Guest Post: Thoughts about teacher evaluation

A guest post by Robert Barkley, Jr., Retired Executive Director, Ohio Education Association, Author: Quality in Education: A Primer for Collaborative Visionary Educational Leaders and Leadership In Education: A Handbook for School Superintendents and Teacher Union Presidents, Worthington, Ohio –

Thoughts about teacher evaluation

As it often has over the 50+ years I’ve been involved in public education, teacher evaluation is once again getting considerable attention.

And as is too often the case, many who are discussing it have little idea what they’re talking about – to put it mildly.

First, there can be no meaningful discussion of this topic unless and until the parties come to a clear and shared agreement as to what are the purpose and corollary objectives of education in the first place. Without doing so any process of evaluation establishes the educational purpose and objectives extraneously and inappropriately. Thus, in almost all cases, the discussion of teacher evaluation is entirely off base and counterproductive to say the least.

For example, I have concluded, after extensive study and discussions over many years that the fundamental purpose of education is: The purpose of education is to preserve and nurture an abiding enthusiasm for learning and an unending curiosity, and to first and foremost guide students to make sense out of their current reality.

Now one can argue with this conclusion, but the point is that for any evaluation of teacher performance, or the performance of any other worker, to be of serious consequence, such a statement of purpose must be firmly established and shared by all those evolved. Rarely have I come upon a district or school that has satisfactorily completed this first step of leading to any worthwhile evaluation system.

Second, most psychologists that I have studied I think would agree that most workers, and teachers in particular, want to do a good job. In fact, it has been long established that those who enter teaching have this intrinsic and altruistic drive to do well to an even greater extent than do those entering many other professions.

And if one accepts that premise, then top-down, punitive, and competitive evaluation will have greater negative consequences than positive ones. If that is the case, then a system of non-threatening feedback will be the most productive approach to set in place.

Over these many years the best of such approaches is one labeled “360-degree feedback.” In this system, once purpose is established an appropriate context determined, everyone in the system is provided feedback as to his or her performance from all directions. This would mean that each teacher would be provided feedback from students, colleagues, parents, support personnel, and supervisors. Each employee in that system would receive the same such feedback. This means that every principal would receive feedback from the entire faculty.

And let me emphasize the “non-threatening” part of such a system. This means that the feedback you receive is yours and yours alone. No one else would see it unless you choose to share it. The theory in all this is of course that, given a natural desire to do well and improve, we will all make appropriate changes and seek guidance when necessary.

Some would say this is a naïve and utopian approach. I have been involved in such a system. It works. And as one can easily see, there is no place for merit pay in such and system and it naturally encourages teamwork and collaboration, which are the hallmark of all successful enterprises.