related to this topic in a series of webinars. We would invite you to join us. Click here for more information and to register.

Back in the late 90’s when I set out to write a book on teacher evaluation and growth, I was writing out of some frustration with the existing system, which seemed more concerned with assigning a ranking or rating than actually helping the teacher or students to grow. What was it, I wondered, that caused good teachers to get better – what made them engage in continued learning that improved their teaching? What are the elements of effective teaching? What did we know about how adults learned? Could leaders help teachers to grow in meaningful and credible ways? Would all this activity result in increased student learning?

As I have followed the discussion around teacher evaluation over the years, it seemed like there was little progress being made. Various merit pay systems have been implemented and scrapped as state funding typically dries up. The truth is that most good teachers do not really get into teaching for the pay. When Tennessee moved to a value-added measure to their state system of teacher evaluation, many states jumped on board even though the accuracy of such measures has been questioned. Although many problems have been identified with relying on various types of high-stakes testing as a measure of teacher accountability, and test-based teacher evaluation has been named as a failure, some states, such as Michigan, still have high-stakes test results as 40% of the total evaluation score. States are pulling back from this further – 43 states were using test scores in 2015 as part of the evaluation equation, but that dropped to 34 by 2019. The latest news is that Michigan legislators are currently considering eliminating teacher evaluations altogether, given Covid and teacher shortages.

While I am supportive of multiple measures – and I list two excellent resources below on the topic – I don’t believe that we have made anywhere near satisfactory progress in this field. Simply put, teaching is both art and science. As leaders we must balance truth and grace in the processes we establish and in the way we conduct our work with teachers. Is our goal to make the process manageable and meaningful for our teachers? Is the growth of our teachers and our students the ultimate goal or is this simply a task to be completed, a dance to be danced?

We have a lot of research on the scientific or technical aspects of teaching – see Marzano’s research for starters – but we have not yet accounted for measuring the artistry. We do this intuitively – we know who our best and worst teachers are without much hesitation, but what is the secret sauce and can it be quantified? Why do some teachers consistently get better student learning results than others? We have not adequately considered the role of a range of factors such as teacher motivation, emotional intelligence (as popularized by Daniel Goleman), autonomy/meaning/purpose (explored by Daniel Pink), religious conviction, passion for learning, belief in the individual student’s ability to succeed – let alone what kinds of leaders are able to bring the best out of people. What is clear from the business leadership research is that ranking and rating don’t motivate – in fact these factors block or destroy innovation and teamwork – see my book for more on this topic!

So, where do we find ourselves? Given what we have been through the past two years, some school leaders may have delayed or given up some teacher growth and evaluation processes until we are sailing in calmer waters. Survival versus refinement is the order of the day – let’s just get through this. But if you are ready to re-engage on thinking about this topic again or are looking to improve your current practice, I leave you with a couple of resources as starting points.

In his book Rethinking Teacher Supervision and Evaluation: How to Work Smart, Build Collaboration, and Close the Achievement Gap, Kim Marshall, long-time principal and professional leadership development consultant, provides a very helpful way forward. His appraisal that principals often fall into an HSPS (Hyperactive Superficial Principal Syndrome) mode much of the time and into the Saints, Sinners, and Cynics categories when evaluation crunch time hits resonates with what I know to be true. Saints spend great amounts of time trying to do it all right – Marshall estimates that in a school of 35 teachers, a principal could spend as much as 300 hours (50 observations, 6 hours each with pre- and post-conferences included) on teacher evaluation alone. Cynics don’t believe that the evaluation will matter anyway and so they sit down and crank them out as quickly as possible to meet requirements. Sinners don’t evaluate teachers at all – which happens more frequently than is ever admitted, but verified by the number of teachers who report having never been evaluated.

Based on his long experience as a practitioner (32 years), Marshall suggests that principals and/or instructional leaders adopt a four-pronged approach to the task of improving teaching and learning: 1) Mini-observations, 2) Team curriculum unit planning, 3) Team interim assessment work, and 4) End of year rubric evaluations. I recommend this to you as a very helpful and practical book. It is filled with examples, rubrics, forms, and a well-reasoned and balanced approach to a complex and critical topic.

Making Teachers Better Not Bitter: Balancing Evaluation, Supervision, and Reflection for Professional Growth by Tony Frontier and Paul Mielke recommend (as their title suggests) a balanced system of evaluation, supervision, and reflection. Their book walks through these three areas using helpful visuals and concrete examples. The final third of the book contains five appendices containing excellent protocols for working with teachers. I recommend this book as a very helpful resource; a study guide is also available on the ASCD website.

Photo by Ben Mullins on Unsplash

Dan Beerens is an educational consultant, author, international speaker, and educational leader. Before starting Dan Beerens Consulting in May 2010, he served as Vice President of Learning Services and Director of Instructional Improvement at Christian Schools International. Prior to that, he was the Director of Curriculum and Instruction for Holland Christian Schools. Dan has also worked as teacher and principal in urban and suburban public and Christian schools in Wisconsin and Illinois. He serves as a Senior Fellow at CACE (Center for the Advancement of Christian Education), represents Curriculum Trak sales and professional development and serves as co-chair of the annual Christian Deeper Learning conference. He blogs regularly for CACE and is the author of Evaluating Teachers for Professional Growth: Creating a Culture of Motivation and Learning (Corwin Press) and co-editor of the recent book MindShift: Catalyzing Change in Christian Education (ACSI).