When Evaluation Supports a Collective Perspective

 Lynne Formigli, a National Board Certified Teacher in science and a leader in her local union, describes how participating in the alternative evaluation program in the Santa Clara Unified School District helped her reach her goal of improving student writing and learn much more in the process:

I teamed up with a seventh-grade writing teacher and an eighth-grade writing teacher. Our focus was on how we teach writing at different grade levels. We spent time observing each other teaching the writing process. Afterward, we met and compared our observations. We came away with specific ways to improve our students' writing, as well as ideas for integrating writing throughout all grade levels and subjects. Observing other teachers helped me understand how critically important modeling is, allowing me to overcome my fear of giving students the answers when I give them examples.

We found that in our search to help students be more effective communicators, we had all developed similar tools to scaffold their writing. During our discussions, we were excited to consider the impact on our students if we standardized the tools we use, so students would recognize them from class to class, grade level to grade level. As we continue to work toward that goal as a school, we have the added benefit of increased communication and collaboration among teachers. The end result is of great benefit to the students we teach every day.

Formigli's principal also learned from the experience. After Formigli and her two colleagues presented a summary of their work and a reflection on the process, he wrote in his formal evaluation narrative:

At the middle school level, it is beneficial when students can see a common strand run through their instructional day. When something learned in science is tied to something learned in English, both make more sense. When instruction is coordinated from subject to subject and then from one grade level to the next, we not only have good education, we have magic. And that is what Lynne [and her colleagues] created. ... Participating in the reflective discussion related to the alternative evaluation project was an evaluation-supervision highlight for me. We spoke about the writing process, genre, cross-grade and cross-subject education, staff development opportunities, standards, the need to share learning experiences, validation, and a host of other things.

It is possible for evaluation to be structured in ways that support this collective perspective. However, it is equally possible for individually focused and competitively oriented evaluation and compensation practices to undermine collegial work, harming the chances for professional sharing and learning. If teachers are ranked and if rewards are competitively allocated, evaluation is likely to undermine efforts toward collective improvements, to the ultimate detriment of teacher and student learning.

Source: Accomplished California Teachers, A Quality Teacher in Every Classroom: Creating a Teacher Evaluation System That Works for California (Stanford, CA: National Board Resource Center, Stanford University, 2010). As featured in Linda Darling-Hammond, Getting Teacher Evaluation Right (2013).

Reprinted from American Educator, Spring 2014

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American Educator, Spring 2014