Lessons on Teacher Evaluation from Westchester County

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. ~ Marcel Proust

lockers

Today I met with an administrator at a school in Westchester County, New York, who spoke to me about his experiences with teacher growth and effectiveness models being developed and implemented in and around New York State.

It was interesting to hear first-hand about the constraints and pressures on the New York public education system. It seems that laws, funding and standardised testing have had a profound impact on the way teacher effectiveness is being measured and pursued in the State of New York. My understanding is that a law mandating that schools only receive an annual 2% increase in funding has resulted in sometimes severe cuts to leadership roles in schools, curriculum programs, pastoral infrastructure and resources. By the sounds of things, some schools still have middle leadership positions like Heads of Faculty / Curriculum Supervisors, but many have had to lose these roles, putting all the pressure and responsibility on principals and assistant principals.

Additionally, conditions of the No Child Left Behind funding include State-approved teacher evaluation measures. So while Charlotte Danielson published the Framework for Teaching in 1996 with a view to promoting conversations with teachers about practice, it is now used for scoring and assessing teacher performance on a lesson by lesson basis.

Approaches to classroom observations vary. In some places whole lessons are observed and a score given for each and every component in Domains 2 and 3 of the Danielson Framework. Another approach is to take observation data and see which components emerge as the most dominant in a given lesson. Another is to focus data collection and conversation around components which teachers have identified as areas of focus in a pre-lesson conversation.

Each year, teachers receive an effectiveness score, based on a very “paperwork driven” system which includes:

  • Observations from their administrator (60%)
  • School-based pre- and post- year testing (20%); and
  • Student scores in standardized national tests (20%).

Each teacher’s score is available to parents (“Your child will have Mrs AAA who received a score of BBB and was rated Highly Effective/Effective/Developing/Basic”?). The school also receives a publically published ‘report card’ based on its students’ test results and its teachers’ effectiveness scores. So teachers and schools are quantitatively scored on their apparent effectiveness. Interestingly, the administrator I spoke to said that his personal experience of the scoring of teachers by these measures presented a highly inaccurate picture of their effectiveness.

It seems that this quantifying and scoring of teachers and schools leads to a skewing of the teacher effectiveness model. Administrators might, for instance, give their teachers false ‘highly effective’ ratings. Teachers might teach to the test. The administrator told me that teachers began seeing themselves in terms of numbers (“I’m a ‘3’”) but that “you can’t quantify highly effective teaching.”

While in Australia schools are often measured by league tables based on standardised testing, we certainly do not have the same pressures as those in the United States.

This administrator’s reflections on what could and should work in a teacher evaluation and growth system were:

  • The focus should be on teachers talking about their practice, not on numbers;
  • The Danielson Framework should be a tool for growth, conscious competence and developing a common professional language among teachers;
  • Schools should ask what it means to be a ‘Danielson School’: a community of learners who think and talk about teaching practice, and in which professional development is aligned with the Framework;
  • Money and time are both significant challenges to meaningfully and effectively developing a meaningful model which encourages teacher growth, especially in a United States context; and
  • Teacher-administrator/coach/observer conversations should be based on invitational questions which encourage cognition, but there are situations in which teachers may need more direction or support in terms of talking about evidence or reflecting against the Framework; there is an expectation that the teacher is engaged in the process and prepared for pre- and post- conversations.

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Ideas to anchor school change

Without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps. The sleeper must awaken. ~ Frank Herbert

NYC art journal page by @debsnet https://theeduflaneuse.wordpress.com/

One of my art journal pages: ‘Don’t quit your daydream’

I recently completed the Adaptive Schools Foundation Seminar during which some of Garmston and Wellman’s foundational ideas really resonated with me in terms of school change (these are outlined in the course and in the source book The Adaptive School: A sourcebook for developing collaborative groups, 2nd ed., 2013).

1. Centrality of identity, beliefs and values

The Adaptive Schools book and course place emphasis on the importance of being conscious of teachers’ identities: their core beliefs, values and senses of self. These, rather than being set aside, are acknowledged and drawn upon in collaborative school practices. Graceful disagreement is seen as a path to developing group cohesiveness, empathy and shared identity. The teacher as person is honoured as an individual within the school, and a part of the school group.

2. The importance of talk

How we talk in schools, say Garmston and Wellman, influences our schools and our personal and collective experiences of them. Talk creates reality. This is why at my school we are using the Danielson Framework for Teaching (to provide a common language for talking about teaching) and Cognitive Coaching conversations (to provide a common way of encouraging teachers to think about their own teaching, in a way which allows the coach to facilitate the development of a teacher’s thinking, while at the same time getting out of the way of that thinking).

3. Tiny events create major disturbances

This is Garmston and Wellman’s third underlying principle of what they call ‘nonlinear dynamical’ systems, like schools. This principle affirms my experience of the unexpected, chaotic butterfly effects of incremental changes, which are sometimes unnoticeable or unmeasurable.

Teachers involved in our coaching cycle have commented that seeing another teacher’s lesson impacted their own practice in the following days; that reflecting on their teaching against the Danielson Framework brought foci and deliberate intent to their subsequent lessons; and that coaching conversations sometimes impacted their thinking long after the conversation had finished. Teacher coaches have noted that their Cognitive Coaching training has shaped the ways in which they communicate, not only with colleagues, but also with students and even with their own friends and families.

The Cognitive Coaching course has also impacted on my thinking around teacher growth and school change.

4. Holonomy

The notion of ‘holonomy’ is not from Adaptive Schools, but is from Costa and Garmston’s Cognitive Coaching (see Cognitive Coaching: A foundation for Renaissance schools, 2nd ed., 2006). It is the conceptualisation of the bringing together of individual (teacher) and organisation (school). The teacher is both influenced by and influencer of the school, involved in a continuously responsive relationship. The teachers as parts, and the school as whole system, work organically and symbiotically together.

For me, this notion of the interdependence between human individualism and organisational systems should be a key focus in school change initiatives. For my school, part of our approach has been designing a professional learning cycle based on the school’s strategic vision, and then having teachers pilot, drive and design the change. For us, the importance of honouring both organisation and teacher in a slow and deliberate process has been more important than fast change.

This coming week I will be at the Australian Council For Educational Leaders conference, sharing our story with other schools and departments who are working to develop the capacity of their teachers. And this time next month I will be in the middle of my visits to New York educators and researchers. I’m looking forward to having face to face conversations with those with whom I have connected via email and online, and seeing how they negotiate the tensions (and connections!) between teacher and school.

New York Is Always A Good Idea by @debsnet https://theeduflaneuse.wordpress.com/

New York as a site for insights around teacher growth

A collection of superstar teachers cannot produce the results of interdependent colleagues who share and develop professional practices together. ~ Garmston and Wellman, 2009

NYC snow dome by @debsnet https://theeduflaneuse.wordpress.com/

As I mentioned in my first post, New York is an apt place to conduct my professional learning visits – next month – which are focused around the roll out and implementation of a growth model of teacher professional learning. Our teacher growth model emerges out of the strategic vision, mission and values of the school, and uses:
– non-judgmental classroom observations
– the Danielson Framework for Teaching; and
– a Cognitive Coaching approach to professional conversations around practice, reflection and growth.

NYC has been rolling out the Common Core Learning Standards and Advance, the NYC system of teacher evaluation and improvement. 2011-13 was the preparation phase, including research such as the Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching project. 2013-14 was the enactment phase and 2014-15 is the phase for reflection and refinement.

The NYCDOE’s 2014-15 Citywide Instructional Expectations call on schools to:
1. Ensure knowledge of students and their work, and use this knowledge as the starting point for planning;
2. Integrate policy into an established, clearly articulated instructional focus; and,
3. Develop a culture of collaborative professional learning that enables school and individual development.
There is a focus on supporting schools in building coherence among their culture, structures, and instructional core and supporting them in reaching the benchmarks for school quality described in the Quality Review Rubric.

The primary NYC teacher evaluation model – Measures of Teacher Practice (MOTP) – involves each teacher:
– Assessing their own practice against the Danielson Framework for Teaching;
– Being observed multiple times by a principal or administrator;
– Reviewing evidence and artefacts which demonstrate their teaching practice; and
– Receiving feedback on these observations and evidence;
– Receiving student survey feedback.

I enjoyed Lisa Nielson’s post on using digital portfolios to ‘capture practice’ and showcase teacher effectiveness. Lisa says that putting together a portfolio on the four domains of the Danielson Framework is “an incredible opportunity to do something that is rare in the teaching profession. It provides an opportunity for teachers to release the great work they are doing from the classroom and share it with the world. It also provides a common language and method for looking at and sharing the work we do.” My hunch is that many teachers do not see the Framework as an opportunity for growth and connecting through professional conversation. Perhaps this depends on the context in and focus for which it is used?

The immediate difference I can see between the model being developed by my Australian school and the NYC Advance program is one of emphasis. Advance seems focused on evaluation, whereas our focus is on teacher growth. That is, our deliberate default position is one of focusing on self-directed growth, rather than on external evaluation or performance management, although in some situations consulting, collaborating and evaluating might be appropriate.

On their website, the Danielson Group outlines the tension between evaluation and growth: “tension between these two purposes; a system of accountability can feel like an ‘inspection’ to teachers, while one entirely focused on professional learning can result in underperforming teachers not receiving important information about their teaching.”

Charlotte Danielson talks about her framework not originally being designed as an evaluation system, although that’s how it was quickly adopted around the world. Her video on The Collaborative Observation Process explains Danielson’s focus on growth rather than inspection. For my school’s context, this was central to our approach to using the Framework. I look forward to exploring this further with Charlotte when I meet with her next week and later next month.

Certainly my school is passionate about developing the culture of professional learning and protecting the meaningfulness of a formalised reflection process for teachers. Our approach is one in which the teacher is in control of the process; they self-direct their own foci and are Cognitively Coached through their thinking about and reflection on non-inferential data, collected from their classroom practice by a teacher-coach (that is, someone without an administrative position, whose role is to observe, listen and facilitate thinking).

Do any educators have experience with how Danielson’s Framework for Teaching is being used in their schools or districts? I am very interested in successes, lessons learned and stories of schools, leaders and teachers.

Lucky (edu)fellow: beginnings of a flânerial professional trip

It’s time to bring the magic and wonder back into teaching. It’s time to recover the missionary spirit and deep moral purpose of engaging and inspiring all our students. It’s time to put down the spreadsheets and look to each other and elsewhere for how to get beyond the present turning point so we can transform our society and our schools. Hargreaves and Shirley, 2009

Two months til take off.

How does an Australian educator end up planning her way to New York City for a week, in search of insights into teacher learning, implementing teacher growth models in school contexts and using the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching?

Because she is a lucky fellow.

I have been fortunate enough to receive a travelling fellowship from my Australian school in order to undertake an investigative series of visits to educators, school leaders, researchers and edu-experts in New York.

My meetings and visits cover one week in and around New York City. My week will be focused, as Hargreaves and Shirley suggest, on looking ‘to each other and elsewhere’ for learning and growth: my professional growth, teachers’ growth and the growth of my school’s professional learning culture.

Hargreaves and Shirley’s focus on the transformative ‘magic and wonder’ of teaching reflects my own fundamental beliefs about commitment to student learning. Our core business as teachers is enabling our students to find magic and wonder in the world around them, and empowering them to be thinkers, learners and leaders. As teachers, we should see teaching and learning as wonder-finding, wonder-generating and wonder-full.

The particular context for my upcoming professional trip is my school’s teacher growth initiative, which emerges from the widespread research-supported assertion that teacher quality is a crucial determinant in improving student achievement and learning.

Since 2012, I have been working with a diverse team of teachers at my school to design and pilot an idiosyncratic professional learning model intended to refine individual practice and capacity for self-reflection, appropriate to my school’s context. Another key aim of our model is the facilitation of a more passionate, reflective, purposeful community of professional learners in which individual teachers participate in ongoing communal activity to continuously develop the effectiveness of student learning by improving the quality of their teaching.

So, our aim has been to craft a process which is teacher-centred, teacher-directed and focused on teachers’ capacities for reflection and self-actualisation. We are using the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching and a Cognitive Coaching model of coaching as the basis of our professional learning model. The Framework for Teaching (one of a number of maps for teacher practice, chosen because of its relevance to our specific context) gives us a common language for talking about our teaching, and a targeted specificity of focus for our reflections and conversations about evidence and practice. Cognitive Coaching is helping us to focus on growth rather than judgment, with our notion of ‘coaching’ being one of mediating the thinking of the teacher, rather than providing instructional feedback.

New York is the perfect place to refine our thinking as we continue to roll out our own model. The Danielson Framework for Teaching is one of those approved by the New York State Education Department as part of its implementation of the provisions of Education Law 3012-c regarding annual professional performance reviews (APPR) of classroom teachers and building principals. The New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) has been implementing use of the Danielson Framework since June 2013, after three years of piloting and researching it in NYC schools.

During my time in New York, I am especially interested to see in what ways schools and districts have been implementing the Framework for Teaching; what might be success stories or lessons learned from their experiences so far; different approaches to school leadership in these kinds of initiatives; how data are collected and used to measure success; and any resources, references or contacts which might help my school, especially in its implementation stage, to begin in January 2015.

Can any educators out there share their experiences of current teacher growth or teacher evaluation systems?