Nothing makes an educator’s palms sweat and heart beat intensify like the sound of an approaching teacher evaluation. Is your formal teacher evaluation drawing near? Keep reading. These tips will help you prepare and keep you focused.
For five years, I’ve served on our school’s evaluation committee. As a group, we’ve transitioned our building to the Charlotte Danielson system. Serving on this committee has provided me with invaluable insights that I consider every time I prepare for my own teacher evaluation.
When your evaluation cycle approaches, perhaps these strategies will benefit you as well as they have me. While the checklist could be endless, these specific ideas should help. Keep in mind, they really should apply to every day of the year, but they especially ring true when you feel the pressure of an upcoming formal evaluation.
BEFORE A TEACHER EVALUATION
Choose a topic wisely. Select a subject about which you feel passionate and well-versed. Personal interest and depth of knowledge will be your friends when the nerves hit. On a similar note, choose a topic you think your students will find interesting. If students are engaged, the lesson will be much more successful.
Test drive the lesson. If possible, teach the lesson you plan to use for your evaluation in advance to a different group of students. Sometimes I do this on the day of my evaluation and then make modifications as necessary before the actual evaluation period. When I’m being evaluated first hour, I do my practice run the day before with a different class period. Testing the lesson will give you some time to reflect as well as to tweak aspects that didn’t work as planned.
Talk to your evaluator. Most evaluation systems require a pre-conference. Ask your evaluator what he or she values in a teacher and in a lesson. If your administration has the best interests of everyone in mind, they will share this information with you so that you can put those practices to use in your classroom for the benefit of your students. For instance, one administrator I worked for revealed to me that he favored the Madeline Hunter model of mastery learning. Many different lesson structures exist, so knowing this information beforehand helped me to prepare my lesson to better meet his expectations.
Explain the scope and sequence. Take time during your pre-conference to explain the scope and sequence of your unit. Show your administration how this particular lesson fits into the larger puzzle so that they can see additional lessons you will be covering that might offer a glimpse into other facets of your teaching abilities.
Consider classroom decor and seating. Right or wrong, many evaluators comment on classroom decorations and seating arrangements. Administrators want to see that every aspect of the learning environment contributes to the goals of the class and the lesson.
DURING A TEACHER EVALUATION
Start class right away. From the moment the bell rings, make sure students are engaged in meaningful learning. This doesn’t mean you have to be lecturing, but it does mean evaluators don’t like to see wasted instructional time. Use a bell ringer, a writing prompt, an entrance activity, or recap what students learned the previous day.
Incorporate differentiation. When you plan your lesson, make sure to balance teacher-led instruction with student-led activities. Use chunking. Allow students to move around the room. Demonstrate flexibility in your willingness to cater to various learning styles, interests, and abilities by offering choice wherever possible.
Move around. Don’t sit at your desk. If your evaluator is anything like the ones I know, he or she wants to see you interacting with students, moving around from group to group, engaging students in meaningful learning, and using proximity during teacher-led instruction. So. Wear comfy shoes.
Talk to students. Many evaluators are focused on the rapport teachers have with students. They can infer the status of student-teacher relationships based on how we respond to one another — whether it’s with warmth and compassion or brevity and sarcasm. Rapport can also be evaluated based on classroom management issues and to what degree teachers are aware of their students’ lives outside of school.
Wrap up. Make the end of class meaningful and useful. Create an exit slip or a quick verbal assessment that you can use to drive the next day’s instruction. Recap the day’s lesson and inform students of where you are headed next. Make sure to leave time to answer questions and explain homework assignments.
AFTER A TEACHER EVALUATION
Reflect. After every evaluation I’ve ever had, an administrator has always asked me, “So how do you think it went?” While we could simply reply with something like, “Fine, what do you think?” the heart of their question is after a deeper response. Evaluators want to know that we have thought about not only this lesson but ALL lessons and that we have pinpointed aspects that worked as well as parts that we would change. Talk to your administration openly about your thoughts. Reflection is important to a teacher’s growth.
Student contribution. Make sure you can show your evaluators how students contribute to the class. Ideally, students help to create assignments (maybe by showing interest in a certain topic), assessments (perhaps by submitting possible questions or helping to develop a new required project), data (this could be done through keeping track of their homework completion rates and grades on a weekly basis), classroom rules, and even decorations.
Have your evidence ready. There are many areas of teacher evaluation that can’t be observed from one day’s lesson. Make sure you have evidence ready for anything on the evaluation tool that isn’t observed during that class period. For example:
- Professional involvement: Be able to explain how you have participated in student life as well as how you’ve been a leader in your building. Maybe you’re not the department chair, but have you led your grade level teachers on a smaller scale? What are you known for? Being the grammar guru? The technology expert? The fitness coach? The mentoring-mothering personality? Everyone is good at something. Point out your unique value during your evaluation. While it may be awkward to basically brag about yourself, to some extent, it’s necessary.
- Student growth: Many schools are using SLOs. Be prepared to talk about your assessment, how it fits with your curriculum, and how you are tracking students’ growth.
- Professional development: Evaluators like to see that you are staying current with educational training and research. Be ready to talk about what you’ve done to further your knowledge in the field during your current evaluation cycle.
- Parent communication log: Have dates, times, and notes recorded for all parent communication.
Show them your portfolio. Whether it’s digital or hardcopy, it helps to present evaluators with a portfolio of your best work. What lessons and assignments do you wish they had observed? Show them.
Explain your rules and procedures. I’ve often had evaluators ask me about specific rules. For instance, one year the assistants superintendent asked me why I only had one rule: Be respectful. At first, I thought he was being critical, but after offering my explanation, he told me that he, too, only had one rule when he was in the classroom, and it was the same. Along similar lines, evaluators might ask about your late work policy or how you handle devices in a 1:1 classroom.
Give yourself a break! At the end of the day, we are all human. Although it’s clear that teachers are expected to be machines, we all know we’re not. Being too hard on ourselves will only lead to burnout. If your lesson doesn’t go exactly as planned or if Johnny in the third row decides to do something completely unruly, go easy on yourself. Thinking back on all of my previous evaluations, the administrators in the room have rarely ever viewed any of the issues I’ve fretted over as anything worthy of discussing.
Thankfully, twenty-first century teacher evaluation systems are making great efforts to move away from the dog and pony show. New models are requiring teachers to push themselves to be their very best every day…not just on evaluation day. Keeping best-practice teaching approaches in mind all school year (not just on evaluation day) will make the evaluation process less stressful. When I began using the Danielson rubric to drive my teaching decisions year-round, I felt much more confident when preparing for a formal teacher evaluation.
What tips would you offer for a successful teacher evaluation? Please drop your ideas in the comment section below. We value your experience.