Guest post by Matthew Younghans
In the ever-changing world of Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR), significant value has been put on teacher evaluations. While once a narrative write-up process, our current systems are a far cry from the past. The power and control of such processes now lie within the domain of state regulation and at the collective bargaining table, which can even differ by district. I have found that creating a comfort zone regarding the process, inclusive of clear expectations, will help to defuse some of the normal teacher anxiety that can be present during these times.
The first step in the process is to have teachers and students be familiar with the administrator or observer being in the room. To do this, you can visit classrooms and be present in the hallways, cafeteria, and playground. Welcome students and teachers to school in the morning at arrival time and wish them a good day during dismissal. Be personable. The greater the frequency with which you visit classrooms, however informal, will lessen the oddity of your being there and the nervousness teachers may feel when it comes to the actual observation. By making visits routine, you establish a comfort level that carries the potential to put teachers slightly more at ease when it’s time for observation day.
Especially as a new administrator, it is positive practice to mandate pre- and post-observation conferences. While this is normal practice in some districts and can even be part of contractual obligations, this experience breeds a positive working relationship between the teacher and observer. The pre-observation allows for clear expectations to be communicated and methodology to be discussed, while setting the stage for coaching and improvement. After the observation, a post-conference provides the time to have a constructive conversation about the observation itself. Focus on positives and explain the best practices you saw taking place, supported by evidence. Doing so will set the tone of the meeting and establish your coaching demeanor as supportive and encouraging. After this portion of the conversation is complete, the coaching begins. Suggestions, recommendations for practice and improvement, and questions about next steps should carry the remainder of the meeting. Once the relationship has been established, your feedback can be understood as more constructive and less critical.
An additional way to create a level of comfort is by educating those being observed on the process, including any changes on a year-to-year basis. Share your rater rubrics, review model lessons, and find and share video clips of effective classrooms and lessons that yield the highest ratings. Just as teachers do for students, modeling is crucial to understanding. One such example is a document my former administrators and I put together that stated examples of evidence for each teacher observation component. We provided evidentiary examples of effective and highly effective practices across all content areas. Teachers could then reference these examples when constructing their lessons to integrate these activities where appropriate.
Lastly, providing professional development on ways teachers can push their practices to a higher level is something that is positive for everyone. I recommend taking time during a staff meeting or professional development day to address this early each school year. Teachers benefit because they learn more efficient and effective ways to sharpen their skills, and their evaluations should reflect accordingly. You, as an administrator, are providing them with the tools to do so. The students, the most important piece of this equation, benefit from better instruction. All in all, this can create a more positive learning environment and outlook on the observation process itself.
In my experience, these practices have allowed teachers to understand that the observation process is a glimpse into their body of work over the course of a school year. Providing teachers with the tools to be successful, in this and any aspect, leads to positive working relationships and success in the classroom.
How have you navigated the teacher observation process and its changes in more recent years? What have you found to be effective administrative practice in creating comfort regarding performance evaluations?
Matthew Younghans is the principal of Little Tor Elementary School. He previously served as an assistant principal in the Clarkstown Central School District, where he was named the 2016 SAANYS/NASSP New York State Secondary Assistant Principal of the Year.