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Mark Gardner | Assessment, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Professional Development | November 11, 2012

What I need to change


SharpenerWe are in transition.

As a "Marzano" district piloting forward toward implementation of the new teacher evaluation system, I am coming face to face with the kinds of expectations that are going to rattle my paradigm. The instructional frameworks OSPI allowed us to choose from do not represent dramatically different approaches to teaching or schools of thought about how teaching and learning should take place. What the frameworks do establish, though, are specific "research-based" teaching strategies that emerge as valued and therefore expected, since they are named in the evaluation scales against which I will be measured. In Marzano, a few stand out to me: learning targets, performance scales (rubrics), and students tracking their own growth against those scales.

I agree that these are solid instructional strategies: they just haven't always been a consistent and practiced part of my repertoire. 

Now they are going to be--or else.

As for the "or else" to the previous sentence, it comes across as more ominous than I want it to sound.

The reason I don't want to sound ominous? This new evaluation system is challenging me to assess what I do and incorporate new and different approaches. The "or else" is not a threat to my job. The two sides of the "or else" for me: stagnation and growth.

I have actually had good relationships with the administrators who have been my evaluators. I have respect for them as teachers, which helps, but the process of classroom observation, post conference, and summative conversation has been largely a ritual in box-checking. The conversations were great, maybe because I was told nice things, but the system didn't challenge me to stretch as a professional in the way I see the new evaluation system poising itself to.

Year after year, I've always reinvented the wheel just a touch as I plan, present, assess, and conduct the daily business of teaching. I'm "satisfactory" at the least--or at least that's the box that has always been checked. I've always wanted to improve--but heading off to workshops and reading books about teaching never did it for me. I'd live briefly in a world of theory and then the time constraints of reality would inhibit any meaningful or lasting shifts in practice.  

Now, that is changing. I have a bunch of rubrics and scales that describe the work I'm supposed to be doing, not the theories I'm supposed to be enacting. In self-assessment, I can identify exactly where I stand based on the newly detailed job description for what a public teacher is supposed to be in the state of Washington--as outlined in the instructional frameworks.

In the same way scales work for my students, by using these scales as performance level descriptors I have a strong sense of what I need to do to improve. (The use of scales and rubrics is one place where I self-assessed as "basic" and want to move to "proficient.")

Unlike the conferences I've attended or the books I've read, that framework and those scales reflect the work I need to be doing right now. My planning therefore already looks different. My communication to my students already looks different. The work I do and the work my students likewise looks different--albeit in subtle ways.

By being able to clearly identify what I need to change, an amazing thing is happening: I am able to change--and grow. And when I am better at my job, my students benefit. Imagine that.

As I tell my students when they recognize a lesson going well: It's almost like someone planned it that way on purpose...


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It's so great to hear teachers get excited about being challenged. Thank you!

I agree that the instructional frameworks with their rubrics provide us a good sense of what we as individual teachers can do to improve--there is so much great stuff there! My concern falls somewhere along those same lines--there is so much great stuff there, that it is sometimes difficult to know where to start. I think it is important to work on the strategy you mentioned--pick a specific area in which to improve and focus on that.

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