Three observations from doing the work of meeting accreditation requirements

We are in the midst of establishing a common framework for supervising and evaluating our teacher candidates, a framework that can be demonstrated to have statistical validity.  One of the major tasks in this process is getting interrater reliability, and to do that we have been watching videos of teachers, rating their efforts, and then discussing our evaluative decisions.  The process has brought to mind three observations that form the backbone of one of the summer courses that I teach, EDUC 531 Professional Development and Supervision.

1.         Thomas Sergiovanni (2009) notes that there are two primary roles that school leaders play with respect to teacher evaluation:  quality control and professional improvement.  The first of these is a formal process based on a set of uniform standards.  The second is an informal process, rooted in the nurturing of a professional community in which teachers collectively solve problems of practice in their setting.  The first is about bottom line performance, the second aims for the highest goals of our profession.  While essential to maintaining a minimum level of performance, the standardized teacher evaluation process does not necessarily lead to better teaching and education.  An important assertion that Sergiovanni makes is that leaders should apportion about 20% of their supervisory work to the first approach and 80% of their time to building professional communities. 

2.         In an era of increasing emphasis on teacher evaluation based on standardized instruments, the summary of the research on formal teacher evaluation by Murphy, Hallinger, and Heck (2013) is useful.  Among the many important findings in their summary were these.  In a wide ranging review of the empirical literature on school improvement, including studies of effective schools, leadership, instructional and transformational leadership, the school restructuring movement, the comprehensive school reform approach, using data effectively, sustainability, scaling up, addressing the achievement gap of students at-risk, school turnaround efforts, and teacher effects, the evaluation of teachers was not one of the variables involved in school improvement.

            Second, they note that one aspect of teacher evaluation that has not been adequately explored in the literature is that, at its foundation, it is a tool of industrial-era approach to management, positioning managers as directing and controlling the work of labors.  The problem here is that this approach “privileges organizational architecture (bureaucracy, hierarchy, and institutionalism) under a very thin veneer of professionalism, a framework with limited linkages to school improvement” (p. 352), and is in conflict with the professional model used in other professions.  Third, along with Bryk and associates, (2010), they note that it is still not possible to tell what mix of teacher behaviors and instructional techniques account for student differences in performance levels.  Bryk et al. note “the precise practices of effective instruction, including the specification of what teachers need to know and be able to do, [is] essentially a black box” (2010, p. 201).

            Murphy et al. (2013) conclude that leaders can have a stronger impact if they focus their work in facilitating teaching and learning in their buildings through providing concrete feedback that can lead to new behaviors, developing communities of practice in which teacher share goals, work and responsibility for student performance, offer support for the work of teachers, and create opportunities for teachers to routinely develop and refine their skills.

3.         Several weeks before the class meetings began in the summers in which I teach EDUC 531, I asked students to poll their teacher colleagues about professional development practices that had the greatest impact on their teaching.  While there were numerous options, from the stand-and-deliver training sessions, teachers’ conferences, observing peers, and individual professional development plans, one of the most powerful professional development activities was being involved in a school improvement project where colleagues would debate fundamental issues of teaching and learning.  This is an important reminder that, working together as a professional community around issues of practice is as much a delight, as it is a responsibility.

            In our education program at Calvin, we have been focusing our efforts on using the Danielson framework.  Charlotte Danielson maintains that she never intended that the framework she developed would serve as the supervisory tool that it is being used for.  Rather, she hoped it would be a catalyst for discussion about teaching.  Regardless of any other use we put it to at Calvin, it has certainly facilitated those important and positive discussions about teaching. 

Bryk A., Sebring, P., Allensworth, E., Luppescu, S., and Easton, J. (2010). Organizing schools for improvement: Lessons from Chicago.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 

Murphy, J., Hallinger, P., & Heck, R.  (2013).  Leading via teacher evaluation: The case of missing clothes?  Educational Researcher, 42 (6), 349-354.

Sergiovanni, T. (2009). The Principalship: A Reflective Practice Perspective (6th Edition).  Boston: Pearson.