TEACHER EVALUATION – THE CRITICAL FIRST STEP

TBCBFillhartBarbara Fillhart, Principal
Sligh Middle School, Hillsborough County School District
Tampa, Florida

I was interested to read Jenny Anderson’s article entitled, “States Try to Fix Quirks in Teacher Evaluation”, February 19, 2012. I have been working on this problem in my own school district for the past 6 years, and I thought it might be helpful to share my experiences.

In your article, Grover Whitehurst makes a good point: “There’s a lot we don’t know about how to evaluate teachers reliably and how to use that information to improve instruction and learning.” However, Daniel Weisberg is also correct: “You have to start the process somewhere. If you don’t solve the problem of teacher quality, you will continue to have an achievement gap.” I doubt many principals would argue with either. The challenge is to achieve that within the confines of a sensible workweek.

Effective teacher evaluation involves two separate issues: The evaluation process and, before that discussion can begin – and integral to it – enabling administrators to make the time to complete it. This is my 25th year in education – 9 ½ years in the classroom, 9 ½ years as an Assistant Principal, and the past 6 years as Principal. As I moved from the classroom into administration, I felt it was important to be seen as a “doer”, so I kept taking on more and more responsibilities. My first two years as a principal were a blur. I was working 17-hour days while trying to juggle a personal life and multiple administrative duties.

In 2009, I attended a professional development program presented by The Breakthrough Coach, (TBC), an education consulting firm. TBC went straight to the heart of my dilemma – how could I be an effective instructional leader when I was spending most of my time in my office? In TBC’s program I learned how to delegate some of my administrative duties, empower my secretary, spend the needed time in classrooms, and still have a personal life. By the end of the 2009 school year I was spending at least 10 hours per week in classrooms. By the end of 2010, I was up to 16-20 hours per week!

Now, it was time to look carefully at the evaluation process. I had 65 teachers, all of whom were young. Therefore, our new system required at least 3 observations each year. An observation took a minimum of 3 hours: 1 hour in the classroom, 1 hour writing up my findings, and a 1 hour pre- and post-conference meeting with the teacher. If you do the math based upon a 180-day school year, that adds up to over 16 hours per week – 2 full 8-hour days, or 3.25 hours every day – just spent on the observation process.

I was able to demonstrate that I was truly maximizing my time as an instructional leader, and, therefore, I had credibility when I urged the district to make adjustments in a process that was just too unwieldy to be effectively applied. Those adjustments were made and, as the current academic year got underway, I definitely felt in control of the situation in my building. When problems do arise, (as they do from time to time), it’s much easier for me to pinpoint the problem and make the necessary adjustments.

In short, I had to address the time management issues before I could realistically addressthe process issues in teacher-evaluation. I urge my colleagues to do the same so that all of us – administrators and teachers – can work together towards our common goal of raising student achievement.

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