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Cheryl L. Poole: Helping Our Evaluators Understand
Eavesdropping on a Teacher’s Conversation Recently, I had the opportunity to be present with a small group of art and music teachers. They were young and relatively new to their career. Their...
Eavesdropping on a Teacher’s Conversation
Recently, I had the opportunity to be present with a small group of art and music teachers. They were young and relatively new to their career. Their voices where animated with sharing about their projects, their students, their administrators and the challenges of full days and equally full evenings of preparation. Listening from a position of post-retirement, I enjoyed eavesdropping on their conversations. It made me a bit nostalgic for the years when my career was in full swing and I was still striving to improve my teaching every day.
One brief conversation has lingered with me. A young teacher was frustrated because of a contentious exchange she’d had with an administrator who evaluated her. The feedback she received on her instruction showed little understanding of her teaching goals. She continued saying that she gathered her thoughts before confronting the administrator about her evaluation. She asked why she had received such mediocre feedback. She explained that she had been instructing for higher-level thinking and analysis of the project in a historical context. The administrator listened closely then apologized saying that she didn’t realize what the teacher was doing.
The remainder of the conversation I overheard went something like this: “I can’t believe that she would give me a low score just because she couldn’t recognize what I was doing! She even admitted that she didn’t understand what I was trying to accomplish with my kids. If she couldn’t recognize what I was doing, she shouldn’t have been evaluating me.”
Experiencing a Flashback
That is the part of the dialogue that stuck with me. It caused me to flashback to myself as a young teacher, indignant after an evaluation, because I remember thinking that the assistant principal assigned to observe my teaching and write an evaluation clearly didn’t know what I was attempting to do.
Now, from the far end of my career – post-retirement – I look upon that young teacher’s frustration, along with own, through a wholly different lens.
Wondering Why, as a Young Teacher, I Didn’t Ask Myself …
Why was my default position as a young teacher to believe that my observer’s opinion was absolute and final (albeit, in my opinion, wrong)?
Why didn’t I assume more agency for my own teaching? It had taken me 4 years of college plus several years of practice to learn how to best teach the curriculum I was teaching.
Why did I expect that a randomly-assigned assistant principal (one who hadn’t taught for almost 30 years) would understand what I was doing and why? Especially after only a 30-minute observation? Even an administrator with a background in arts education would likely not be able to do much better.
Analyzing the recent conversation and the flashback I wondered why, way back then, I didn’t I take a more active role in advocating for myself.
I suspect it was lack of confidence. Maybe I assumed my opinion wasn’t valued? I think the attitude at the time was that the evaluator had the expertise necessary to do his job and I was just a beginning teacher.
Looking back on that long-ago experience, I know that he didn’t have the expertise and couldn’t have known what I as a professional was attempting to get my students to demonstrate. He was told to go into my room, observe me and interpret what he saw….and he did.
Making Powerful Instruction More Transparent
Remembering the painful experience of being judged (evidenced by the fact I recall it with a sting even 40 years later) and recently hearing young teachers reflect on similar ‘injustices’ makes me think about how easy it would be today to help the evaluator see more clearly the how and why of instruction.
The MAEIA assessments – all readily available and searchable online – contain tools to make instructional goals more transparent. Each has a concise list of standards associated with the assessment and at least one rubric that describes the preferred student performance.
The sting in an evaluator’s interpretation of a teaching observation often comes from what is a chance interpretation of what the evaluator sees. He/she might simply not understand what you are trying to get your students to deliver.
How better to eliminate the chance factor with a well-timed, one-page sheet listing the standards and a rubric showing the complex behaviors you and your students are seeking!
-It takes is a modest amount of pre-work to search the MAEIA assessment catalogue to find one that comes closest to your instructional goals.
-Then, if necessary, tweak the rubric to be clearer for your evaluator.
-Cut and paste the standards and the rubric into a handy one-pager.
-Make sure it’s available to your evaluator during the observation or drop it off before your evaluation has been processed.
Although the MAEIA tools were not even in the dream stage back when my evaluator critiqued my instruction, what if they had been? I could have helped him see and interpret the performance goals for which my students and I were reaching. He would have been so impressed. I’m sure he also would have been relieved to not have to create a respectable interpretation of what he saw my students and I doing in my classroom.
Here are two thoughts that have condensed from my eavesdropping the conversation between young arts educators and my time-travel back to when I was one of them.
-Don’t assume your observer or evaluator knows how to teach any arts discipline as well as you do or that they are able to decipher your instructional goals by merely observing.
-Be prepared for any observation by having a focused list of standards and one or more rubric(s) that illustrates what standards underlay your instruction and what performance you are seeking from your students.
Search MAEIA online assessment catalogue (maeia-artsednetwork.org) for an assessment that is as close as possible to your current lesson and targeted standards.
Revise the assessment’s rubric to match precisely what you expect your students to achieve.
Print off the rubric(s) and the associated standards on a single page to help your observer interpret what he/she is seeing.
MAEIA has developed and continues to develop tools to facilitate greater ease in the educator evaluation process. Check out our Demonstrating Educator Effectiveness videos, (scroll to mid-page), particularly DEE videos 3 and 4, to consider your own agency while interacting with administration and sharing the stories of your students and of your teaching more dynamically. See our Educator Effectiveness page for guidance in using the MAEIA resources in the stages of your educator evaluation process.
Cheryl L. Poole is an educator with more than 40 years of experience in visual arts, museum administration and facilitating professional learning. She has had the pleasure of working with educators in the MAEIA project over the last 5 years.
A downloadable pdf of this post is available here: CherylLPoole_Helping Our Evaluators Understand
Delivering Quality Feedback to Students and Educators
Quality feedback is key to progress for students and educators. Developing a method which inspires the recipient to get back to work can be difficult, especially in the age of standardization and fast-paced school and...
Quality feedback is key to progress for students and educators. Developing a method which inspires the recipient to get back to work can be difficult, especially in the age of standardization and fast-paced school and office dynamics.
Functional for all disciplines, the goal of this process is to improve the dialogue about the things we make. I have found that by placing critical conversations into objective scenarios, or by using the product of work to lead into discussions of habits of mind and patterns of behavior or artistry, we can use the tools of art-making to develop self-actualization. This isn’t new to the art educator, but perhaps a structured process for delivering feedback may be.
From Clara Martinez, a Teaching Artist working in Dance:
“As an educator I enjoy and look forward to using Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process with K-12 students in schools, in the community, and in private studios. It allows the students who may not identify purely as athletes or technicians to have a sense of involvement beyond their bodies within physical work. This process presents an opportunity for them to delve into their observational skills and sense of inquiry, and participate in an informative discussion about how to create art and express themselves in an embodied way, and not simply criticize one’s training or physical skillsets. After experiencing this process a few times, students are more intrigued and excited to make dances that come from a place of questioning as opposed to demonstrating competence to one another. “
Roles and Process
In short, the CRP includes three roles (artist, audience, facilitator) and four stages.
The process includes:
1. Statements of Meaning; 2. Artist as Questioner; 3. Neutral Questions; and 4. Opinion Time.
For the purpose of educator effectiveness, the teacher and administrator could focus on the four stages and attempt to hold each other accountable for facilitating the conversation in the order the stages work best.
The intent of the questions within the four stages reframes the participants into roles of inquiry rather than mastery with declarations of what should or should not change. The hierarchy of audience (responder/administrator) determining the value of what is made shifts to bring awareness and discussion of to the intentions of the work (teaching) and whether the process produced an effective outcome.
An Overview of CRP within Teacher Observation and Evaluation
Within the process of teacher observation, a follow-up meeting would begin with the administrator stating what they witnessed to be valuable and could be followed by the teacher’s explanation of what was happening in relation to content, management, and standards. This stage of the CRP alone highlights what the administrator sees, perhaps revealing how the teacher could further explain their discipline and provide more information thus moving toward a deeper shared understanding.
Next, teachers could inquire about evidence of specific goals they were aiming for within their lesson or practice. Having the opportunity to drive the conversation places the teacher within a more active role within this process. In my experience, this illuminates the rigor of the preparation and depth of planning within their teaching while also creating a more dynamic relationship with the administrator.
For me, this created a more professional and harmonious balance to the experience deepening the sense that the evaluation process really is for me and not being done to me.
Neutral questions posed by the administrator continue the conversation, again highlighting the values of the administrator in a way that they are at-play-with and in consideration of the values of the teacher.
Lastly, opinions are welcomed if permitted by the artist (maker/educator). Agency continues to be one of the keys which unlocks the potential for quality feedback. If we aren’t open to hearing it, we aren’t able to apply it, making the delivery and content of quality feedback important.
In our Demonstrating Educator Effectiveness pilot meeting on May 24th, we’ll be moving through this process as a means for reconstructing Administrator-Educator Dialogue and as a tool for the arts classroom.
Interested in MAEIA Assessment Items related to Response processes?
D.T413 Critical Response Process
M.T207 Music Listening Response
M.E416 Theme Response- On Musicals
M.E438 What’s the Big Idea