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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Tips for Walkthrough Observations

As an administrator, I have to do formal and informal observations. But a third way of gathering information of what is happening in classrooms is through walkthrough observations. These quick, unannounced visits usually last from 5 to 15 minutes. But watching is not enough; there are certain specific indicators you should be looking for:

  • Students attitude towards the learning. Look for student engagement, their attention and their behavior. Analyze the interaction between teacher and students, and amongst students.
  • Curriculum connection. Review if the lesson is following objective and standards previously established.
  • Instructional method. Evaluate the teaching repertoire.
  • Evidence of previous work. Look for student work hanging on the walls and bulletin boards.
  • Safety and health. Examine if the teaching and learning environment is a secure place for students.
  • Areas of learning opportunity. Think of a time during the lesson where the teacher missed a learning moment.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Targeted Professional Development for Teachers

There have been studies that show there is very little correlation between educational degrees and teacher effectiveness in the classroom. To me, part of the problem is teachers pursuing generic training or graduate degrees. Nevertheless, I believe there is a way that performance evaluation, with the help of self, peer and supervisor evaluation can achieve targeted professional development that could improve key skills in the teacher.
For example, if a peer observes your class and sees many students off-task because of behavior, he/she can suggest class-management books, courses, articles or webinars. In terms of a self evaluation, a teacher might realize that his/her technology skills are not on par to what the students requiere. At this point, the teacher might recognize the importance of those skills and decide to take some graduate courses on educational technology.
There is some controversy if administrators should be both coaches and policemen. When a supervisor coaches a teacher, he/she needs to be careful and analyze if the teacher should be "coached up" or "coached out". When a teacher is clearly unhappy, unmotivated and struggling beyond what professional development can help with, then the administrator should coach them out. In most cases though, administrators should positively give advice on what resources or classes a teacher should take a look at. There is a thin line between what a teacher could consider genuine positive advice, and threatening criticism.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Adapting School Accreditation Methods to Teacher Evaluations?

Today, I was reviewing different accreditation organizations during my master's class on Measurement and Evaluation: SACS, WACS, CIS, NEASC, NWCCU and others. Though they have some differences, most agree on certain core premises. I found a few that could be translated to teacher evaluations to make those a more personal and effective process: self-study, mission alignment and a continuos improvement plan.
In my experience, most teacher evaluations consist of one or several visits by the evaluating administrator taking notes on what he/she perceives in a lesson. The evaluator looks for specific indicators and marks findings in rating scales.
An obvious flaw with this method is the lack of input from the teacher. The evaluation is completely generic for every teacher, and he/she is not identified with it. That is why I believe that bringing some aspects of evaluation from school accreditation agencies to teacher evaluations could be very valuable. First of all, the self-study undergoes a series of reflective exercises from the teacher to identify strengths and opportunities for growth. The points the teacher decides to target should be aligned to the school's mission or overarching goals. Finally, a plan for continuos improvement will set a process cycle of identifying the teacher's goals, putting them into place, reviewing their effectiveness and adjusting accordingly. With the use of peer evaluations and administrator feedback, teacher evaluations can be a more friendly and effective way of improving the quality of teaching.

Who is the Client in Education?

There is no definite answer everybody agrees as to who is the client in education. All these could be considered clients: students, parents and society. But I believe that our main client should be the student.
Maybe it comes from my marketing undergraduate degree, but the client to me means "the target". If we are targeting the student, we are on the right track. 
Targeting the parents is not always a good idea. Their interests could be focused on their children's grades, schedules, money, and other aspects that don't necessarily have to to with student learning. It is also very different if we are dealing with a public or a priviate school. That is why I think understanding the student as the client is the silver bullet.
My main goal is to make students better learners. Life-long, responsible, critical-thinking, self-motivated learners. That is why it is it so important to teach competencies integrated in the curriculum, such as environmental and social responsibility. If I succeed, then students are going to give back to the community and create a ripple effect. So at the end, you are contributing to society as a whole. 

Position on Performance Evaluation

All institutions and organizations, no matter how small they may be, should be doing some kind of Performance Evaluation. To me, it's a reflection exercise that is based on real data in order to make changes that will benefit the organization. Of course, large corporations are the ones in the lead of this discipline. Educational institutions try to adopt best practices from the business world to evaluate students, teachers, administrators, and the school as a whole. In terms of performance evaluation in education, what I believe is:

  • There is no perfect "one size fits all" method. Institutions are better off looking at their current method and comparing it to others, making the necessary adjustments to their reality: size, culture, language, mission, budget, etc.
  • Performance Evaluation is an ongoing process. It shouldn't be looked as a project with a beginning and end, but as a continuos cycle with an improvement component.
  • Stakeholders should be aware of its value. Teachers, administrators, parents, and the community as a whole must be communicated of the process.
  • The message should answer what, why, how, and when. And I find especially important to communicate what that data is being used for.
Performance Evaluation provides organizations with information to make knowledgeable changes at different levels. It is not easy to come up with a system that works and is not too time-consuming, but having it in place will help institutions make informed decisions.