Evaluation: Differentiation vs. Show Me

In these days of constricting budgets and intense internal and external accountability, our school instructional leaders are required to wear a variety of administrative hats out of necessity. Their leadership efforts and decisions drive the culture and collaborative efforts of those who work within and attend their school. They play the role of both leader and manager and must do both equally well. A ten to twelve hour work day is not out of the norm for many of our school leaders.

Daily responsibilities include creating a safe and secure campus for all students, appropriate use of general and categorical funds, determining which instructional programs and strategies to implement, and what methods will best support students and their learning through appropriate progress monitoring, differentiation of instruction and necessary and timely interventions. While this may sound like a lot, it is just a glimpse…this does not include a variety of staff, team, intervention and IEP meetings, parent concerns, lunch duty, after school sporting and academic events, etc. For school leaders, no day is the same and the unexpected is often the norm.

However, like many other professions and organizations, the area of evaluation remains an elusive target to pin down and implement effectively. For school leaders, the overwhelming amount of responsibilities can impede on the evaluation process and the urgent often supercedes the necessary. Evaluation often becomes an obligatory process in which the evaluator and evaluatee meet between two to four times a year and usually after a perfunctory classroom observation. The process can lack the meaningful dialogue and support that is necessary to drive its overall purpose…improving professional practice and student learning.

Evaluation often ends up another example in the educational setting of what is best practice for student learning is not best practice for adults and their learning. In the classroom we utilize a variety of strategies to engage students in their learning, yet we utilize few if any of those strategies in our own meetings and wonder at the lack of engagement by our own colleagues. The same rings true with the evaluation process…in the classroom we determine how we are going to monitor the progress of the learner, in what ways we will need to differentiate for equity within the process, issuing timely feedback to support growth and next steps, and what interventions are necessary to support and scaffold the learning for the student. The question is why are these best practices not implemented in the evaluation process?

Evaluation is an excellent opportunity for school instructional leaders to infuse and increase adult learning throughout the campus. Rather, it is often a process of choosing a few obligatory standards for focus and scheduling few dates during the year for the evaluatee to “show me” your progress. We must look for opportunities to differentiate and engage teachers in the process, invoking collegial discussions, feedback, and providing targeted professional development in real time. It is both the duty and the opportunity of the school’s instructional leader to provide supportive assistance that increases capacity, rather than the utilizing evaluation as a “gotcha.”

Differentiating the evaluation process will include an instructional leader’s abilities to engage teachers in new learnings, build capacity, foster a collaborative and innovative culture, provide effective and strategic feedback, and build relationships based on trust. Evaluation can be an exciting process depending on how it is approached and implemented in your school. Look for ways to differentiate and engage people in the process, rather than the “tried and true” standardized model that is so prevalent in most organizations.

In closing, make sure that those you lead know that you are for them and their success, it will increase commitment and build trust into the process. And remember, leaders have the privilege of going first…it is up to you to make sure the evaluation process hits it’s intended target…increasing professional practice in order to support student learning. If we are to create students who are lifelong learners, then we must model that love of learning for those we teach in our practice and in our work.

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