When the new teacher evaluation model, aka “TPEP,” rolled on down from Olympia, I was as skeptical as anyone. When will we have time for this? Why should I spend my time having to prove that I’m doing my job…I don’t even have enough time to do my job!
I’m a convert, though. I like the model of teacher evaluation that has been put into law. I believe that if implemented with the right mindset and agreements from all sides, it can, and does, focus on fostering conversations about improving practice to impact student learning. I’ve seen it in my own practice and heard of it from teachers and principals throughout my district.
We’re now completing the first “live” year of legal implementation, and I have a few ideas about how I’d like to see our system continue to improve. No one has enough time to accomplish everything that is expected of us. Teachers don’t, principals don’t, even students don’t. We do have choices, though, and I think that accomplishing the aims of our evaluation system can be addressed at the policy level as well as the practice level.
First, the practice: Leadership at OSPI and WEA have been using the phrase “natural harvest” to describe the gathering of artifacts and evidence to support teacher evaluation. What this means is that anything that functions as evidence should be naturally occurring within the teacher’s work: artifacts should not be created solely for the purpose of the evaluation. I agree with this, though I hear many “yeah, but…” statements from principals around the state. Those “yeah, buts” are well intended: If a teacher just shares what they do, it will be authentic, but is it enough for me as evaluator to make an evaluative assessment? The response has been a practice that I think heads in the wrong direction. Specifically, teachers submit naturally occurring artifacts, but then have to write out analytical reflections to contextualize the artifact. The intention is to make the process more efficient. To me, this is a practice that needs to be phased out as our evaluation model evolves.
Absolutely, teachers should be welcome and free to add their own reflections and narratives to their evaluation; this should never be forbidden. To require it, though, actually makes the process less efficient in most cases. If our goal is to make the process manageable in terms of time, consider what we are doing with time when we ask a teacher to select artifacts, compose narratives, submit those to a principal…who then examines the artifact, reads the narrative, likely still has some questions, and then has to develop a rating based on a pattern of evidence. The practice I’d like to see replace this is simple: learning-focused conversations. I could spend three or four hours writing commentaries about my artifacts, trying to anticipate what my evaluator wants or needs to hear, or I could have a thirty minute conversation where I don’t have to play a guessing game.
At the policy level, one place I’d like to see our evaluation law evolve is with regard to teachers in provisional status: particularly early-career teachers.
The policy I’d like to see changed is that teachers within the first three years of their career have a three-year-period to phase up to the comprehensive evaluation. I’d suggest that in year one, the new teacher is evaluated (and supported) on Criteria 2 and 5: classroom practices and classroom environment. The next year we add on Criteria 1, 3, and 6 (about data, differentiation and high expectations) and then in the third year we add Criteria 4, 7 and 8. The reasons for this are simple:
- One: A teacher in provisional status can be legally non-renewed. If there were performance issues that emerged, the evaluation system isn’t needed to leverage non-renewal during provisional years. Why throw all eight at a first year teacher, who I would argue needs support in classroom environment and classroom practices more than anything else?
- Two: If it is about growing teachers toward proficiency at a complex skill (which teaching is), we ought to scaffold up to it. We do that with kids… if this is in fact a growth model, scaffolding simply makes sense.
- Three: The time factor. If a principal evaluating an early-career teacher is permitted to focus on the criteria of most developmentally-appropriate need, then the system can function as intended and runs less a risk of becoming the old “check off the box” model we’re trying to get away from.
The changes I propose around provisional teachers might require an amendment to the current law. Maybe it’s time I start doing a little research about how to propose a bill in Olympia…