Teacher evaluation is a hot topic right now with many districts revamping their process. Author Angele Sancho Passe had perfect timing on her new book, Evaluating and Supporting Early Childhood Teachers, where she covers the topic in depth. Angele recently talked with us about her new book and where she hopes the teacher evaluation conversation leads. Below you can learn more about evaluations and Angele’s insights as she shares some of her advice for making the process a helpful and supportive experience.
In this age of accountability it seemed that the topic was becoming urgent. I am concerned that the ideas we have about teacher evaluation are confusing. They are simplistic. We focus only on children’s test scores to determine if the teacher is good or bad without affirming what the teacher does well, or making a plan for what needs to improve. Or, we only look at what the teacher does (the act of teaching) but not what the children are learning (the results of teaching). If the children do not learn well, they tend to be blamed for not being teachable, and teachers do not get good support to teach better.
I have been a teacher being evaluated, as well as an administrator evaluating teachers. And I could analyze what made a good –or not so good- evaluation. Good evaluations affirm the value of the teacher and help teachers see how to modify their teaching to improve children’s learning.
In early education, we have spent a lot of time thinking about assessing children, with many good guidelines on how to do it well, with sensitivity. Yet we have not paid attention to how we are evaluating teachers. For children, we think of a process that helps them grow. For teachers, we often ignore problems and tolerate ineffective teaching without any support. This hurts both teachers and children, and the reputation of education in general.
The title of the book is “evaluating and supporting early teachers”. Support is the most important part. It is necessary to prevent problems, and also to correct problems. So evaluation is part of support, it is not judgment without purpose. Evaluation is the vehicle to improve quality.
If there is no evaluation plan in the program or school, I would recommend to teachers that they design one and propose it to administrators. First, to identify what is going well. Second to identify what could be better. The book has lots of practical ideas to do that.
Yes, teachers need to know the tools that are used to evaluate them. These tools spell out what teachers are responsible for, whether they are a validated instrument, like the CLASS ™ or a site based checklist. When I work with teachers, I always ask them to self-evaluate first, and rate themselves. Every time I find that the teacher and I agree on most items. That makes it a lot easier to have a professional conversation. Teachers are very aware of their strengths and needs for improvement when they take time to reflect.
They need to know what they are being evaluated on. As I say in the book, there are three areas: the acts of teaching (what the teacher does- curriculum, instruction, classroom management, communication), the results of teaching (what the children have learned – academics and behaviors-), and the professional behaviors (how the teacher acts as a professional). These three aspects encompass the whole job of teaching. Recently, a director told me “Teacher B. is so good when she is here, but she is often absent”. The director did not know what to do. I recommended a full evaluation because teacher B. needs support and guidance. Regular attendance (professional behavior) is critical to being a good teacher. We need to see – with Ms. B- how her absenteeism affects the curriculum, and what the children are learning. Can the children learn as much when she is absent? This discussion will be necessary.
Teachers who are not in leadership position can assess the quality of support in their center or school with the ideas in chapter 1 that define evaluation and support. The ideas in chapter 2 describe a caring community of workers. As they read and do the checklists, they may find that best practices for evaluation and support are indeed happening at their school. But if they are not, the checklists will provide a helpful conversation starter. And I know the conversations will lead to solutions.
You note in the book “to find the value of” is a definition of evaluation and the teachers must find their own value and nurture it for evaluation programs to be successful. How do you recommend they do this from a professional standpoint?
It is very important that teachers assess their own teaching always with the three aspects in mind: acts of teaching, results of teaching, professional behaviors. Teaching is complex, but we can picture a good teacher. She is well prepared, has an orderly classroom, a good curriculum, and interesting activities. She knows what the children need to learn, and the children do make progress. She gets help from others to teach children who need extra support. She is reliable, and gets along with colleagues and parents. We must think of all these characteristics as skills, not just personal traits. It is difficult to effect personal traits, but skills are learned and can be refined and improved. To me, that’s a hopeful notion. Teachers can use the checklists in chapter 3 to self-assess, and think of what skills they already have and what skills they should improve. That’s part of professional growth, just like athletes or musicians who continue to practice and analyze certain techniques to refine their skills.
The guiding principles in chapter 1 are a good place to start. Questions might include: Is our center or school a caring community of workers? What is in place to enhance our professional competence? Are we getting appropriate direction and support? Do we believe our skills are assessed fairly, and what is in place to help us grow? What are the opportunities for involvement in the field of early childhood education? The checklists on pages 12-13 are designed as a discussion starter.
You can find out more about building a positive evaluation system in Angele’s new book, Evaluating and Supporting Early Childhood Teachers, out now!
Let us know if you have any questions about evaluations or anything else. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.