Making Happier Educators

With teacher evaluation software, discerning the burdensome from the beneficial.

GUEST COLUMN | by Todd Whitlock

CREDIT Standard for Success.pngTeacher performance management—whether you’re the teacher, administrator, or facilitator—has evolved considerably in recent years, and remedying outdated evaluation practices can make a world of difference.

For one, the way we analyze teachers today—considering the amount of compliance directives, limitations and scrutiny—begs us to reconsider how we measure their performance. It also encourages us to think about what to do if we hope to actually reap better outcomes in the long run.

Wherever you are in your teacher performance assessment program, there’s always something to be gained from asking deep questions and reconsidering the best step forward.

Based upon research, one thing is clear: The old ritual of annual reviews is broken. What professional growth can occur from evaluating performance only once a year? Or limiting feedback systems so they’re heavily one-sided?

It’s no wonder a survey by Watson Wyatt cited in a study for the Society for Human Resource Management showed only 3 in 10 workers think their employer’s performance evaluation system helps performance. A quick google search will turn up scores of similar findings.

In my 20 years as an educator, now working with thousands of teachers through my company, I’ve observed a few patterns to help us discern burdensome from beneficial teacher evaluation tools. Below is a cheat sheet of sorts, to help you pinpoint the right system for your organization or district:

First, look within.

Start by examining what’s not working well today, and how your teacher evaluation system must change. Below are important considerations, based on recommendations by the Center for Public Education:

>> Developing your evaluation system:

  • What are your goals in evaluating teachers?
  • Do they align with the strategic plans for the district?
  • Who should be involved in developing this system?
  • Should teachers take part in the planning? Why or why not? How?
  • Should districts have some flexibility in customizing the evaluation system to meet their own strategic goals?

>> What to include in teacher evaluations:

  • How will you measure success?
  • What are strengths and weaknesses of the proposed performance evaluation?
  • How will student achievement be factored in, and what measures will be used?
  • Will the same metrics be used for all teachers in all fields?
  • How often will teachers be observed? Who will observe them?
  • Will evaluators have enough time to conduct observations effectively?
  • How will you train evaluators?

>> What to do with results:

  • When and how will teachers receive feedback?
  • How will evaluation results be used to improve performance?
  • How will results be used for personnel decisions?
  • Will teacher performance metrics be released to the public? If so, how much will be revealed?

Second, consider essential software capabilities.

At the core of your teacher evaluation program, you’ll need software that can enable a feedback-rich culture and automate all as much as possible to minimize the burden on your staff.

Core capabilities should include:

  • Detailed analytics for both individual and organization-wide performance
  • Transparency with real-time insight and 24/7 access to reports (both for evaluators and teachers)
  • Tools that facilitate ongoing, open communication between employees and evaluators
  • Ease of use to ensure adoption
  • Data-driven learning, coaching and mentoring

Third, discern the right software provider.

  • Does the solution allow for customized, personal growth plans? No two people are the same. Your evaluation tool should reflect that.
  • Can employees check, up to the minute, how they’re performing, and communicate openly with evaluators?
  • How easily and quickly can you get support when you hit a snag, have a question or idea?
  • Can you easily verify claims or hear from existing clients? (A reputable provider is able to back up its claims and shouldn’t shy away from facilitating referrals or client-to-prospect input.)

Yes, this seems like a long list and a lot of upfront work. It is. It’s also necessary work that will ultimately lead to a happier and more productive group of educators who have the tools and feedback they need to improve.

Wherever you are in your teacher performance assessment program, there’s always something to be gained from asking deep questions and reconsidering the best step forward. Use these questions as a guide to discern the burdensome from the beneficial.

Todd Whitlock is founder of Standard for Success, a leading evaluation software company built for educators by educators. Todd spent 20 years in public education as a classroom teacher, coach, and district administrator overseeing technology, curriculum, testing, and early college programs. Follow @twhitlock


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