There is a saying in martial arts that when a student makes it to black-belt, the real learning begins. We should be seeing teaching through the same lens. When teachers enter the classroom for the first time, the learning begins and it must never stop.
Research shows that ongoing professional learning is critical to improving teacher effectiveness but so too is the role of teacher evaluation. Without evaluation, professional learning cannot be individualised to improve teacher practice.
Last year, the Grattan Institute published its report into teacher appraisal, Better Teacher Appraisal and Feedback: Improving Performance, which shows that a system of teacher evaluation can increase effectiveness by 20 to 30 percent. The problem in the past has been the ad hoc nature of teacher evaluation – often infrequent or failing to provide teachers with valuable feedback and/or strategies to improve student learning gains. By integrating teacher evaluation into every aspect of teaching and learning, we create a culture of success for teachers, which leads to success for students.
Linda Darling-Hammond discusses the role of teacher evaluation in an article in the November 2012 edition of Kappan and states that systems must ensure “teacher evaluation is connected to – not isolated from – preparation and induction programs, daily professional practice, and a productive instructional context.”
Darling Hammond outlines five key features of a teacher effectiveness strategy:
- Common state-wide standards for teaching related to meaningful student learning and shared across the system (what should teachers know and do to be able to support the learning of every student)
- Performance based assessments based on these standards (linking teacher effectiveness to student learning gains)
- Local evaluation systems aligned to the same standards for on the job teaching based on practice and student learning (creating a continuum of competency for professional learning at every stage of teachers’ careers)
- Support structures to ensure trained evaluators can mentor teachers
- Aligned professional learning opportunities
These points illustrate the need for the teaching profession to work collaboratively to develop a common language around learning, a common understanding of what good practice looks like and a common process for measuring it.
Jason Culbertson’s article, Putting the value in teacher evaluation, also reflects on a teacher evaluation system called TAP which is currently being used in 380 schools around the US. The TAP evaluation system includes a number of classroom observations every year by experienced evaluators. This is followed by conferencing in which the evaluator and teacher examine an observed strength, weakness and an individualised plan for improvement.
According to Culbertson, the most important result from this process is the common language developed around what effective teaching looks like. The standards provide teachers with a very clear understanding of what “performance looks like at various levels of expertise in a range of classroom practices and skills” which led to the most accomplished teachers ‘recalibrating their expectations’.
What appeals to me about the TAP method is that strategies are not only selected by ‘master teachers’ based on analysis of student data but are road-tested and refined in classrooms before teachers introduce it into their own classrooms. In this way, teachers are not dropped into the deep end to ‘sink or swim’ but are given a solid foundation on which to trial, collaboratively reflect and if necessary, refine strategies to improve student learning.
It is easy to assume that teachers should instinctively know how to improve their practice or that they begin their career armed with all the knowledge and skills required. But as Darling-Hammond and others point out – teachers just like students, need clear objectives, constructive feedback and opportunities to succeed.